The following post is a little longer than my usual “run of the mouth,” but the good people at Cosmos Philly agreed to run the entire blog. Greeks are a low percentage of the population in the United States, but have a large percentage in the success rate compared to other nationalities – we just don’t hear about it. Read on and be proud. Hope you enjoy – Harry
Most of us can name a hand-full of famous modern-day Greek-Americans. There is George Stephanopoulos, Jennifer Aniston, Michael Chiklis, Tina Fey, and Billy Zane. Some I didn’t know about until recently like Frank Zappa (both parents were Sicilian Greeks – I guess that counts) and Betty White (her mother was Greek, English, and Welsh – that counts too).
Of course, we all know the famous Ancient Greeks such as Aristotle, Pericles, and the gang. But there were many Greeks in-between the ancients and today’s Greek-Americans that need to be remembered. How can you have the discovery of America and not have a Greek involved? John Griego accompanied Christopher Columbus on his first voyage to America and three Greeks, Nikolao, Ioanni, and Mattheo were with Ferdinand Magellan in 1520. A Greek sailor known as Theodoros, may have been the first Greek to set foot on American soil (around modern Tampa and Pensacola, Florida), when he arrived with Don Pamphilo de Navraeth in 1528. It is thought he was killed by Native Americans – he should have known better when the Don told him to go find some gold in “them there hills!”
Years leading up to and after the fall of Constantinople in 1543, many Greeks fled and since they were experienced sailors, sought employment from seafaring nations including Spain. Once they arrived in Spain, their names were changed to Spanish. In 1535, during the conquest of Peru by Francisco Pizarro, there was a lieutenant in the Spanish army, Pedro de Candia a/k/a Petros the Cretan. You always want a Cretan on your side in battle! The Straits of Juan de Fuca separating Washington State and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, was named after Apostolo Valeriano, a Greek from Cephalonia, Greece.
In early America, there were not just Puritans or Pilgrims roaming the countryside, but Greeks too. Captain Thomas Grecian lived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1660 and Michael Ury of Maryland became a naturalized citizen in 1725. Next time you visit Williamsburg, Virginia, visit the first house to be restored. It is the Ludwell-Paradise house named after John Paradise, a linguist and scholar born in Thessaloniki, and his wife Lucy Ludwell.
Have you heard the story of the 1,400 Greeks who arrived at New Smyrna, Florida on June 26, 1768? Dr. Andrew Turnball and his wife, Maria Gracia Dura Bin, daughter of a Greek merchant from Smyrna, Asia Minor, helped recruit the immigrants. They thought the Greeks were well-suited for the climate of Florida. Sadly, within 2 years, 800 died from disease and other factors. One survivor moved to St. Augustine and opened a school and the original school house still stands today as the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the country.There is a story about Greeks fighting for George Washington’s army at the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, NJ on June 28, 1778 and in return, Americans travelled to Greece in 1821 to help them win independence. (I have personally researched this but could not find any concrete facts, but the name of Ypsilanti appears – the great uncles or uncles of the famous Greek revolutionaries).
In the 1800’s a survivor of the massacre on Chios by the Turks in 1822, George Musala Colvocoresses came to America and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, commanding two ships during the American Civil War (the Colvos Passage, a strait in the Puget Sound is named after him). His son, George Partridge Colvocoresses, fought in the Spanish-American War and became a rear admiral and commandant of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Colvocoresses’ great-great-granddaughter, Gretchen Herrboldt Hahn, graduated from Norwich University in 2005. Gretchen received her commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army on May 8, and her great-great Uncle, Col. Alden Partridge Colvocoresses, USA (Ret.) gave her the commissioning oath. Very impressive!
In 1891, Colonel Lucas Miltiades Miller, who fought in the Mexican-American War, was the first Greek-American elected to the U.S. Congress. Photius Fiske (his last name was actually Kavasalis) was a chaplain in the U.S. Navy from 1842 to 1864, and Gregory Perdicaris taught at Amherst and Harvard Universities along with Evangelinos Apostolidis Sophocles, who taught at Harvard for 40 years starting in 1842.
Ioannis Celivergos Zachos, helped design programs to teach the illiterate reading and writing and Michael Anagnos, a protégé of Dr. Samuel Howe, developed a program to teach the deaf and blind. His most famous pupil was Ann Sullivan, the teacher of Helen Keller. Next time you are in the United States Capitol building in Washington D.C., look up at the rotunda dome. In 1885, a Greek master-painter named Constantinos Brumidi, began painting the frescoes and canopy of the dome. In the 20th Century, the list includes actors Telly Savalas, George Maharis, Irene Pappas, and John Cassavetes; opera stars Maria Callas and Irene Dalis; novelist, Elia Kazan; and athletes Timmy Londos, Bill Mackrides, Pete Pihos, Alex Karras, Bill George, Lou Tsioropoulos, Gus Niarhos, Bill Loes, Milt Pappas, Gus Triandos, and Alex Grammas. There were businessmen too. The Skouras Brothers owned 37 theaters around St. Louis and were bought out by Warner Brothers. Spyros Skouras became chairman of 20th Century Fox in 1942. Thomas Pappas owned 35 retail, wholesale, and import stores. William Tavoulareas was President of Mobil Oil. In communications there was Ike Pappas, a reporter for CBS News who covered the Vietnam War and Nicholas Gage, a New York Times reporter and author. In government there was Congressmen Paul Sarbanes, John Brademas, Peter Kyros, and Gus Yatron, and Senator Paul Tsongas. Mayors of American cities included Helen Boosalis, John Apostle, Victor Kriakis, and John Roussakis. And, of course, Michael Dukakis, Governor of Massachusetts and presidential candidate. Those that received the Congressional Medal of Honor included George Dilboy (awarded posthumously for WWI – read his story and what happened to his remains – its amazing) and Christos Karaveris (WWII). In medicine and science there was Dr. Alex Kyrides who discovered synthetic rubber and Dr. George Papanicolaou who developed the “Pap Smear” test to detect cervical cancer.
Today, there are many more prominent Greek-Americans in all fields, including science, medicine, law, entertainment and the arts, business and government. Be proud of them, and… Remember the Greeks!
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