Through the Eyes of Sailors on the USS Constitution
(USS Constitution Museum)
In fall 1824, the U.S. Navy ordered the USS Constitution to join America’s squadron in the Mediterranean Sea, under the command of Commodore John Rodgers. Although the United States remained neutral, the Constitution traveled between Greece and Turkey from 1824 until 1828 for purposes of trade and diplomacy. The journals of the vessel’s sailors reveal perspectives that both reflect and challenge the prevailing American idealization of Greeks.
The writings of American marine William Fleming reveal an indifference to the Turks but a fascination and admiration for the Greeks. When, on May 11, 1827, Admiral Konstantinos Kanaris – who had won fame after inflicting significant damage on the Turkish Fleet in retaliation for the massacre at Chios – visited the Constitution, Fleming described him as “one of the bravest men that the Greeks possess” and referred to the “gallant exploits” that endeared him to his countrymen. When General Kolokotronis visited, Fleming described him as “a very majestic looking man, and a great warrior” in the Greek struggle for liberty. Meanwhile, midshipman Edward Clearwater repeatedly referred to “the poor Greeks” receiving relief from Philadelphia and New York, displaying clear sympathy for the Greeks and their plight.
While sailors often expressed sympathy for Greeks as Christians fighting a war against Muslim Turks, and as a civilized nation fighting one deemed barbarian, those who came into direct contact with the Turks could see them in a more favorable light. George Jones (1800–70), a scholar and Protestant minister aboard the ship, described Turks “not the surely, brutal animal, we imagine him” but rather “taciturn” and “polite.” Meanwhile, Jones’ encounters with Orthodox Christianity in Greece and his Evangelical background contributed to his conclusion that “there is no people, not even the Roman Catholics, more superstitious than the Greeks.” In this way, direct contact could challenge generalizations and stereotypes, and maybe even create new ones!
(Courtesy of USS Constitution Museum Collection)
(Aekaterini Laskaridis Foundation)
There is no people, not even the Roman Catholics, more superstitious than the Greeks.
~ George Jones, Protestant Minister
(Photo NH 73418 courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command)
Admiral Canaris accompanied by some other Greek officers visited our ship. He is a man of about 35 years of age of small stature, but well made with dark penetrating eyes, and of a very mild, modest department. He’s one of the bravest men that the Greeks possess, and his gallant exploits have endured his name dear to his countrymen.
~William Flemming, U.S. Marine
(Courtesy of British Museum, Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International)
(Courtesy of the National Historical Museum, Athens)
Admiral Canaris accompanied by some other Greek officers visited our ship. He is a man of about 35 years of age of small stature, but well made with dark penetrating eyes, and of a very mild, modest deportment. He’s one of the bravest men that the Greeks possess, and his gallant exploits have endured his name dear to his countrymen.
~William Flemming, U.S. Marine
(The New York Public Library)