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Samian warships during the 1821 War of Independence

We manage to find an amazing study, uploaded in the website of the General Lyceum of Samos. The study was made by the philologist Elpida Katsikogianni, who we praise for this fantastic upload. We publish it in our website, on the occasion of the March 25th National Holiday (March 25th commemorates the outbreak of the 1821 War of Independence).

Historic research, apart from the discovery on new information regarding the past, it also helps us understand and reconstitute our past. Sometimes it also creates, to the reader or the researcher, the desire to travel back in time in order to live the past with all his senses.

I was occupied with such a desire when I began studying the local history and the 1821 National Archives. And, for some time, the idea to study the naval contribution of Samos and its warships to the 1821 War of Independence thrilled me. A list in the book of Ioannis Zafiris (titled “Logothetis Lykourgos, the great one of 1821”), which categorizes the battleships and the names of their captains was the reason why I choose to study the issue, not with a mood of a detailed survey, but with a mood of satisfying my human curiosity regarding the means available to the people and the fighters of 1821. So words like “martigos”, “tserniki”, “galiota”, “mistiko”, “schooner”, “brig”, “zampeko” etc. “danced” around my mind and eventually led me to the “seas” of historical, lexical, and internet survey.

The War at Sea, during the 1821 War of Independence, is one of the most interesting and important issues of the Modern Greek History. Many books, essays, dissertations, and papers have been written so far, but research continues, especially in the field of National Archives. Certainly, the islands of Hydra, Spetses and Psara played a major role in the war, with their developed and powerful commercial shipping and naval power, especially since the 18th century, but Samos to has offered its own “naval weight” in the 1821 War of Independence.

According to Epaminondas Stamatiadis, shipping in Samos developed late because the island was able to produce locally almost all the necessary products and services for its population. In other words the island was self-sufficient in goods and services, something that is not observed in other barren islands of the Aegean Sea, such as the islands of Spetses, Hydra, and Psara whose inhabitants were “forced” to turn their eyes and attention towards the sea in order to survive.

Besides, the Ottoman Turks forbade the construction of large ships, while the fear of being captured by pirates deterred any possible merchant or even traveler to set sail in the Aegean Sea. For example, during the last quarter of the 16th century, Hugh de Crevelier, a notorious and brutal French pirate, terrorized, with his raids, the population of the Aegean islands, while in 1676 he attacked and destroyed Samos.

            So in the 18th century Samos had few and small ships, mainly ferry-boats, called “woods” by the locals, and where used to transport people and goods between Samos and the small island nearby or between Samos and the opposite Asian Minor coast. These small boats use to travel from March to October every year, while during the winter months stayed in the safety of the port.

Around 1740, Alexios Raptis from Marathokampos, brought shipbuilders from Patmos Island and he was the first and real shipbuilder or ship-owner of Samos (he built a ship called “Martigo”).

By the name Martigo we mean the early 19th century small sailing boats with a large mast in front, a sail [2] and a “sakolaifi” (cloth) [3]. It was a downgraded version of the ship called “Tserniki”. Tserniki was a sharped asterned sailboat with one single mast covered with a single and big sakolaifi and it was extremely stable and maneuverable even when side sailing.

These sailing boats were used as means of transportation between the islands as well as fishing boats. The Ottoman Turks, in the east coast of the Aegean, use to call them “Karamousal”.

But how did Samos managed to create a flotilla of 35 warships in 1824 is a question worth examining using all sources available to our disposal in order to understand the value and the size of the Greek naval power during the 1821 War of Independence, especially in relation to Samos. At the same time, of course, we examine topics relevant to the type of ships consisted the 35 Samian warships, what kind of missions did they conducted or executed, the means available to them, the supplies, and the distribution of the spoils.

            The Martigo of Alexios Raptis travelled to Constantinople and other major port of the Ottoman Empire and, of course, his captain was honored for his courage, his travels, and his activities.

Following the successful and profitable example of Alexios Raptis, and during the Russian Domination and the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca (1774), sailors from Leonidio and Voies of Lakonia, as well as from Spetses Island, came to Samos and built ships for Samian ship-owners. These ships sailed from Samos and reached Russia and Western Europe, thereby creating wealth and opportunity.

From this point on (1774) it is noted the birth, development, and growth of shipping in Samos. When Samians got used of the sea, they increased the number of their ships and formed a significant commercial flotilla, which accumulated a great amount of wealth in the island.

Epaminondas Stamatiadis reports that, during those years, Samian sailors where well known for their knowledge and expertise as well as their naval skills, especially the sailors from the city of Marathokampos, many of whom showed great courage and fearlessness. He presents the following examples: (1) John Deligiannis all by himself took his boat (1,5 tons displacement) and traveled from Samos to the Sea of Marmara (Propondis) (2) George Doudounas with his small boat traveled from the island of Hydra to Samos, because he yearned to eat Samian grapes (3) Dimitri Giaoudis leaded a small boat with apples and travelled to “Tamiathin” in Egypt where he sold his apples.

Two other sailors, Stamatis Georgiadis and Emmanuel Angelinidis, are also noted by Epaminondas Stamatiadis, due to their gallant deeds while at sea.

            All these examples prove the shift made by the people of Samos towards the sea and its wealth, as well as their growing tendency to demand, unconsciously of course, a small piece of the pie called “maritime trade and transportation”. Besides we shall not forget that, at the time (i.e. late 19th century), favorable conditions were present, due to the international political situation, namely the Seven Years War (1756-1763), the War of the American Revolution (1778-1783), and the wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars that followed (1789-1815), all of which forced European commercial ships out of the Mediterranean Sea. On the other hand, Greek shipping was greatly benefited by certain treaties like the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca (1774) or the Treaty of Ainalikavak (1779) [4].

On the other hand, it is well known that the Ottoman authorities use to “employ” a number of people from the villages of Marathokampos, Kastania and Leka, in order to serve the Ottoman Navy. These Greek sailors (called “Seferli”) where serving for few years, usually three (3) years, for 115 piasters per year [5] tax free, while they were also exempt from any kind of chore. The following text is an actual contract and is very interesting, not only due to the information it provide but also due to its way of writing:

 “Through this letter of agreement, the two parts, namely Michael Athinaios and John Vrotsos, reveal and confess that they promise, with their own free will and their satisfaction, to go and work to the Royal Job as the three villages i.e. Marathokampos, Kastanea, and Leka are commanded. Due to this command they have compromised, promised, and agreed to go and we paid them for three years’ service and we gave them 115 piasters each, I say one hundred and fifteen, and any other payment should take from the Royal should be theirs. Also for the time they serve they should not pay saliane [taxes] or any other payment and they promise to go to work in faith and certify this.

1796, March 6

Michael Athenian by not knew how to write, puts the point of his finger and promises.

John Vrotzos puts the sign of his finger.

Leka village promises.

Kastanea village promises.

Nickolakis, I was begged to write and witness, and so I did.”

 But how, in fact, can be reconciled the “pleasure” of the seferli sailors with the fact that the three abovementioned villages were “commanded” to send sailors to serve the Ottoman Navy? This is quite a subject, because these people were forced to serve as sailors either by necessity (i.e. in order to survive) or because their own community forced them to do so. One thing is certain however: Through this process, some of the sailors who managed to survive this ordeal and return home safely, manned, few years later, as experienced sailors, the Greek warships of the 1821 War of Independence. [6]

Following the developments, historical and economic, we reach the early 19th century when Nicholas Stamoulos [7] from Pagonda, build a large Martigo (the ship cost some two thousand Venetian florins). With his ship Stamoulos traveled to many ports and places thereby winning the appreciation and the recognition by his own countrymen. Following his example and success, many others dared longer voyages, like Anagnostis Kepetzakos from Karlovassi, who travelled, with a smaller ship, from Samos to Methoni and Koroni and back to Samos (Methoni and Koroni are located in the South-West end of Peloponnesus).

            Samian shipping in particular and Greek shipping in general, was further developed during the Peninsular War (1807-1814) fought in Spain, since it is widely known that many Greek ship-owners, among them some Samians, violated the naval blockade imposed by Napoleon (the so-called Continental System, a blockade forbidding British imports into continental Europe) and supplied the Spaniards with goods.

When Napoleonic Wars ended for good in 1815 the prices of cereals fell rapidly. As a result most Samian ship-owners were devastated financially and only few managed to survive the crises and sustained part of their wealth.

In 1821, when the Greek War of Independence began, Samos didn’t have many, suitable for war, ships. However, soon was organized effectively and by 1824 Samos had 35 warships of various types ready to fight the Ottomans at sea.

The first cruiser ship was a Martigo (or Martigana) of Captain Manolis Hadzigeorgiou, named “Panagia” (“Virgin Mary”) [8] Manolis Hadzigeorgiou turned his commercial ship to a cruiser, following the intervention of Dimitris Themelis, the General Commissioner of the “Filiki Eteria” (“Society of Friends”, it was a secret 19th century organization whose purpose was to overthrow the Ottoman rule of Greece and establish an independent Greek state). Themelis arrived in Samos (24 April 1821) along with Lykourgos Logothetis in order to mobilize and organize the island for war. “Panagia” undertook the task of guarding the Eptastadiou Straits (or Dar Bogazi in Turkish), thus allowing the two ships from Spetses patrolling the area, to leave. There were other ships patrolling the area according to the registered [9] accounts for the first year of the Greek War of Independence (1821), which shows the expenses made by the central provisional government: (1) For the supply of the Samian ships with necessities, such as gunpowder, lead, iron for the cannons, peas or tar, wood, nails and balls, cork for the parapet, wine, meat, bread, rusk, barley, wheat, needles to sew the sails, cheese, rice, coffee, and sugar (2) Money for the sailors (salaries) (3) For the supply of the other Greek ships (e.g. from Hydra, Spetses, and Psara), which came to help Samos.

Following these first and hasty actions, the shipyards of Samos, under the guidance of Lykourgos Logothetis, worked franticly and around the clock in order to deliver new warships like “Achilles” of Captain Stamatis Georgiadis, equipped with 20 guns (cannons), the schooner “Chariclea” of Constantine Palaios, equipped with six (6) cannons, the schooner “Scylla” of Paraschos Tsakiropoulos, equipped with four (4) cannons, and the Martigos named “Saint Nicholas” of Theodore Fokos, equipped with six (6) cannons, and other smaller ships.

The ship “Paronas” was also called “Briki” or “Vriki” or “Vrikion” from the English word “Brig”. It was a large sailing warship with two masts and square sails. The speed of the ship could be increased by placing a trapezoidal-shaped sail in the aft mast. The displacement of these vessels allowed them to use several guns (cannons), around 15 or more.

The schooner is a two mast sailing ship (both sails are tilt slightly toward the stern). The two masts hold large sails, while the fore mast also one or two square sails.

By 1824, Samos could summon two (2) brigs, one (1) Martigana, four (4) Martigos, nine (9) schooner, 12 Tsernikia, three (3) Mistika, three (3) Trawls or Galiotes, and one (1) Zampeko. In total 35 warships [10].

The Zampeko (or Sebek or Livyrnis) and the Mistiko were a three-masted sailing ships, fast and versatile with large triangular sails, which were supported on very long and thin masts (the sails and the masts are forming an acute angle). The foremost mast was very close to the bow with a characteristic forward slant. The stern (and smaller sail) was next to the stern post.

As mentioned before, one of the missions undertaken by the Samian ships were to patrol and guard the island of Samos from the warships of the Ottoman Navy [11]. Of course, every unknown ship approaching the coast of Samos was intercepted, recognized, and attacked (if not Greek). An example of the boldness of Samian seamen is the incident mentioned by Epaminondas Stamatiadis: “… Another time Constantine Kolompotas, when faced a suspicious ship, attacked, but suddenly from the side of the suspect ship, many eyelets opened and guns appeared, spitting a terrible fire. The ship was an English warship, commanded by Admiral Hamilton, who manage to arrested the Samian raider and sent him to Malta where he remained prisoner for some time”. It is clear therefore that the patrol duties included acts of piracy as an easy and efficient way of finding supplies.

Another important mission was the raids in the opposite Asian Minor coasts. With these raids, Samians, like other islanders, manage to keep the Ottoman Turks busy in territories closer to Constantinople (the capital city of the Ottoman Empire), while, at the same time, provided aid to the Greek population who suffered badly from time to time, as clearly evidenced by the letters sent from cities of the Asian Minor to Samos. [12] The raids also produced spoils, hence wealth, which was divided in three shares: One part (share) went to the central provisional government for the needs of the war, another part was given to the Church and the third one was divided proportionally between the commander of the ship (normally the ship-owner), the sailors, and the fighting men of the cruiser.

Finally, Samian cruisers collaborated with other Greek naval forces and use to undertake other missions, such as reconnaissance and observation.

For example, in March 1827 [13] Miaoulis sent Captain Stamatis Georgiadis in Alexandria in order to observe and report back the movements of the Egyptian Fleet, which was preparing to sail from Egypt to mainland Greece. The man-power on board was 65 sailors, all from Samos. The mission was successful and although persecuted by the Egyptian fleet, Captain Georgiadis managed to escape, attacked and captured a merchant ship of the Egyptian convoy, and reached the island of Patmos safely, where he divided the spoils, while the sailors and the passengers of the captured merchant ship were transferred to Asia Minor and were exchanged for livestock.

Other ships, like Tsernikia, Martigoi and Martiganes, Brigs and Schooner, Mistikati and Trawls, composed the Samian fleet in 1824. Spirited people command the ships, while brave sailors struggled on a daily basis for the motherland and for their own survival by being almost constantly at sea, thereby paving the way for freedom.

Below is the list of ships and their masters, as recorded by Ioannis Zafiris, with additional information taken by other sources.

It would be quite interesting, at some point, to organize a simulation trip with one of the abovementioned ships, following the exact route, as described and presented in the “History” of G. Demetriades, in accordance with the logbook of the ship.

Of course, beyond the collective history it is worthwhile to investigate the life and the contribution of the people, if possible today.

Captain’s name and surname Warship (type) Name of the Ship
1. Constantine Lahanas Schooner Pythagoras
2. Stamatis Georgiades Brig Achilles
3. Manolis Hatzigeorgiou Martigana Panagia
4. Manolis Aggelinides Martigos Unknown
5. Parashos Tzakiropoulos Zabeko Unknown
6. Antony Tsakmakes Martigos Unknown
7. Yianni Yayas Tserniki Strigla
8. Demetrius Aftias Tserkini Skordoula
9. Theodore Fokos TsernikiMartigos Saint NickolasAristarchus
10. Sotiris Katsoulis Tserniki Katsoulena
11. George Trahilakes Martigos Unknown
12. Peris Ioannou Martigos Unknown
13. Manolis Sofoulis Tserniki Unknown
14. Manolis Faraklas Tserniki Unknown
15. Constantine Palios Schooner Chariclea
16. Michael Pyrros Schooner Unknown
17. Constantine Misitzes Schooner Unknown
18. Constantine Kodaxes Schooner Unknown
19. Michael Pilios Schooner Unknown
20. Constantine Kodrafouris Tserniki Unknown
21. Panagiotis Valsamos Brig Triadafilo
22. Panagiotis Malamatenias Tserniki Unknown
23. Aslanis Tsakalofas Goliota Unknown
24. George Hatzi Konstadidenas Goliota Unknown
25. Demetrius Papa Andrea Mistiko(Sebek or Livyrnis) Unknown
26. Zacharia Panagiotakis Goliota Unknown
27. Panagiotis Karlovasitis Mistiko Unknown
28. Constantine Maniatis Mistiko Unknown
29. Constantine Epitropissas Trawls Unknown
30. Ioannis Parashos Trawls Unknown
31. Constantine Karagianakis Tserniki Unknown
32. Aslanis Santorinios Trawls Unknown
33. Theodore Tsakoumakis Tserniki Unknown
34. Manolis Hatzi Naletis Tserniki Unknown
35. Stefan Hrapes Tserniki Unknown
Additional Information    
1. Alexander Rafalias Schooner Unknown
2. Spyrakis Hatzidemetriou Livyrnis Poseidon
3. Andreas Papaioannou Martigos Unknown
4. Nikolas Kalos Goliota Unknown
5. Alexander Skropides Goliota Foto

[1] Epaminondas Stamatiades, “Samian”, Volume IV, Page 478, J. Sofoulis, 1970, Athens.

[2] Dolon is called the second mast on the deck with a trapezoid shape (also called gabia). In antiquity it used to be the smaller mast on the ship.

[3] Sakoleva (or sakolevon): Is a square sail the stitching of which allows it to fill (inflated) with air thereby forming a kind of a bag.

[4] “The History of the Greek People”, Volume XI, Page 182, S. Asdrahas, “The Greek participation in shipping”, Ekdotiki Athinon, 1975.

[5] Epaminondas Stamatiades, “Samian”, Volume IV, Page 481, J. Sofoulis, 1970, Athens.

[6] “The History of the Greek People”, Volume XI, Pages 150-151, Ekdotiki Athinon, 1975.

[7] Epaminondas Stamatiades, “Samian”, Volume IV, Page 482, J. Sofoulis, 1970, Athens.

[8] Yannis A. Zaferis, “Logothetes Lykourgos: The great one of 1821”, Page 107, 1977, Athens.

[9] Christos Landrou, “1821 Samian Ledgers and the ships guarding the fatherland”, newspaper “Haravgi”, July 10, 2010.

[10] Yannis A. Zaferis, “Logothetes Lykourgos: The great one of 1821”, Page 110, 1977, Athens.

[11] Christos Landrou, “1821 Samian Ledgers and the ships guarding the fatherland”, newspaper “Haravgi”, July 10, 2010.

[12] Epaminondas Stamatiades, “Samian”, Volume III, Pages 159, 296, 351, J. Sofoulis, 1970, Athens.

[13] Epaminondas Stamatiades, “Samian”, Volume III, Page 371, J. Sofoulis, 1970, Athens.

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