EMBCA’s Discussion on Hellenic “Cotton Triangle” Merchants & the American Civil War

February 7, 2022

NEW YORK – The East Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance (EMBCA) presented the Revolution of 1821, Hellenic “Cotton Triangle” Merchants, and the American Civil War panel discussion on February 6. The panel was moderated by Lou Katsos, EMBCA’s President and AHEPA National Hellenic Cultural Commission Chairman. The distinguished panel included Professor Orville Vernon Burton, the Judge Matthew J. Perry Distinguished Chair of History and the Director of the Clemson Cyber Institute at Clemson University; author, writer, historian and EMBCA Director Alexander Billinis; and Lawyer/Adjunct Instructor and Graduate Candidate in History at Clemson University Megan Gaston.

As Katsos said, “the Hellenic merchants, many with aristocratic family ties to Chios, were the most influential Hellenic American force within America from the 1850’s to the 1890’s.”

The fascinating panel discussion highlighted “how the Hellenic Revolution and the Chios Massacre of 1822 caused various Hellenic mercantile families to expand their commercial firms into various areas (Constantinople, Smyrna, Teheran, Odessa, Vienna, Marseilles, Trieste, Alexandria, Liverpool, St. Petersburg, New York, New Orleans, Charleston, etc.) and how their operations particularly dealing with the cotton trade before and during the American Civil War helped to effect that war with the shifting of cotton supplies (to Egypt, India, etc.),” Katsos noted.

EMBCA presented the Revolution of 1821, Hellenic “Cotton Triangle” Merchants, and the American Civil War discussion on Feb. 6. Photo: TNH Staff

“With the development of American overseas trade of cotton exports to England to feed its textile mills Hellenic merchants gravitated to New York and helped develop and took advantage the pattern of the ‘cotton triangle’ whereby they shipped American cotton exports to England and Europe through the port of New York instead of shipping directly from New Orleans, Savannah, and Charleston,” Katsos continued. “The major Hellenic firms in the U.S. at that time were controlled by, or associated with the Ralli, Rodocanachi, Fachirii families in New York and the southern states.”

He noted that “in October 20, 1855, the New York Times described the activities of these Greek cotton factors and merchants in the U.S. in a feature article and the rapid growth in the U.S. of the great Hellenic commercial firms of the Ralli Brothers, Rodocanachi, Argenti, Baltatzi, Spartalli, and Schillizi as ‘one of the most brilliant episodes of the commercial annals of the 19th century’ and concluded that the Hellenic merchants were ‘as superior a class of business men as the commercial world has ever seen…they [were] not surpassed by any race of merchants of [the] day.’”

“Within the Civil War their linkages to other cotton markets around the world to supply cotton to English and European mills was important in decisions by those nations to remain neutral in the conflict,” he said.

Gaston spoke about the history of the South, the misconceptions, and about “King Cotton.”

Billinis shared his insights on the Greek merchants and their presence in the U.S. with New Orleans as a trading hub and the site of the first Greek Orthodox Church in New Orleans.

Burton highlighted the history of the Civil War and the South, and the economic connections internationally and how “the world caught on to Lincoln’s words” so that working men in Manchester, England, believed in freedom and Lincoln even at the risk of their own jobs in the textile industry.

Katsos thanked all those for participating and invited all to the next EMBCA online panel discussion on February 20 on the centennial of the building of the Palace of the Pontian Hellenism of Sourmena.

More information is available online: https://embca.com.



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