In the Turks’ hands & Tracing Freedom: 1821

In 1824, the theretofore successful Greek Revolution which was launched in 1821, showed signs of fatigue and uncertainty. On the one hand, internal conflicts had started among the revolutionaries’ leadership, while, on the other hand, the Sultan asked Mehmet Ali of Egypt for help against them. Mehmet Ali sent his son, Ibrahim, who arrived in Methoni in February 1825 with an infantry of 4,000 men, a cavalry of 500 and a thousand of other soldiers and auxiliaries. Ibrahim did not meet any real opposition. His army was soon increased by thousands of men and within a few months, Ibrahim had conquered Palaiokastro and Neokastro (Pylos). In June, he took over the Peloponnese’s center, Tripoli, and on August 30th he began his invasion in Lakonia. A second raid followed in 1826 and despite Lakonians’ resistance, Ibrahim managed to reach Monemvasia. 

During those two invasions, Lakonia suffered immeasurable disasters. Crops were destroyed, villages were inflamed, while many Lakonians were killed or captivated. Most of them were taken slaves to Egypt and only a few managed to return home, thanks to the efforts of Governor Ioannis Kapodistrias, the Greeks of Egypt and Philhellene groups across Europe.

Kapodistrias was particularly interested in the fate of his compatriot captives and requested lists of them from the administration of the infant Greek state. Those lists included valuable information; not only the captives’ names, but also their age, current location and owner, when known. More than 600 people were taken captives; most of them were from Niata, Kremasti and Arachova. In 1828, the majority of those located by the authorities was still in the Peloponnese, in Methoni, Patras, Pylos and Koroni; but 17% of them had already been transferred to Egypt’s slave markets.

Kapodistrias was particularly interested in the fate of his compatriot captives and requested lists of them from the administration of the infant Greek state. Those lists included valuable information; not only the captives’ names, but also their age, current location and owner, when known. More than 600 people were taken captives; most of them were from Niata, Kremasti and Arachova. In 1828, the majority of those located by the authorities was still in the Peloponnese, in Methoni, Patras, Pylos and Koroni; but 17% of them had already been transferred to Egypt’s slave markets.

Among the captives was the family of Mitros Kanellis, my 4th- or 5th-great-uncle from Geraki, Lakonia. Panos, Maroulitsa and perhaps one more child were caught by Ibrahim’s troops. Aikaterini, Mitros’s wife or daughter, tried to flee to a nearby Monastery in Vrontamas, where about 400 people had found refuge. But soon the enemy’s troops arrived there as well. The Christians locked themselves in the Monastery and Ibrahim set it on fire! Aikaterini had not managed to get into the Monastery and was caught. In 1828, she was a slave in Methoni, perhaps hoping she had met the fate of her compatriots back in Vrontamas. We do not know what eventually happened to Aikaterini, whether she was freed or taken to Egypt. But even liberty would not mean much at that point. Most likely raped by the Turks while in captivity, it was not easy for Aikaterini to return to Geraki. Despite her martyrdom, for her compatriots she had been “defiled” and like many other women she would likely prefer remaining a slave than taking back a freedom she could no longer use.

To honor people like Aikaterini, as well as those who fought for our independence and freedom, Greek Ancestry has launched a new project “Tracing Freedom: 1821”. By March 2021, the bicentennial of the Greek War of Independence, a digital database will be ready, including thousands of names of revolutionaries, captives and their families from all over Greece! Till then, you will be able to search for relevant records through the region databases. Search now through our Lakonia database to find out whether you have a captive ancestor. But if you don’t, don’t feel sorry! They were lucky…

By Gregory Kontos

For more articles like this, as well as for access to great searchable databases of Greek records, do not forget to subscribe to our website and follow us on social media!