Support for Greek Independence

  • Overseas
  • 1821

The 1821 outbreak of the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Turks stirred deep sympathies among Americans, for whom the struggle for liberty and democracy in a fabled land recalled their own revolution not so long before. A May 1821 letter to John Quincy Adams by one of the Greek leaders sought American support as “friends, co-patriots and brothers, because you are fair, philanthropic, and brave.” While the American government insisted on a position of neutrality during the war, local civic groups encouraged giving. Volunteers traveled to Greece—like Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, who after completing his degree at Harvard Medical School served as chief surgeon of the nascent Greek Navy. Howe and many other such American volunteers spoke at fundraising gatherings in cities like Albany, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. West Point cadets raised $515, while Yale and Rutgers students raised $500 and $177, respectively. Many modest donations were bundled together and dispatched across the globe, the first American effort to provide emergency relief to a foreign people.