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American Philhellenism in the Greek Revolution of 1821

Portrait of Samuel Gridley Howe, M.D.

Most of what I learned about the Greek War of Independence, I learned in our afternoon Greek School as we diligently practiced our poems and presentations for the March 25th program. Although not a scholar or a student of history by any means, what I have learned since then is that the Greek War of Independence did not happen in a vacuum. There was a worldwide show of sympathy and support.

Certainly, there was heroism among the Greeks both on land and on the waters of the Mediterranean. Most students of Greek School can name them – Koraes, Kolokotronis, Kapodistrias, Ypsilantis, Mavrokordatos, Karaiskakis, Bishop Germanos, Laskarina Bouboulina. However, without the worldwide support, particularly financial support, the final outcome might have been very different.

All around the world, the spirit of Philhellenism moved many to participate, whether driven by the desire to re-create the spirit of classical Greece, or by the desperate plight of the Greeks.

As we look back to the connected history of the United States and Greece, we realize the similarities in their development as modern states. The United States was founded on principles derived from ancient Athens. And later, Americans were among those who supported the establishment of an independent Hellenic state which too would be founded and dedicated to those same democratic values. That support was given in two different ways: on a political level, and also on the ground by the American Philhellenes who rushed to help Greeks with money, food, clothes and weapons.

American newspapers published articles in support of the revolution. Philanthropic committees organized fundraising activities to ship food, clothing, and cash to the rebel Greeks. Many Americans responded in a more direct manner by joining the revolutionary forces. Although there were many, the three most well known are Jonathan Peckham Miller, George Jarvis and Samuel Gridley Howe.


J. P. Miller was born in Randolph, Vermont on February 24, 1796. In the fall of 1821, he enrolled at Dartmouth College but soon transferred to the University of Vermont. Deciding not to complete his degree elsewhere, he embraced the contemplation of offering his support to the Greek cause, a move likely influenced by his study of the classics, and his love for adventure and military life. Miller was assigned the duty of delivering letters to the local government from the committees in the United States.

On November 26, 1824, he arrived in Messolonghi. During the next two years, he rose to the rank of colonel in the Greek military. Miller quickly mastered the Greek language and adopted the Greek dress. His military antics earned him the nickname of "The American Daredevil." Miller remained in Greece until June 1826. In 1828, he wrote an "exposition of the poverty, distress and misery" of the Greeks titled "The Condition of Greece in 1927 and 1828."

Leaving Greece to return to America to relay information to the various American committees, Miller came across one of the many orphans left by the battles of the war in Livadia, Greece, a three-year-old boy he took back with him to the United States and later adopted. Named Lucas Miltiades Miller, that boy studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1845. He served as Colonel of Militia in the American-Mexican War, and in 1853 was elected to the Wisconsin State Congress at the age of 29. In 1891, he was elected as a Democrat to the 52nd Congress and became the first Greek-American to serve in the U.S. Congress. Miller was responsible for establishing the towns of Athena, Arcadia, and Marathon in the state of Wisconsin. Lucas Miller died in December 1902. In 2013, the American Philhellenes Society erected a memorial monument at his gravesite in Riverside Cemetery, Oshkosh, Winnebago County, Wisconsin.


George Jarvis, born in Altona, Denmark, was the son of Benjamin Jarvis, an American diplomat on assignment in Europe. He was an ardent lover and supporter of the ideals of freedom. Upon his arrival to Greece in 1822, he shed his fashionable, European clothes for the uniform of the Greek fighter. He taught himself to read and write Greek and changed his name to Captain "George Zervis, the American." Under his new name, he fought alongside the other Greek soldiers, sharing their struggle against the Ottoman Empire.

Jarvis arrived on the island of Hydra in the Saronic Gulf on April 3, 1822 and lived there until 1824, serving as an officer in the Greek Navy. When Jarvis heard about Lord Byron's arrival to Greece, he left Hydra for the town of Messolonghi, and served as Lord Byron's adjutant until Byron's death in April of 1824.

In 1825, Jarvis found himself marching along with the soldiery to the towns of Nafplion and Tripolis in the Peloponnese. During the invasion of Egyptian Pasha Ibrahim, he assumed the expenses for the 45 soldiers sent to Methoni, a town situated in Messinia, in the southern Peloponnese.

From 1827 until his death in August of 1828, Jarvis, along with Samuel Gridley Howe and Jonathan Peckam Miller, continued to contribute as members of the Philhellene Committee of America by distributing much needed medication, clothing and food to Greeks who had suffered during this time. He was buried in the city of Argos, in the Peloponnese with the rank of Lieutenant General.


Samuel Gridley Howe was born on November 10, 1801 in Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Brown University in 1821 and received the degree of M.D. from Harvard in 1824.

Upon the completion of his studies, he set sail for Greece, determined to help the Greeks in their noteworthy struggle against the Turks. For six adventurous and heart-rending years he served in the Greek army with distinction, as a volunteer soldier and as a surgeon mainly in the town of Missolonghi, situated in western Greece. Furthermore, he devoted considerable time and effort in the reconstructing of the devastated country.

Howe departed for America for a few months during his six year stay in Greece, in the hope of collecting provisions and clothing and to plea for assistance. It was during his expedition that he published his widely acclaimed and sentimental "An Historical Sketch of the Greek Revolution."

Howe's determination and adeptness served as a milestone by informing Americans about the atrocities transpiring in Greece and managed to raise a generous sum for the purchase of food and footwear for the Greek soldiers. Howe personally distributed all the supplies wisely, giving them immediately to the weak but requiring able-bodied people to work on public works in exchange for supplies. This practical approach was further developed when he established a medical center on the island of Aegina. He also established an agricultural township for refugees in 1829 near the Corinth Canal. Howe returned to the United States to continue his philanthropic activities and died in Boston in January of 1867.

Philhellenism did not disappear when Greece regained her independence. The spirit of American support and pride continues today and is manifested in many forms.


WORDS: Georgia Nikolopoulos

Georgia Nikolopoulos is a founding member of the American Philhellenes Society at


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