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The United States as a haven for Greek Revolutionary war orphans? Myth and reality



The United States as a haven for Greek Revolutionary war orphans? Myth and reality

Spatial Coverage


04 December 2021


During the revolutionary war decade of the 1820s, American philhellenes and missionaries, in particular, transported some forty Greek orphan boys to the upper East Coast of the United States. There, the boys, most of whom were in their teenage years, were given a new home and also educational opportunities. Traditionally, the terms of “rescue” and “adoption” have been associated with the first stories, and subsequently with the biographies of these Greek-born boys, who became known as τα ορφανά του Αγώνα. Given the positive connotations of “salvation” and “adoption”, the biographies of the orphan boys routinely “drop the curtain” after mentioning the educational and professional achievements of handful of them. Hardly any book or article on the earliest Greeks living and working in the United States lists all the boys – or diverts from the biographical patterns and tropes. Indeed, the terms “rescue” and “adoption” do not invite further questioning of what has long been presented as an emergency rescue situation, in which any “adoption” was better than no “adoption” at all. The stories of Greek girls being “adopted” by Americans are few and far between, but their stories shed a different light on these informal adoptions of the Greek revolutionary era. Also, the stories of the very few Greek girls restore the dimension of individuality and subjectivity that has been missing from the trite redemption narratives featuring the boys. The aim of the paper is to present not the cases of “rescued” orphaned children but the patterns to which their stories were made to conform. It will also present some conclusions that will shed light on the discourse surrounding the (post-WWII) future of adoption of Greek-born children by American families. Thus this paper leads us to rethink the work of American philhellenes on the ground in Greece.

(Edited abstract from organiser’s website)

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