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The U.S. and Greek Independence 1821-30

In 2021, we will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of Greece’s independence from Ottoman rule. Many American and European philhellenes offered their services to fight alongside the Greeks and raised funds for the Greek cause. Their contributions must never be forgotten. Notable American philhellene names such as Jonathan P. Miller (also know as the Dare Devil American), Samuel G.Howe, George Jarvis, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, William T. Washington, John Getty, and James Williams contributed to Greece’s eventual freedom in 1830. It will be noted that Washington and Jarvis fought at Messolonghi and died in 1827 and 1828 whereas Getty fought at Navarino and Crete. On the other hand, Williams was a sailor of the frigate Hellas with Andreas Miaoulis. Finally, Howe volunteered his services as a surgeon and was also a commander during the period 1825-27. Upon his return to America, he raised money to “alleviate the famine and suffering in Greece.” His humanitarianism was shown bringing back Greek refugee children to educate them in America.

This article will focus on the correspondence between Jonathan P.Miller and Prince Mavrokordatos published in the Phenix Gazette and Constitutional Whig on April 30 and – May 6, 1825, respectively.

Jonathan P.Miller approached the Greek committee in Boston offering his services in July 1824. Miller was a non-commissioned officer in the US Army who fought in the 1812 war against the British. The committee gave him a small sum of money to be used for the Greek cause and departed from Boston with testimonials and a letter of introduction to Alexandros Mavrokordatos in August 1824. Arrived in Malta staying two months meeting Rev Daniel Temple who actively supported the Greek struggle for independence. Temple printed pamphlets in Greek which Miller took with him to Greece to distribute among the Greeks. The Greeks read them with great interest.

Miller wrote back the committee of an account of his reception in Greece including a letter from Mavrokordatos. His correspondence was written in Messolonghi dated December 11, 1824.

He said:  “I have been here but a few minutes, when I saw a soldier enter the door hastily. He asked me if I was an American, I answered in the affirmative. He grasped my hand in ecstasy, exclaiming at the same time, that he also had the honor to belong to that country; that his name was George Jarvis; that he was a native of the state of New York, and being at Bordeaux in 1822, thence, by the approbation of his father came via Marseilles to Hydra, and engaged in the Greek navy, in their glorious struggle with the Turks. He made thirteen voyages with the Hydriots, and since that time he has been employed in the army, with the rank of Lt. Colonel. He has been in a number of engagements, and has distinguished himself as a brave officer. From him, I have learned much of the state of Greece,

Their success against the Turks, and the sacrifices which they have made this year for their liberty, are greater than any recorded of Greece in the days of her ancient glory. But what must be the feelings of a man, who looks with a philanthropic eye on the scenes of misfortune, to see soldiers who have been fighting the enemy all summer, now coming to their commander to beg bread to keep them alive.”

Miller and Jarvis became very good friends and respected each other. The latter taught him Greek and the former wore Greek costume with the Greeks coming to love and respect him. Miller accompanied by Jarvis interviewed Mavrokordatos in which he said: " The Prince received me with much politeness and expressed his satisfaction at the conduct of our government, in regard to the interest it takes in the sufferings of Greece. He asked me many questions, in reference to the views which were entertained by Americans of the character of the Greeks.

To all his questions, I endeavored to give as correct answers as possible. I told him that all the exertions what the different committees were making in America, were for the liberty of Greece; and that in my opinion that nothing farther would be done by the Americans, if the Greeks consent to accept foreign King.-He replied that nothing but a foreign force would ever place them under a King. I told him I was willing to bear arms in Greece, so long as there was a prospect of being free, but no longer.”

 Mavrokordatos’s reply: "You know Greece, but you know it as oppressed by the Turkish yoke. Everything is now changed. We too, in imitation of the Americans, have resolved to recover our liberty, and assume a place among civilized nations. God grant we may be as fortunate as you in the result. The success which the Greeks have obtained, both on land and at sea, in the campaign just closed, inspires us with confident hope-and there is now no one, as formerly who will pretend to question our independence.

As to Mr, Miller you must feel no concern. Your recommendation will not be without effect, and be assured I shall not forget. I doubt not that he who has already fought against your enemies of his own country, will be useful to our cause.

Please to express to the Greek Committee of Boston my thanks for employing themselves on the subject of the Greeks, and taking an interest in their success; and except the assurance of the esteem and high consideration.”

A brief analysis of the letters above highlights Miller’s determination to fight for Greece’s liberation and Mavrokordatos’s appreciation of American assistance to remove the Turkish yoke. Mavrokordatos knew the Americans recently gained their independence from Great Britain and should emulate America’s example in defeating the Turks. The mention of a King was abhorrent to Americans at this time remembering the tyrannical rule of George 111. Miller didn’t want to see the imposition of a monarch in Greece.

The Daredevil returned to America in the autumn of 1826  presenting lectures to attract American support on the Greek struggle for independence. In March 1827, the Greek Committee of New York appointed him as their agent in Greece. Leaving New York on board the Chancellor, his mission was to distribute food and clothing to " the necessitous inhabitants of Greece." He also adopted a young Loukas Miltiades Miller whom he found wandering with his sister in Poros. Loukas later served as a US Congressman in 1891-93.

In 1828, Miller returned to America publishing his book The Conditions of Greece in 1827 and 1828.”

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