The African – American Philhellene James Jakob Williams, (SHP / Philhellenism Museum collection)


This article is presented in the context of the Special Exhibition on American Philhellenism organized by the Philhellenism Museum for 2021, in collaboration with the US Embassy in Athens @USEmbassyAthens

The Greek fever experienced by the United States in the 1820s and the contribution of American philhellenism to the Greek Revolution have already been highlighted. What is less known is that the struggle of the Greeks was also supported by the African-American community and that an African-American fought bravely on the side of the Greeks.

It is also not known that the Greek Revolution formed the basis, and the Greek slaves became the symbols, of the struggle for the abolition of slavery in the USA.

James Jakob Williams was an African-American Philhellene from Baltimore, Maryland, in United States. He served as a Marine in the U.S. Navy. In this capacity he participated in the war between the United States and Algeria that took place in 1815. He fought bravely and distinguished himself in the battles. He served in Algeria under the command of U.S. Admiral Stephen Decatur, who had recognized his value and bravery. At the end of the operations in Algeria, and after completing his military service in the U.S. Navy, Admiral Decatur suggested that he go to Greece, where slavery had been abolished.

Williams arrived in Greece in January 1827 and was appointed assistant to the British Philhellene Admiral Thomas Cochrane. Williams followed Cochrane everywhere, in all his military campaigns, until the latter left Greece in December 1827. Williams remained in Greece and took part in various battles and naval battles. In many cases, he secretly infiltrated the enemy ranks to collect and convey to the Greeks valuable information, risking his life.

During military operations to liberate Nafpaktos, Williams was seriously injured by a cannon fracture in his arm and leg and was taken to the hospital in Poros. At a critical moment of the conflict, he led a group of Greek fighters and took control of the Greek ship Sotir (Savior), which was unmanned. In fact, he took over the bunny himself, attracting enemy fire. This saved the boat from being captured.

This brave African-American Philhellene offered his life in the struggle of the Greeks. He died in 1829 in Greece.

SHP pays tribute to James Jakob Williams who lived the last years of his life as free man in a free Greece.

But let’s see what the climate was like in America, more particularly in the African American community at the time.

The impact that the Greek Revolution had, arises from the articles published by the first newspaper of emancipated Black Americans in the United States, the Freedom’s Journal, published since March 1827 in New York. That newspaper, interested mainly in the anti-slavery movement, saw in the Greek Revolution a struggle of slaves against oppressive masters. It attached in the news from Greece an importance, comparable to the news from Haiti, Africa and the West Indies. On December 21, 1827, the Freedom’s Journal published with great satisfaction the news on the Naval Battle of Navarino.

Interestingly, this newspaper also expressed sympathy for the Ottoman janissaries, whom it considered (not falsely) slaves that were slaughtered by the “tyrant” sultan Mahmut II a year earlier, and the women of the harems

It is worth noting that the Freedom’s Journal, also published philhellenic poems, like the “Greek Song”, the “To Greece” and the “Song of the Janissary”. These poems make allusions to the motto, “liberty or death” and the universal symbols of oppression, the chains. We present below a few verses:


TO GREECE (F.J. 12/10/1827)

Hail! Land of Leonidas still,
Though Moslems encircle thy shore; […]
Yet quail not, descendants of those,
The heroes of Marathon’s plain;
Better lay where you fathers repose,
Than wear the fierce Ottoman’s chain. […]


GREEK SONG (F.J. 7/9/1827)

Mount, soldier, mount, the gallant steed,
Seek, seek, the ranks of war.
‘Tis better there in death to bleed,
Than drag a tyrant’s car.
Strike! Strike! Nor think the blow unseen
That frees the limbs where chains have been.



For a time – for a time may the tyrant prevail,
But himself and his Pachas before us shall quail;
The fate that torn Selim in blood from the throne,
We have sworn haughty Mahmoud! Shall yet be thy own.


News excerpts from the philhellenic action of various “Greek Committees” in the USA. Top: A 12-year-old boy donates his watch to the Pittsburgh Philhellenic committee, requesting that the proceeds may be sent to the starving Greeks (Freedom’s Journal).


The sad fate of hundreds of thousands of Greek slaves, sold daily in the slave markets of the Mediterranean sea, shocked the American society in the first half of the 19th century. The American Philhellene volunteers who experienced this horror (Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, Jonathan Pecham Miller, etc.) became leading figures of the abolitionist movement against the slavery of African Americans in the United States. This struggle used a central symbol. The Greek slave.

The Greek slave was the famous sculpture created by the great American sculptor Hiram Powers in 1844. It is the story of a young girl from Psara.

Garyfalia Mohalvi (1817 – 1830), comes from Psara. Her parents were slaughtered during the Chios massacre and little Garyfallia was sold by the Turks as a slave. She was discovered by chance by the American Consul Joseph Langston in Smyrna. After much effort, he managed to release her and he sent her to Boston in 1827.

The history of Garyfalia and her beauty, inspired the sculptor Hiram Powers to create, in 1844, one of the masterpieces of 19th century sculpture internationally, entitled “the Greek Slave”.


The Greek slave, a work of 1844 by the American sculptor Hiram Powers


Today the original statue is in the Brooklyn Museum. A copy of the statute is in the Philhellenism Museum in Athens, Greece (

This statue of the Greek slave became the central emblem of the struggle and the campaigns for the abolition of slavery in the United States.


Sources / Bibliography:

  • Jonathan Peckam Miller, The Conditions of Greece in 1827 and 1828, Harpers, New York,1828.

Miller met Williams in Greece and he refers to him in his book as follows:

“Α brave American negro. December 21. Took James Williams, a black man from Baltimore, into my house, he having been some time in the hospital. ‘Williams came to Greece with Lord Cochrane, was cook of the Sauvieur, and conducted himself with great coolness and intrepidity in several engagements, particularly at the battle in the Gulf of Lepanto, where be showed truly that he had been in the school of Decatur; for when no Greek could be found to take the helm, Williams volunteered his services, and was there struck down by a splinter, which broke his leg and arm. He had before contended with the Turks for he had lost a finger before Algiers in the United States service, under Decatur. Being destitute of clothing, I provided him with a double suit.”

Photos from the Ellinika Hoaxes.

  • John Lloyd Stephens, “Incidents of Travel in Greece, Turkey, Russia and Poland“, 1838 – 1839.

Stephens mentions in his book the following:

“I shall, perhaps, be reproached for mingling with the immortal names of Don John of Austria and Cervantes those of George Wilson, of Providence, Rhode Island, and James Williams, a black of Baltimore, cook on board Lord Cochrane’s flagship in the great battle between the Greek and Turkish fleets. George Wilson was a gunner on board one of the Greek ships, and conducted himself with so much gallantry, that Lord Cochrane, at a dinner in commemoration of the event, publicly drank his health. In the same battle James Williams, who had lost a finger in the United Stales service under Decatur at Algiers, and had conducted himself with great coolness and intrepidity in several engagements, when no Greek could be found to take the helm, volunteered his services, and was struck down by a splinter, which broke his legs and arms.”

Photos from the Ellinika Hoaxes.




Article by Theo Dirix


Resumé: Since medieval times the city of Liège in Belgium has been a centre of armament manufacturers. After the French period that lasted until the fall of Napoleon in 1814-1815, the Dutch King William I of Orange-Nassau invested heavily in the metal and weapon industry of the former Prince-Bishopric of Liège. Officially neutral in the Greek conflict, the government formally denied, and claimed to prevent, the exports of arms to the Greek insurgents, carefully protecting its Ottoman market. Initially commercial motives prevailed among all manufacturers, but soon, inspired by the Greek struggle for Freedom, Belgian nationalism also grew in Liège, facilitating weapon deals to Greece.[1]


“My friend,” said the child, the Greek child with blue eyes,

“I wish but for some powder and balls!”[2]

In one of his Philhellenic verses, Victor Hugo, the best-known French author of the era, stages a child who desires weapons more than toys. More than a poetic or romantic myth, the history of Philhellenism also tells the story of economic gain and human loss.

By the end of the eighteenth century, the city of Liège hosted seventy to eighty manufacturers of weaponry, exporting pistols, guns, cannons, knives, bayonets, ammunition, flints, powder and uniforms, mainly to France.

Once in power of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands,  comprising todays Kingdoms of Belgium and the Netherlands and the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, the business minded Dutch King William I of Orange-Nassau invested heavily in the industries of the southern provinces: in the textile industry in Ghent in Flandres and in the metal and the weapon-industry of Liège. Another key of his policy was the promotion of exports.

In 1823, the Dutch Chargé d’affaires in Constantinople, Gaspar Testa, informed his home office that a Dutch ship, le Brisier under Captain Piet Bakker, had sailed to Milo(s) with a cargo of weapons sent by Stephano Paleologo(s) to the Greek insurgents in the Peloponnese. Together with that other Greek merchant in Amsterdam, George Tomasachi (Tomazinos), he already played a pivotal role in the support of the Greek cause. As a matter of fact, Paleologo had sent donations from the Greek committees in Amsterdam and Londen to his family, the Xeno’s linked to the leadership in Hydra. This particular arms deal reported by the Dutch envoy,  however, alerted the central government, emphasising its neutrality.

Obviously this didn’t prevent King William I to further develop the trade with the “East” and the “Black Sea”. One of his representatives, Jean-Baptiste De Lescluze, a trader from Bruges and President of the Chamber of Commerce in Ostend, travelled to the region between 1821 and 1825.  Unknown to the public but confirmed by Dutch diplomatic archives, it also appears that a manufacturer of Liège, D. D. Ancion and Co, had signed a profitable contract of three years with the Ottoman Court. The goods passed through a trading house in Amsterdam, Sigritt. By the end of 1824, so the Dutch envoy reports, the first orders had arrived. The Ottoman market was so lucrative that other arms manufactures from Liège, Philippe-Joseph and his brother Louis (Jean-Louis) Malherbe, also approached the Dutch envoy in Constantinople, after their introduction to the Ottomans by Jean-Baptiste De Lescluze had failed. His commercial mission to the court, indeed, had been aborted in 1821. Sailing to Athens instead, he had sold some of the weapons he carried to the insurgents. When later that rumour circulated in Constantinople, it was strongly denied.[3]


Pistols from Liege (Philhellenism Museum / SHP collection)


While the King and his Government scrupulously protected their commercial interests in the Ottoman market, the Greek cause had started to stir the minds of the people.

In 1972, the Belgian academic Lutgard Wagner-Heidendal unveiled that the Malherbes, mentioned above, were members of the masonic lodge La Parfaite Intelligence, one of the major catalysers of the Greek Committee of Liège. It also appears that the Committee approached committees elsewhere in Europe with the suggestion of providing weapons against donations. With the contributions they had raised in two successful concerts and some other events in Liège, a cargo of weapons manufactured by Mathieu-Joseph Malherbe de Goffontaine had been shipped to Greece in July 1826, as proven by Wagner-Heidendal.


The program of June 3, 1826, of one of the many concerts that took place in favor of the Greeks in Europe. The aim of these events was to raise money for the financial support of the Greeks, and to promote the rights of Greece (Philhellenism Museum / SHP collection).


More details about that shipment stem from a letter, recently rediscovered by the author, in which Nestor Aron announces the imminent departure of La Jeune Emilie with 43 Philhellenes under the command of Raybaud and a cargo of: “4,000 boxes of biscuits, 500 rifles from the city of Liège, 30000 (x) of gun powder, flints, trousers and medical supplies”.[4]

For diplomatic and political reasons, the Government officially denied the weapon trade with Greek insurgents. We can only guess in how far it tolerated or monitored the deals, as did the French and Italian authorities when shipments passed through Marseille or Livorno. Studying the matter, a former Greek Consul in Liège only discovered one small piece of papier, half burned, unsigned and dated 1826, in a private collection outside Liège. The snippet is a rare illustration of the secrecy but also reflects an honest bargain with reasonable prices, so he concluded.


List of a shipment of weapons sent to Greece in 1826


Killing two birds with one stone (pun intended), a section of Liège’s industrials and elite made the transition from commercial interests to political involvement, undermining the policy of the Dutch occupation, as an omen of its complicity in the Belgian revolution in 1830.

Theo Dirix[5]



[1] For this introductory article the author relied on three sources: 1) the exhaustive but forgotten study in Dutch by Lutgard Wagner-Heidendal: Philhellenism in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, published in 1972 by the Royal Academy for Science, Literature and Arts of Belgium; 2) a short article in French by Efstratios Mavroudis, a former Greek Consul in Liège: Relations de Liège avec l’insurrection Hellénique La Presse – La Fourniture d’armes (no further references, with the illustration, assessed here: ), and 3) B. van de Walle, J.B. De Lescluze, in: Handelingen van het Genootschap voor Geschiedenis, Brugge, 1959, p. 76-88, 1960, p. 154-188.

[2] Closing verses of the poem The Greek Child from Victor Hugo’s Les Orientales, as translated by G.B.: in: The Metropolitan Magazine, Volume 36, Saunders and Otley, 1843, p. 375.

In The Greek Boy (Les Turcs ont passés là.) {XVIII, June 10, 1828.}, that same verse has been translated as: “Oh, give me your dagger and gun!”, as a reply to ”Would’st thou a trinket, a flower, or scarf, Would’st thou have silver? ( )

[3] The story of Jean-Baptiste De Lescluze who saved the lives of at least 1100 Greeks who fled the occupation of Athens in 1821 by evacuating them from Pireaus to Salamina, and his offer to negotiate a commercial treaty with Ypsilanti surely merit a separate article.

[4] Recently rediscovered letters addressed to a Belgian Philhellene, (to be published here soon).

[5] Theo Dirix, freelance author, ;



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The Philhellenism Museum presents, in cooperation with the American Embassy, American Philhellenism



In 1912-1913 a group of Greek-Americans and American Philhellenes arrived in Thessaloniki from New York to support the liberation struggle of the Greeks. This postcard, which belongs to the collection of SHP and the Philhellenism Museum, depicts these volunteers in traditional Greek costumes.

The group formed a company which joined the Greek army and participated in military operations during the Balkan wars. This company used an American flag, which survives to this day.


The flag of the Company of Greek-Americans and American Philhellenes who participated in the Balkan wars on the side of the Greeks.


On the occasion of the anniversary of 200 years since the Greek Revolution of 1821, we start publications on Polish Philhellenism and the participation of Poles in the fight for Greek independence. The protagonist of the first article is the cavalryman Franciszek Mierzejewski, whose biography we can publish thanks to the courtesy of Professor Gosciwit Malinowski from the University of Wrocław.

On March 25, 1821, the day of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Metropolitan of Old Patras Germanos, symbolically raised up the insurgent flag over the Agia Lavra monastery in Kalavrita and the Greek War of Independence, known as the Greek Revolution, began.

The struggle of the Greeks for liberation from the Ottoman yoke was faced with a wave of sympathy in Europe at that time, where youth was brought up according to the new Humboldtian ideas, paying great attention to classical studies ​​and ancient heritage. This harmonized with the political mood in many countries, where, after the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815, supporters of liberal, republican and national ideas were forced to live in the heavy atmosphere of absolute monarchies, reactivated at the Congress of Vienna and arranged according to ultra-conservative principles. In this situation, the Philhellenic movement was created all over Europe by a friends of Greece,  who not only organized fundraising to equip the insurgent army and support the victims of Turkish persecution (one of the largest fundraising took place in Warsaw in 1822), but also set off with arms in hand to Greece.

There were fewer Poles among the fighting Philhellenes than Germans or French, but they had a much greater combat value, because among Polish volunteers the majority were not enthusiastic students, but veterans of Napoleon’s army, who could not find themselves in the army of the Kingdom of Poland, commanded by the Russian Grand Duke Constantine. They wandered around various countries in Europe and both Americas, engaging in all conspiracies and revolutions directed against the regime of the Holy Alliance. They could not be missing in Greece as well.

The military achievements of the Philhellenes in Greece in the years 1821-1829 were actually reported in newspapers of high circulation and memoirs in Europe at that time. French Raybaud, German Elster, Swiss Fornes are just a few names from a large group of authors carefully recording the events and names of European volunteers fighting for Greece. There were supposed to be over 1200 men, we know the names of over 600, including over 50 Poles.

Although we know several dozen names of Polish soldiers, the records of them, written from passports, reports, and most often from oral transmissions by Greeks, French and Germans unfamiliar with the Polish language and spelling, makes the research extremely difficult. Sometimes, even when the name can be easily restored to its original Polish sound – for example Jan Dąbrowski, it is impossible to combine it with an otherwise known person.

In the team working on the history of Polish Philhellenism, led by prof. Maria Kalinowska from the University of Warsaw, research on Polish soldiers, participants of the Greek War of Independence is conducted by prof. Gosciwit Malinowski from the University of Wrocław. A few years ago, he managed to restore the identity of the most important Polish Philhellene, who died in the Battle of Peta 4 (16) .07.1822, commander of the 2nd company of the Philhellene corps. In foreign sources, he was mentioned as Cav. Mierzivvcki, Mierzewsky, Merziewski, Merziefsky, Mirziewsky, Mirzefski, Mirzewski, Mirszewski, Mizewsky, Miziefski, Miziewski, Marziefsky, Morzafskis, and in Polish literature as Mierziewski, Mierzewski, even Międzyrzecki. Meanwhile, in the biographies of soldiers of the Napoleonic era, Franciszek Mierzejewski, born on October 22, 1786 in Warsaw, son of Franciszek and Magdalena Gudkowska. On September 26, 1807 he served as a cavalryman of the 2nd company of the 1st Regiment of the Imperial Guard of Napoleon, was well known for a long time.  On November 1, 1811 he served in the 5th company, January 1, 1812 chieftain (maréchal des logis) of the 3rd company, April 11, 1813 à la suite, April 11, 1814 departed for Elba. He returned with Napoleon to France on March 1, 1815 and on May 22, 1815, he became a second lieutenant of the 1st squadron of the 1st Regiment of Cheval Legers-Lancers of the Guard. He took part in the campaigns 1808-15: Wagram (July 5-6, 1813), Vitebsk (July 26-27, 1812), Możajsk (September 5-7, 1812), Berezyna (November 26-29, 1812), Lützen (May 2, 1813), Bautzen (May 20-21, 1813), Dresden (August 26-27, 1813), Leipzig (October 16-19, 1813), Hanau (October 30-31, 1813), Brienne (January 29, 1814), Montmirail (February 11, 1814), Chateau -Thierry (February 12, 1814), Laon (March 9, 1814), Arcis-sur-Aube (March 20-21, 1814), Ligny (June 16, 1815), Waterloo (June 18, 1815). He was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Legion of Honor on May 14, 1813 [No. 35319] for participating in the battle of Weissenfelds / Lützen on May 2, 1813, where he took the son of the Prussian general Blücher into captivity. He left the French service on October 1, 1815 and went to Poland. In the army of the Kingdom of Poland, he did not receive confirmation of his officer rank but he did not accept his degradation to a non-commissioned officer.

And here ends the biography written by the experts of the Napoleonic era, who did not know what the further fate of the cavalry was. Today you can continue his biography. After 1815, Mierzejewski left his country again. He traveled to South America, where he took part in the struggle for independence of the Spanish colonies led by Simon Bolivar. Then he returned to Europe and became involved in the revolutions organized by the Italian Carbonari in the Kingdom of Both Sicily (1820) and Piedmont (1821). After their failure, he came to Greece, where, as a captain, he took part in creating a regular army out of Philhellenes volunteers. He died heroically along with twelve other Poles in the Battle of Peta, when fighting from the roof of a village church he was covering the retreat of a Philhellenic troops attacked by overwhelming Turkish forces as a result of treason.

On the anniversary of the 1821 Revolution, the Society for Hellenism and Philhellenism minted 10 medals commemorating the most distinguished Philhellenes. On one of them there is an unmistakably inscribed name and surname: Franciszek Mierzejewski, with a portrait of a cavalryman of the imperial guard. After almost 200 years of oblivion or partial memory, Franciszek Mierzejewski, the chief of cavalrymen-lancers, the hero of the Greek War of Independence, regained the integrity of his biography.



Letter of 1824 (SHP collection, Philhellenism Museum)

Article by George Thomareis


The letter constitutes a precious part of Greek history. It is a letter written on 28 January 1824 in New York by some J.J.L. addressed to some Gracie in Baltimore.

In the draft letter a lot of information is included, mainly on the emblems (Constantne’s Cross, “ΤΟΥΤΩ ΝΙΚΑ” etc.) the symbolisms and the flags of the Revolution. The information concerning the flag are coming from American compatriots who had seen it in Psara!

The most standing of all, however, is the page with the sketches of the flags and mottos, drawn with Chinese ink in 1824. Maybe world’s first of our flag on paper!

What did actually the contents of the letter mean?

The Philhellenic movement in America was great at that time. In various cities (New York, Boston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati etc.) Philhellenic Committees were founded which gathered funds and clothing to be sent to Greece from various events such dances, concerts etc. for the relief of the hunger-striken population.

The result of this great mobilisation was the dispatch in 1827 of eight ships with food and clothing to Greece (On philhellenism in America see Stephen A. Larrabee, The American experience of Greece 1775-1865, New York 1957).

The New York Committee organised a dance on 8 January and it seems that a member of the Baltimore Committee was asking some information for the decoration of the ballroom for the dance they were preparing.

The dance of the Baltimore Committee had in fact taken place in February 1824 with great success. A nice description of the evening and the decoration of the ballrooms with Greek flags-evidently copying the ball of N. York- was published in the newspaper Ellinika Chronica [Hellenic Chronicles] published in 1824 in Missolonghi (The description was republished by M. Anninos in The Philhellenes of 1821, p. 63-65 and C. Lazos in America and her role in the 1821 Revolution, vol. I, Papazisis 1983, pp. 462-463).


The letter reads:

“In answer to your inquiries respecting the Greek Cross and Flag, I send you the following:

The Cross adopted by the Committee of decorations, as the most appropriate to be displayed at our Greek Ball on the 8th of January was the Cross of Constantine.

It is asserted by Historians that it was seen by that Emperor in the Heavens with the inscription ΤΟΥΤΩ ΝΙΚΑ. By this conquer it occasioned his conversion to Christianity.

In a vision, which it is also said he had the same night, he was directed to adopt the Cross or Labarum as his standard and to inscribe the same on the shields of his soldiers. A further reason for exhibiting this cross was that Prince Ipsilanti fought under it as his banner in all his recent battles with the Turks. It is in the following form of the name of Christ in Greek representing the 2 first letters.

The proportions in this monogram, as taken from an ancient coin, should be:

the perpendicular piece to be of the same length with the transverse piece measuring from the lower part of the curve to the ground – as some authors say that when seen by Constantine, it resembled a flame, our object was to make it as near that color as possible, and after making numerous experiments, we covered it with a bright foil giving nearly a flame colour when a strong light was thrown upon it. Our inscriptions were in letters of gold in a white ground.

There is as yet no National Flag in Greece – each Island or State having its own.

There are three known to us:

– Cross Blue on a White Field.

– Stripes Blue & White alternately.

– Anchor Blue in a white field.

The first of these was only exhibited as harmonizing best with our own and as it is the only one yet seen by some of our countrymen at Ipsara.

I have no doubt it would have given the Committee pleasure to send on the Greek Flag made for us to Baltimore, but the size of the Theater required a flag of 80 Feet length and as economy was studied by us as much as possible, we sewed pieces of bunting together, which have since been taken apart and sold.

We are therefore denied the pleasure of giving this small proof of our wish to cooperate with our friends at that city”.


Note on the Philhellenism of the time

The philhellenic movement in America, around 1823-24, had erupted. In the churches there were sermons in favor of the Greek Revolution, in the theaters special performances were staged to support financially the Struggle, while from 1824 American companies sent to revolutionary Greece swords, rifles, pistols, small cannons and medical supplies!

Many Americans fought on the Greek side, such as George Wilson of Rhode Island, James Williams of Baltimore, Captain John M. Alen, a close friend of General Lafayette, William T. Washington from Washington, and others.

In various cities (New York, Boston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, etc.) philhellenic committees were established which collected money and goods to be sent to Greece, through various events, such as dances, concerts, etc. to alleviate the grief of the starving population. The result of this great mobilization was the sending of eight ships in 1827 with food and clothing to Greece (Stephen A. Larrabee “Greece 1775-1865, How the Americans Saw It”).