April 21, 1825: Ypsilanti, Michigan, named after Greek Revolutionary Demetrios Ypsilantis, is first recorded.
On the east side of the Huron River, in Washtenaw County, Michigan, a small trading post was established in 1809 by French-Canadian Gabriel Godfroy. In 1823, the trading post became a permanent settlement established by Major Thomas Woodruff and was named Woodruff’s Grove. Meanwhile, a separate village on the west side of the Huron River was emerging and was named Ypsilanti after Demetrios Ypsilantis, a hero of the Greek War of Independence, which began on March 25, 1821. Eventually, the two villages merged into one and retained the name Ypsilanti.
But why was this once small and insignificant trading post out in the American wilderness named after a Greek general fighting the Ottoman Turks halfway around the world?
During the early years of the American republic, there was a fascination with all things Greek. The Americans saw the Greek rebellion as a struggle against the Ottomans, who had enslaved the Greeks for 400 years, to restore freedom and eventual democracy to the place that gave birth to these concepts. The fight against the Turks had captured the imagination of many Americans, who had won their independence against Great Britain fifty years earlier. Americans raised money for the Greek cause and many traveled to the ancient land of Homer to fight along with the Greeks.
The people of the mid-west of the United States was no different in their attraction to the Greek cause. In 1824, plans for a federal highway from Detroit to Chicago was underway and instrumental in the planning of that highway was Judge Augustus Woodward of Detroit, who was also enthralled by the heroic struggle of the Greeks. Two leading politicians, Daniel Webster, and Henry Clay, who championed the cause of the Greeks, proposed that the United States recognize Greek independence. In response to the call, Judge Woodward and the other investors voted to name the newly merged villages of Woodruff’s Grove and Ypsilanti as Ypsilanti in honor of the general. It was finally incorporated as a city in 1858.
General Ypsilantis was born in 1793 in Constantinople and died on August 16, 1832, in Nafplion, Greece. He was the second son of Prince Constantine Ypsilantis of Moldavia and prior to the Greek Revolution, he served as an officer in the Imperial Russian Army. During the Greek War of Independence, he was appointed commander of the Greek troops in eastern Greece. He fought in the battles of Dervenakia and Lerna Mills. He also commanded the troops at the Battle of Petra, which ended active operations of the war. The Greeks finally won their independence on September 12, 1829.
Today, a bust of Demetrios Ypsilantis by Greek sculptor Christopher Nastos stands between a Greek and a United States flag at the base of the landmark Ypsilanti Water Tower.