Jonathan Peckham Miller is one of the most important American Philhellenes present in Greece during the Greek Revolution. Miller came to Greece sent by the philhellenic committees of the USA. He fought on many fronts from 1824 to 1826, received the rank of colonel, and in the end he participated from 1827 to 1828 as a representative of the philhellenic committees this time, in the management of the important American aid to Greece, performing a valuable humanitarian work. Before leaving for the United States, he adopted an orphaned Greek boy. This child, Lucas Miltiades Miller, excelled in America and was elected member of the US Congress.
Jonathan Peckham Miller kept an exhaustive diary in Greece, especially for the second period of his presence there (1827 – 1828), which was published in a book. It records some particularly interesting facts about the type of aid that Greece received from the United States, the way it was distributed, its recipients, the needs of the Greeks, etc. At the same time, the book was published in the United States, and it constituted a key instrument to inform the public, on the situation of the Greeks and for the encouragement of the continuation of fundraising actions and the expansion of aid in other areas as well, such as that of education, the establishment of schools and the training of the population.
Miller was born in 1797 in Randolph, Vermont, USA, and died in 1847 in Montpelier, Vermont. He came from a rural family. He enlisted as a young man in the US Army, and served as a trained soldier in the War against England in 1812. He later received the rank of warrant officer, and in 1817, decided to study at the University of Burlington. After two years, a fire destroyed his campus and all his belongings. At the same time, during this period he was inspired by the work of Lord Byron, and then by the struggle for liberation of the Greeks, and became a fierce philhellene, like thousands of young people throughout Europe and America. So he decides to get in touch with the Philhellenic Committee of Boston and ask for their assistance to enlist as a volunteer in the revolutionary forces of Greece. The committee saw in Miller “a man of iron health, with a cultured spirit and full knowledge in military tactics”, as the Boston Telegraph reported on September 9, 1824, and supported him, covering his travel expenses, and securing a small monthly subsistence fee for his living in Greece.
So he left America in August 1824, and arrived in Greece via Malta. He stayed in Malta for two months. There, according to Christos Lazos, he met the Reverend Samuel Wilson (English priest) and the Reverend Daniel Temple of American descent. Daniel Temple went to Malta in February 1822, and brought with him a Greek printing press offered by an American from Paris, S. Wilder, the then head of the American press at the British Mission. With this machine, Daniel Temple printed many pamphlets with religious and propaganda content in favor of the Greeks, in Greek language. When Miller left Malta for Greece, he took with him thousands of printed leaflets to distribute in Greece. In fact, in one of his letters he expresses the joy caused by the fact that these pamphlets attracted great attention by the Greeks, who read them with great interest.
He then arrived in Zakynthos from Malta, and on November 26, 1824 of the same year, he landed in Messolonghi, and presented himself to Alexandros Mavrokordatos, to whom he delivered the letters of recommendation he had received from the Philhellenic Committee of Boston. There, he has the good fortune to meet his compatriot George Jarvis, with whom he immediately develops a close friendship. Their diaries and correspondence witness for the respect and admiration they had for each other. In fact, Jarvis teaches Greek to Miller and helps him acclimatize to the Greek reality. Miller saw in Jarvis “a man of principles and brave as a lion.”.
Miller was a pure and selfless Philhellene. He never asked the Greek administration for money. In fact, he was becoming upset when he was seeing others asking for money and salaries, while everyone knew that there were no resources.
During his stay in Greece, he often writes letters to the United States in which he highlights the struggle of the Greeks, their deprivations and their needs. In all of them, he asks the Committees to inform American volunteers who may want to come to Greece, that they had to bring money with them (at least 200 USD a year) and full armament. His letters attract a great interest and are constantly published in the American press.
Miller learned quickly Greek, wore a Greek costume (he even shaved his head like the Souliotes) and was especially loved by the Greeks. He started with the rank of captain and within two years he reached the rank of colonel. In 1824 he was present at the Assembly of Western Greece in Aetoliko.
The other great American Philhellene, military Dr Samuel Howe, refers in his diary on the appearance of his friend when he returned from the Congress in Aetoliko. “You know Captain Miller. He is still the same brave man. He is a strict, wholehearted character and is a soul and a body devoted to the cause of freedom. You will laugh if you see him. He has shaved his head, he is wearing the Greek flokati, with the pistols on his belt, his yatagan and gun on his shoulders, he is a very strange figure. He serves as a captain, and he is expected to very much serve the fight”.
An interesting letter from Miller follows, in which he describes on his own his impressions from Greece.
“Messolonghi, January 5, 1823
Dear friend. I crossed the ocean and I am in Greece, the country that is so famous for its classical history, the bravery of its warriors and the love they have for freedom.
Although I was determined before I even departed to come here and I was ready for everything, I can’t help but say that, at some point, I was disappointed.
I expected to find at least a number of regiments formed, without having to be obliged to find my own bread. But this is not the case. In terms of tactics, the Greeks are very similar to our Indians. Every captain finds as many men as he can advocate with little money and leads them against the enemy. When the battle is over, the chieftains present their various accounts to the government and receive payment promises. This situation, although it slightly refutes my hopes, is not against the Greeks. We cannot demand that, even in America, troops are paid and dressed if there was no money to pay and dress them. The truth is this: there is little money in Greece. The British loan and what America has sent, are the only financial resources on which the Government can rely to activate its actions. Therefore, it is very correct to spend as little as possible.
As I asked him, colonel Jarvis gave a general account of the situation, as it was and as it is, in Greece. He seems to have a great influence on things in Greece. I think he is a very good person and I consider myself lucky to be with him. I was so upset with the attitude of the Franks that they constantly annoyed the government by asking for money so that I did not submit any application to it, but I only showed my recommendation letters to Governor Mavrokordatos.
I am sure that the beauty, humility, simplicity and virtue of women are unprecedented in any part of the world. The mountains are now covered with snow. But the valleys and plains are green with grass. Greeks do not have horse carriages or wagons. Like the Turks, they carry all their cargoes with horses, donkeys and mules. The plains of Western Greece that I saw are fertile. The wine is of god quality. It only costs sixteen cents a gallon. If the country achieves its freedom, which I have no doubt about, they will be able to open very useful trade relations between Greece and America.
I hope, dear Sir, that if the Turks do not intervene, I will have the pleasure to receive your letter as soon as possible. Do not forget that I am an old soldier and therefore I have a right to ask for this grace.
I learn the language of the country quite quickly. Greeks talk a lot about Mr. Webster (SHP Note: He refers to the American Senator Daniel Webster, who had addressed a fiery speech in favor of the Greeks in the US Congress).
I kindly ask you, dear Sir, to give my greetings to my friends in America and believe that I am faithfully
Yours J.P. Miller. “
In another letter to the Philhellenic Committee of Boston, he states that he and Jarvis were planning an operation to liberate Nafpaktos.
Miller then met the other great Philhellene, Dr. Samuel Howe. The writings of both show that they became close friends. In fact, these three fiery Philhellenes, formed an emblematic trinity, which was present in almost all military operations of the Greeks on land and at sea.
In fact, according to Samuel Howe, Miller defies dangers, hardships, deprivations, and is committed to the Greek Revolution, and even offers his services humbly, without claiming honors, with patience and faith. Both Miller, as well as Jarvis and Samuel Howe, defended the Greeks at every opportunity, even when they were accused.
For example, Miller refers in his writings on his impressions from the Congress of Western Greece in Aetoliko with the following words: “I was there and I saw a hundred Greeks discussing their problems for ten days without the slightest violent outburst. Where else could one meet two thousand soldiers who are not drunk? I have not seen a single drunk in this place … I do not believe that the beauty, modesty, simplicity and decency of women here exists in any other part of the world “.
Miller was in Messolonghi during the last siege by tens of thousands of Turks. In fact, he operated a canon with great success, since, according to Dr. Samuel Howe, “his first shot was completed successfully: four dead opponents were the price.” Miller referred in his writings to the heroic resistance of the Greeks in Messolonghi. For fifteen days he himself resisted, and in the end he managed to escape the siege of the besiegers and finally it seems that he escaped just a few days before the Exodus. We deal with this issue below.
In another letter of January 14, 1825, excerpts of which follow, Miller presents to the Philhellenic Committee of Boston the situation and his impressions of his stay in Greece:
“Messolonghi, January 14, 1825
… Greeks will be liberated. The reasons why I believe this are the following: Despite the misery that exists (and I am sure there has never been a bigger one in another country), the general idea is that not only men but also women and children would prefer to die rather than be enslaved to the Turks again. If the enemy were far away, I would not take such statements seriously, but because they are only twenty miles away, they clearly show the decision of the Greeks. …
… The order and legality with which the Conference of the various provinces of Western Greece was held in Anatolikon, on December 16, 1824. I was present at the Conference. It was attended by the most important inhabitants and senior citizens of the various regions who met for ten days, during which all the affairs of Western Greece were settled amicably, although the officers and soldiers who defended the country in the last six months had received neither salaries nor clothes, nor food. There were two thousand soldiers in the city, who had arrived with their leaders. However, there were no fights or riots, and the Senate, with its order and orderliness, would be worthy of any country. When I see a hundred men – most of them armed – talking calmly about the affairs of their homeland for ten days without disagreeing, while they would have every reason to complain, I immediately conclude that they are capable of doing much. Mavrokordatos is undoubtedly the first Greek both for his talent and his influence. Although he defended his province all year without one penny, his officers are loyal, despite the fact they are fed only with hopes.
… I hope that with God’s blessing I will be able to help the Greeks. This hope comforts me in the midst of so much general misery that surrounds me. …
… Greet on my behalf the friends of Greece in America. Tell them that every day I see such misery that cannot be described. Women and children escape from the hands of the Turks, without a cloth to cover them or a piece of bread to eat. If there was a country that needed the charity of the Christian world, that must be Greece. “.
As mentioned above, these letters, apart from constituting historical sources, served another important purpose. That of informing and influencing the American public opinion, and cultivating the Philhellenic movement in the United States. In fact, they were the catalyst for the collection of funds and the conduct of fundraising events in favor of the Greeks.
It is worth mentioning another aspect of Miller’s action in Greece. In March 1825, the Reverend Samuel Wilson arrived, and Miller accompanied him on his tour of Greece. During this tour, Miller had the opportunity to distribute the leaflets printed in Malta, and it is characteristic that he noticed the thirst of the Greeks for education. Miller writes about this: “… Greeks in peace or in war are thirsty for learning and are ecstatic at the sight of a pamphlet or a Bible and are able to give a proper battle to obtain such a pamphlet that they so characteristically call it Feather. Many times in my camp I saw soldiers gathered around a colleague listening to him reading a text.”. However, the way in which he describes the Greeks is also interesting: “The peasants are modest and honest, the traders are liars, cunning, insidious, the soldiers are brave, courageous, absolutely devoted to the idea of freedom … the Greek women modest, moral, beautiful. … ‘I lived like a Greek with the Greeks, I am ready to suffer for the idea of religion and freedom. You can call me a crusader or whatever, but I live only to see the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.”.
Miller followed Jarvis in a series of operations in Central Greece and then in the Peloponnese, and eventually ended up in Nafplion. There, as we mentioned, he met Dr. Samuel Howe. Meanwhile, Ibrahim Pasha had occupied Tripolitsa and had launched a campaign to capture Argos and Nafplion. Miller, along with other philhellenes, joins the forces of Demetrios Ypsilantis and goes to Myloi to confront Ibrahim.
Greek forces take up battle positions. Miller’s unit, which includes many philhellenes, is fortified behind the wall of a farm. There, they are met by numerous Turkish-Egyptian troops on June 13, 1825, and one of the most important battles of the Greek liberation struggle begins. The Battle of Myloi (the Mills), in which two great Greek fighters were distinguished. Dimitrios Ypsilantis and Ioannis Makrygiannis. Miller and the Philhellenes, despite being surrounded, held their position and fought valiantly, even body to body. And while their condition was dire, General Makrygiannis intervened with few men, who struck at one side with speed, force and shouts the enemy. The Turks panicked and began to retreat. The Battle of Myloi ended with the victory of the Greek forces and the retreat of Ibrahim’s army to Tripolitsa. As many sources attest (Howe, Gordon, Humphrey), Miller fought with exemplary courage.
Shortly afterwards, in the summer of 1825, Miller fell seriously ill from malaria. Fortunately, Samuel Howe was by his side and healed him. But because his body was very weak, Howe took him with him on the ship in which he served as a military doctor, chief physician of the Greek fleet. A mission had been assigned to this fleet in Gramvousa, Crete, which at that time had revolted and was under the control of Cretan revolutionaries led by Dimitrios Kallergis. During this campaign, Miller worked as an apprentice medical assistant to Samuel Howe for two months, working for the medical care and treatment of the injured.
After this campaign, Miller wrote a letter to a relative in the United States on October 5, 1825, stating, among other things: “… I want to help for the independence and rebirth of this country … Although I have had really hard hours and moments, I bless the Most High, who put in my heart the desire to come to Greece and I am ready and willing, if that is his will, to die for her sake.”.
As mentioned above, Miller took part in another important moment of the Greek struggle for liberation, in Messolonghi. He took part in the operations to defend the city during the last siege and fought bravely to the end. Apparently he managed to escape Messolonghi shortly before the final Exodus. Evidence from various sources suggests that he left the city suddenly and unprepared, and that he had a very clear and complete picture of what happened during the Exodus.
In fact, in a letter dated May 3, 1826 to Edward Everett, the great American Philhellene and president of the Philhellenic Committee of Boston, he described in detail what was at stake during the Exodus. “… With unexpressed emotion, I am trying to tell the story of the fall of Messolonghi, and the heartbreaking situation of unfortunate Greece. Mesolonghi fell to the Turks eight days ago, after a heroic defense of eleven months and a half. Given the means of defense and the overwhelming torrent of enemies who surrounded the land and sea again, there can be no doubt that history has not seen such endurance in the past or in modern times. The details of the downfall are enough to bring tears to the eyes of the most callous and unconscious, and they will raise in action the Christian world, if indeed it can be said that there is such a thing. I am sorry, dear Sir, the anxiety in my mind dictates this expression because, who could ever believe that, in this century, while Christians exist, the infidels would have the freedom to slaughter an entire population. Messolonghi had more than eight thousands inhabitants at the time of the surrender, or rather the destruction. Only three thousands of them were able to carry weapons, the rest were women and children. We had finally come to despair in the absence of food, having already used for food all the mules and horses who were there, when the gloom of the inhabitants gave way to joy at the arrival of the Greek fleet. But hey! The brave Miaoulis found the Turkish force very large for his small naval division, after three attempts to break up the Turkish fleet, undergoing considerable losses, they retreated. The inhabitants of Messolonghi were left in the final despair. They recognized the hard fortune of those who were arrested in Aitolikon, and what atrocities would be committed by the Arabs, if the city were to surrender. They made the horrific but heroic decision to blow up their wives, daughters and sons.
I call it heroic, because the women themselves asked for it, since there was no way to prevent the Arabs from committing atrocities against women and children, if they ever had them at their disposal. So they all went to the old Turkish Sarai. The husbands and their brothers, after assembling the gunpowder, kissed them for the last time, and then gave them the matches, leaving them to set fire to the gunpowder. The men then prepared to cross the Turkish camp with the sword in hand. Of the 3,000, only a thousand are said to have survived.
What undisguised sadness prevails here. Women beat their breasts, and ask every Frank they meet “if the whole Christian world has abandoned them.”. I have to end this hasty misspelling because my heart is overflowing to such an extent that I am unable to write more. I lost all my European clothing in Messolonghi. But that is nothing. If I am lucky enough to escape, I will go to Smyrna.
My admiration for Mrs. Everett, I am glad that it is not her or the fate of the beautiful, but unfortunate daughters of Greece.”.
Another primary source is Miller’s diary after his return to Greece, during which time he managed to distribute the aid that arrived in Greece from the United States. On May 28, 1827, he refers to the conditions under which he left Greece a year ago and specifically states that he did not have “money, clothes and a passport, I had lost the last two in the fall of Messolonghi, in whose defense I had taken part. ”.
Many historians have dealt with the issue and expressed their views on whether Miller participated in the Exodus or not. However, even those who take the position that he was not at the Exodus (Christos Lazos, Thanos Vagenas, Evridiki Dimitrakopoulou), they do not claim that he was not in Messolonghi and that they he did not defend the city during the last and fatal siege. It is most likely that Miller participated during the siege until the last days and that he was given an unexpected opportunity to leave suddenly shortly before the Exodus. He may even have been close to Messolonghi when the Exodus took place, and that found himself with those who survived shortly afterwards.
The main argument of those who claim that he was not in Messolonghi, is that he might have left his European clothes there before leaving for Crete. This is hard to believe, however, because even if that were the case, he would never have left his passport there, which he needed even in Greece.
Miller eventually made it to Smyrna, from where he traveled to the United States, where he arrived in November 1826. During his time in the United States, he collaborated with the Philhellenic Committee, wrote and published numerous articles, with an aim to motivate again the public opinion and support fundraisers in favor of the Greeks.
Miller returned to Greece a little later, in March 1827, as an envoy of the Philhellenic Committee of New York, with a new and different mission this time, which had a humanitarian character. The distribution of American aid sent to the newly formed Greek state.
The United States sent a total of 8 ship cargoes to help the Greeks. The first was “Six brothers” which left from New York on March 13, 1827, and the last one was “Suffolk” which left from Boston on September 13, 1828.
At the end of 1828, when the distribution of humanitarian aid was completed and he realized that Greece had now established a free state, Miller considered that his mission was completed, and he decided to return permanently to the United States. This trip is associated with a particularly moving event. Shortly before leaving, Miller met three orphaned Greek children, two boys and a girl. The situation of these children, who had no relatives left, moves Miller and another American Philhellene, Dr. John Denison Russ (a short biography is attached below). They both decide to adopt these children. Miller adopts the youngest of them, Lucas Miltiades, and Russ adopts the boy and the girl. No research has yet been done on what happened to these two children.
Professor Iakovos Michailidis has recently conducted a thorough study on all children from Greece adopted at this time by Americans in the United States.
While it is not known so far what happened to the two children adopted by Russ, the young Lucas Miltiadis (now Miller), became a successful businessman in the United States, very popular in the State of Wisconsin, and was elected a member of the US Congress. He was the first Greek-American politician in the United States.
After Greece, Jonathan Peckham Miller had a particularly remarkable career in the United States, and remained as a personality consistent with his ideology and the pure feelings he shared as a Philhellene. As soon as he returned to the United States, he registered in law school. In 1831 he was admitted to the Bar Association of Berlin in Vermont.
Miller was involved in politics. He became an uncompromising defender of human rights, of women’s rights and of the abolition of slavery. For this purpose, he even submitted many proposals for resolutions to the Parliament of his State. In 1840 he took part in the International Conference on the Abolition of Slavery in London. Thanks to its action, Vermont was the first US state to abolish slavery.
Jonathan Peckham Miller had bought in Greece one of the swords of Lord Byron, which had been lost. His daughter, Keith Miller, traveled to Greece in 1853 and eventually managed to locate the sword and returned with it to the United States. This sword is now in the Vermont Historical Society.
Greece, Hellenism, and Philhellenism, but also the humanity in whole owe a lot to this great freedom fighter Jonathan Peckham Miller.
(*) Biographical note on the Americal Philhellene, Dr. John Denison Russ (1801-1881). American physician and philanthropist, born at Chebacco (Essex), Massachusetts, in September 1801. He died at Pompton, New Jersey, 1 March 1881. He was graduated from Yale in 1823, studied medicine in the United States, in London, and on the Continent. In 1826 he began practice in New York, between 1827 and 1830, he was in Greece aiding the Greek patriots, and upon his return he began the first instruction of the blind attempted in the United States. He was invited to organize the Institution for the Blind in Boston, but preferred to continue his independent work. In 1832 he became superintendent of the New York institution, a post from which he resigned in 1858. His inventions and improvements for the assistance of the blind were widely used. Latterly he was active in endeavors to improve prison discipline and further the welfare of discharged prisoners.
Bibliography – Sources
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