VI. Tangible Support: Philhellenes, Warriors and Philanthropists
C4. Letters by Howe and Miller Reporting on the Situation in Greece, and by Gregory Perdicari, a Young Greek Studying in the U.S.
(Editor's Note: The writings in this and the next part were appended to the “Mazro” account, presumably in an effort to reinforce the credibility of his narrative. See p. 111, above)
(Turkish Barbarity. An Affecting Narrative of the Unparalleled Sufferings of Mrs. Sophia Mazro, a Greek Lady of Missolonghi. Providence: Printed for on behalf of the author, March 28, 1828)
ISLAND OF POROS, June 9th, 1827. God of Mercy! what were my feelings, when I saw seven women and three children, who had just escaped from the Turks, arrive at this place.
Oh! Mercy dispel
Yon sight, that it freezes my spirit to tell.
The children were entirely naked, and the women but a little better off, one of them had three wounds in the arm, which she had received from an Arab, her brutal ravisher. I immediately clothed them from the charitable donations of the ladies from New Haven. The distribution at Napoli is nearly finished, but as it has been managed under the direction of Dr. Howe, who will give me a detailed account of all his proceedings, I shall defer the particulars of the distribution at that place until another opportunity occurs of writing. I have distributed all the ready made clothes from the boxes, sent from Orange, New Jersey, to beings all but naked. Many a time, when a daughter of the mountains has presented herself for charity, modesty has prevented me from looking at her, while she, trembling like a forest leaf, gathered her rags around her in order to hide her nakedness. I have distributed ninety-five barrels of Indian meal here, and have now catalogues of more than a thousand families of widows and orphans to whom I shall distribute flour in a few days. The largest Turkish fleet that has ever been employed against Greece is nearly ready to sail from Alexandria. My hope for her salvation rests only in the God of battles. I might write a volume of my own troubles and difficulties, but they look so small in the midst of a nation on point of being sacrificed, that I shall mention none of them.”
In another account Mr. M. speaking of the fall of Missolonghi, observes:
The women and children as well as the soldiers suffered extremely during the siege of Missolonghi, and so did those, afterwards, who escaped. Many chose death rather than be captured. They deprecated above all other evils, the falling into the hands of their unfeeling and cruel enemies. The wants of most of the inhabitants of the Morea are extreme, and those captured are treated in a most brutal manner. In Attica the people are in a destitute condition. But nothing will induce them to submit to their cruel oppressors. They are entirely devoted to free themselves from the Turkish yoke, or to be sacrificed in self defense. They do not fear death-it is only the power of the infidel foe which they dread.
The present state of Greece is inconceivably wretched. Not only are thousands of its inhabitants destitute of clothing sufficient to protect them from the inclemency of the approaching winter, but are in want of provisions to enable them long to support life. The standard of the cross was raised in the Peloponnesus more than five years ago-since which time the Greeks have shewn a determination worthy of their origin, and, in many a hard fought battle, have fully demonstrated, that they will live free of the Turks or die in arms.- They have committed great mistakes, but no greater, than one, acquainted with their condition, might have expected. During my residence among them, instead of being surprised at their crimes, I have often been astonished in seeing so much virtue, amidst such misery and confusion. The result of their struggle, I think is uncertain-but any thing which can be done to relieve their present wants will be a deed of charity, worthy of those who rejoice in lessening the aggregate of human misery.
There is indeed, enough of misery in every part of the world, but that of which I now speak is of a peculiar kind, and which must reach the heart of every American. The Greeks are struggling, as our fathers did, for freedom and independence-though not from a Christian but a Mohometan power. The sacrifices they have made, I believe, are greater than were ever made by any other people. They cannot submit at discretion, without jeopardizing their lives, and exposing their wives and daughters to the lustful passions of a beastial [sic] soldiery. The history of former Turkish treaties teaches them what they may expect, if they submit or capitulate. What can they do? Tell me not of Turkish mercy or of Turkish faith. They are merciful only when there is fear of retaliation, and keep their promise only when it is not for their interest to break it. This is the unhappy state of Greece. For my own part, after having seen much of the nature of the present struggle, and learnt something of the character of the modern Greeks, I have no hesitation in saying, that I consider them deserving the sympathy and aid of the Christian world.
The following is an extract of a letter from Dr. Howe, to the Chairman of the Greek Committee in Boston, dated Poros, Sept. 20.
Sir-Yours of the 20th June, was handed me by Dr. Russ, who arrived safely at this place with the statesman on the 11th. I accept, with cheerfulness, the honourable [sic] part of the coadjutor with Dr. Russ and Mr. Miller, in the distribution of this noble gift of the inhabitants of Massachusetts, to the wants of the suffering Greeks-it is indeed a noble gift-it will feed and clothe thousands of the hungry and naked, and beget for the doners their gratitude and their prayers. It will be my endeavor, with the consent of my coadjutors, to push these provisions as much into the interior of the country as possible, and not to continue the distribution along the sea shore, where the people are more demoralized—it is true, to get them into the interior is more difficult, but still is practicable; and it is there that scenes of human woe and wretchedness present themselves in worse forms than elsewhere for three years I have been familiar with such scenes, and have seen every year the misery augmenting, if any augmentation were possible. To present individual cases is enough to move the stoutest heart-to see a woman, who, after having had her husband and children butchered before her eyes, herself violated, her nose and lips cut off, and then set forth to wander friendless, houseless, and half naked, is indeed dreadful! but when we make the case of the individual that of the mass-when we see the inhabitants of villages, towns and provinces, flying from the ruthless Turk, their path lit up by the blaze of their homes-when we contemplate them months after, wandering among the mountains, their shoes worn out, their clothes ragged, sleeping in caves, living upon grass and snails, rarely tasting bread, and never meat-the cup of woe seems full-and when we add weakness and sickness it runs over-human nature can endure no more, and the poor Greek, abandoned by those who have no possible means of assisting him dies without a roof above his head. Think not that I colour [sic] the picture too highly, or that I repeat to you the tales of others-all this I have seen, and not in one place only, or in one instance. I thank the committee for their consideration in granting me $500; and I desire that, should any thing happen to me, one hundred of it may be given to my Sciote [sic] boy Christophe, and the rest to the hospital for the poor at Napoli, if it should be continued.
Since the preceding letter was written, the writer, (Dr. Howe) a gentleman of the first respectability, has arrived among us, and has furnished the public with a more minute account of the shocking deprivations and sufferings of the unfortunate Greeks-his narrative follows:
Dr. Howe’s NARRATIVE
I left America for Greece in November, 1824, filled with that strong enthusiasm for her cause which was then so prevalent, there was every thing to charm a young enthusiast. Greece, the land of Leonidas and Themosticles, was up, and struggling for political existence; the descendants of ancient heroes were fighting for freedom in that land, covered with the broken columns, and the still splendid ruin, of former greatness; above all, Byron, the generous and noble bard had joined them, and young men were flocking from Europe to serve as volunteers. On my arrival in the Morea, I found every thing as the friends of Greece could wish it; Government had just put down the rebellious chiefs, and had them prisoners; a loan of ten millions dollars had been negotiated, regular troops were organizing; Lancasterian schools were establishing every where; Greeks were coming in from Asia Minor; frigates were building in America, and steam vessels in London. The Morea, the islands, and the Romelia were tranquil; every part was cultivated, and the villages began to swarm with happy peasantry, who then drew the first breath of freedom; I joined an expedition which was destined to attack Patras, and drive the Turks from their last strong hold in the country; but the attention of the expedition was directed to the south of the Morea, where Ibraham Pacha, with 22,000 disciplined Arabs had just landed-and we marched to meet him full of confidence and hope for the Greeks for four years had continually beaten the Turks, driven them from one strong hold to another, till the country was almost free of them. What was their dismay then, on approaching Navarino, to meet small parties carrying off the wounded, others straggling singly, next considerable bodies of soldiers, all flying with evident marks of mortification, defeat and despair. It was in vain to try to persuade them to turn back, or talk of the re-enforcement's coming up.-“These are not Turks,” said the soldiers, “they are European tacticians, who beat us without fighting.” In fact, the poor fellows had, by scientific movements, been driven from their positions; and it looked fatal, indeed, to Grecian liberty, to see the newly arrived troops moving about on the plain below us, with cavalry, artillery, and every appurtenance with regular army: while the Greek soldier was gazing from the mountain side at manoeuvres [sic] which he could not comprehend, and was astonished at the glitter of the bayonet, which he had never before seen. In a few days Navarino fell, and the Arabs prepared to make a dash upon Trippolizza, then the capital of the Morea, with a population of 30,000. There was no means of defending it, and the inhabitants, unable to save their effects, set fire to it, and fled toward Napoli. The situation of the Morea was then terrible; the roads were thronged with men, women and children-old and young-all who could walk, were hastening away; the very old and feeble, and the sick, were left behind; the confusion was indescribable; women got separated from their husbands-children from their parents-the feeble sank down and died, or were overtaken and beheaded-and many women were seized with the pangs of labor by the roadside. Nearly one hundred thousand persons were driven from their homes and were flying to the sea-shore, before the Arabs, who, laying waste the country, burning the villages, and slaughtering all they met, pursued their bloody march across the Peloponnesus, their course marked by the plains of Calamata, Trippolizza, and Argos; and it was only under the walls of Napoli that they were stopped. From that time to this the Peloponnesus has been one wild waste, and the pleasant villages and fruitful valleys that three years ago were to be found in every part of it, are only now to be recognized by the ruins of the houses, and the bones of the inhabitants. Thousands and tens of thousands were taken prisoners, and their fate was horrible indeed; at first Ibrahim Pasha, in the hope of inducing the inhabitants to submit, treated his prisoners with some mercy, but finding it ineffectual, he gave loose to his own fury, and the brutality of his soldiers. Should I detail to you what I know of Turkish cruelty, you might deem it fable; you might think it impossible that in the 19th century such depravity exists. The men have the best fate, they are generally massacred on the spot, though often with torments; many have had sharp pointed stakes driven through the whole length of their body, and been left to writhe and die upon them with all "impalements and lengthened pangs;" those kept for slaves have their noses and ears cut off, and sometimes their tongues cut out.
Such has been the fate of thousands who have fallen into their hands: And what has become of the rest of the people? why one half of the inhabitants of the Peloponnesus and of Romelia have taken refuge in the mountains, or in the islands, or on the sea shore about strong towns; some few of them saved money enough, perhaps, to eke a scanty subsistence; the rest, without houses or other clothes than those they had upon their backs have for three years, lived as they could. The situation of these refugees, principally women and children, is indeed deplorable, and not to be conceived of by comparison with any miseries seen in this country. Perhaps I can give you the best idea of it by describing one particular place say Napoli di Romania.-Around the town besides its own numerous poor, are collected about 6000 miserable refugees who have fled from their devastated villages and live upon the sea shore in small huts or wigwams, built of bushes or mud, on in holes dug in the ground. In one of those huts you will find, perhaps a widow and three or four children, without a table, chair or bed; sallow from long exposure, pale from famine, and with hardly sufficient clothing to cover their nakedness. I have often seen children going about with nothing on but a shirt-and that, too, ragged—I have known young women to keep themselves hid away all day, because their ragged clothes would not hide their limbs. These people have lived in this way for more than two years, partly upon charity, partly by selling one after another, the little valuables they might have saved from their houses, (for they were once comfortably off,) and buying a little bread to eat with the roots which they pick up. You may ask, how can they live? I answer, that American women could not live-but give to a Greek two pounds of bread and a dozen olives, and he will subsist on them a week; but they cannot always get this, and they, many of them, die-from hunger and exposure. It is no high coloured [sic] picture which I hold up to you-nay, I do not, perhaps, put it in a strong light enough. I could tell you of families with no other shelter than the shade of an olive tree; of emaciated half-famished orphans, who go round to pick up the most offensive substances for food; of many a wretch whom I have seen lying by the road side upon the bare ground, parched up with fever, and with no other subsistence than perhaps a draught of water brought by the passenger; but it is not cases of individual misery that you want to hear of; it is that wide spreading general suffering, which, in this enlightened age, the Christian world has tamely looked on, and seen inflicted on a Christian people, by that nation which outrages the most sacred rights of man, and openly scoffs at our holy religion. The unprovoked butchery of the Patriarch and of all the Bishops at Constantinople; the wide spreading massacres at Scio, Ipsara, Candia, and Cyprus where more than fifty thousand were put to death in cold blood, were looked upon by Christian Europe and America, almost with indifference. Nor this alone, but that long oppressed and degraded people when they did rise, and begin the struggle for liberty, in the fond hope of being assisted by Europe, were frowned on and discouraged; and the anathemas thundered at them from Laybach and Verona, were re-echoed by every court in Europe. Their policy has been most vexatious. They have not even observed the cold blooded neutrality which they professed. Austrian vessels brought the Arabian troops to the Morea, and have always served as transports to bring them provisions. Austrian ships of war have convoyed Turkish vessels and protected them from the Greek brigs; they have even fired upon Greek towns upon the slightest provocation. I was at Spezzia last summer, while the Austrian admiral was bombarding the place, and attempting to burn the shipping in the port; and Greek women and children were killed by shot fired from under a Christian flag.-France too, and England have helped their good friend the Turk. The Greeks were refused permission to build ships in the ports of France, while frigates and corvettes were going up for the Pacha of Egypt-officers were refused their passports for Greece, while every facility was offered to those who were abandoned enough to go and discipline the Arabs; and, they are disciplined and instructed by European officers encouraged by their most Christian Majesties. Ammunition and supplies could not be sent from England; and the cannon and shells made for Greece in London, were obliged to be brought to America, and were shipped to Greece from this very port. The battle of Navarino itself, was merely the result of accident, and doubtless its news caused as much astonishment in the Cabinets as in the Divan.-But while the governments of Europe were pursuing this ungenerous, and unmanly line of conduct, the people have not failed to proclaim aloud their sentiments, and in every country committees have been organized for the avowed purpose of relieving the Greeks. Much has been done in America, but nothing in comparison to what is doing in France, Switzerland and throughout Germany; the generous and unwearied exertions of the Philanthropists of Europe have been the means perhaps, of continuing the struggle; for Greece could not have done it without the provisions, ammunition and money sent them.
The contributions sent out from the United States, though, as I observed, trifling in comparison with those sent form Europe, yet went much farther to remove individual suffering; for almost all the European contributions were applied to the support of the war, and the people only heard of them; and it is natural that a barrel of flour, and a garment or two, given to a family, would impress it with a livelier feeling of gratitude, than hearing about a whole cargo sent to the government. This was the case with your provisions, they were distributed among thousands and tens of thousands miserable women and children, and made glad the hearts of many who had not tasted bread for several days. I attended to the distribution of a large portion personally; and perhaps it may be interesting to you to know the manner in which it was done we would hire small coasting vessels and load them with provisions and go to the small ports and thence penetrate into the interior and find the distressed, to every one of whom we would give an order for a certain number of pounds of four, according to their number and wants: they would take these orders and run down to the seashore to get their portions from the vessel.-I have known them to go thirty miles for ten pounds of flour, and sometimes returning from the interior, after giving out the orders, I would meet crowds trudging cheerily home with their bags of four, and as they passed me they would cry out ‘long live the Americans,’ ‘God bless the Americans,' and would often try to kiss my feet!-Whenever we were expected we found crowds of ragged women and children waiting on the beach-it was a general rule to give nothing to the men.
Extracts from the letters of Mr. J. P. Miller, the agent employed by the late Greek Committee to distribute the provisions and clothes sent to Greece.
Poros, June 2, 1827.
We arrived at Poros on the evening of the 29th. I called upon the government soon after my arrival, and explained to them my instructions. The tears flowed copiously from the eyes of Glarakies, who is now Secretary of State, when mention was made of the suffering women and children and old men. The Government expressed the warmest gratitude for this expression of American sympathy for the sufferers of Greece.
Thousands of women and children are living on grass and snails; two-thirds of the population of the country are in holes and caves of the earth, like the wild beasts of the forest. Many families in this vicinity are living in the open air, with only one olive tree to shelter them.
I have distributed in this island one hundred and seventeen barrels of flour, which has been equally divided among 1900 widows, orphans, old men, and the sick. The clothes and shoes, with the exception of those which I gave to the hospital, I have mostly given from my own hands to individuals almost naked. My quarters, from morning to night, are constantly surrounded with the naked and starving, among whom are often some mutilated wretches, who have lost their ears and noses.
Jarvis goes to-morrow to Cenchrea, a small port on the Isthmus of Corinth, from which place he has just arrived, and informs me that thousands of women and children are there, who have fled from Livadia and Megara, Eleusis and the surrounding villages before the victorious army of Reschid Pacha. He informs me that he saw several die before his face for want of food, and that every day puts a period to one or more lives.
No pen can ever describe the misery of this devoted country. No scene in the bloodiest days of Christian persecution could have presented a more appalling spectacle, than what is daily before our eyes now in Greece. Thousands there are who now are living on herbs and snails, whose beds are the rocks, and whose covering is the heavens.
Generosity of the American Females in favour of the Suffering Greeks.
[- The following letter is a literal transcript of one written to a lady in Boston, by GREGORY PERDICARI, one of the Greek young men, who, under the patronage of the American Board of Missions, are pursuing a classical education at Amherst, in Massachusetts.]
Amherst, Nov. 7, 1827.
Madam-Yours of the 25th of Oct. is before me. It forcibly reminds me of the immense debt of gratitude, which rests upon Greece and her sons, towards the benevolent and patriotic of this land, where the genius of liberty loves to dwell. Would to heaven she might rebuild her temple in the “desolate places of her own Greece!” The interest of my beloved, oppressed country will never cease to be an object worthy the attention of the friends of liberty and humanity-never-unless she herself shall sink into the wide grave of the nations that are not.
It affords me great pleasure, Madam, to know that you are making exertions in behalf of my country. Your influence, so far as it is consecrated to the sacred cause of the regeneration of Greece, will tell in that volume of Heaven's records, where the philanthropic zeal of those that live to bless, will remain as an everlasting memorial. I beg you to present to the patriotic Ladies associated with you, this expression of my warmest gratitude. “There is a place in the Heavens," said the Roman Tully, “for those who fight for the liberties of their country.” The Christian Scriptures assign a place at the right hand of God, to him, who giveth a cup of cold water to the suffering in the name of a disciple; much more to those who pray and labor for the salvation of the dying. The sons and daughters of Greece are wading through their own blood to the sepulchres of their fathers; and unless such efforts and prayers as yours, accompanied by the strong arm of the mighty, and the redeeming spirit of the God of Hosts, and, at this awful crisis; the death, dirge of that land of the gifted and heroic will come to us from the mouldering towers of the Acropolis, and the mourning waves of the Egean, and waken, when it is too late, the lamentation-"The fair and the beautiful have fallen-the valiant in battle are laid low, and there is none to help.”
I would avert my eyes from the dark storm that lowers, and blackens, and bursts upon the land of my childhood. Destruction cometh. My country seeketh [sic] peace, but there is none. Her persecutors are swifter than the eagles of heaven. Her warfare is that of the undying spirit of freedom, with the demon of tyranny. Her appeal, therefore, is to the patriotic. Would to God it might go forth as the voice of many waters to the patriotic of the world's entire population. Shall the angel of Freedom revisit the graves and battle grounds of her heroes, but to weep at the tomb of her Achilles, her Karaiskakis, her Gouras? or sighing in sackcloth among the desert solitudes of her once beautiful Athos, look out on her fields, scathed by the ravages of war-upon her whole land sending to Heaven the one agonizing prayer of the oppressed and enthralled!
O, my country! The warfare of Greece is that of gifted intellect with the tiger that prowls with ferocious luxury around the funeral pyres of genius. Her appeal, therefore, is to the scholar. Shall the halls of the Academy remain for ever a court of owls-a place for the beasts of prey to dwell in? Shall silence reign in the mountains of song, and the laurel of poesy fall from the brow that should wear it as immortal?
O, my country! Her warfare is that of the cross with the crescent-of Christianity with the principalities of the powers of darkness. Her appeal therefore is to the Christian. Shall the buried altars of the Seven Churches moulder [sic] with the bones of the slain in battle?
O, my country! I seem to look through the portentous cloud, which is ready to discharge its magazines of wrath upon thee. I see the angel of thy brighter destiny descending from heaven. Behold he cometh! From the vales of Morea to the mountains of Thracia-the voice that summoneth to battle is heard-Onward! Onward! to the conflict! the redemption of Greece draweth nigh!- The voice is heard in this land of the Pilgrims of Freedom. Their Christian daughters assemble with the weapons of spiritual faith. Shall I look abroad over this fair country in vain for the marshalled host of the powerful of their sons–But I cannot reproach a people to whom my country oweth so much. No-already have the “Statesman” and the “Six Brothers,” like the “Mayflower of a forlorn hope,” which succored the infancy of this mighty nation, waked the song of rejoicing in the dwellings of Greece. Is there a Christian who will refuse to co-operate in this holy struggle? I remain silent-moveless, lifeless objects of Nature answer, No.
The political regeneration of Greece will be as life from the dead to the religion of the Eastern world. It will be accompanied by a new and powerful ear of Christian enterprise. Even now, I behold the standard of true faith, with the cross upon its summit, just rising upon the shores of Greece. The crescent hides itself in the blackness of darkness. I behold all Asia and Europe shaking themselves from the slumbers of a corrupt Christianity, and the angels of the Seven Churches rekindling the fire of their altars, and writing upon their walls, Salvation. Shall Christians, then,-shall patriots-scholars fail to feel a common interest in the holy struggle of my country? God forbid!- I am happy, Madam, that I may mingle my prayers with yours for the redemption of Greece.
Source: Constantine G. Hatzidimitriou, Founded on Freedom and Virtue: Documents Illustrating the Impact in the United States of the Greek War of Independence, 1821-1829 (New Rochelle, New York: Aristide D. Caratzas, 2002).