American History and Greek Revolution:THE PIRATE QUEEN OF THE MEDITERRANEAN”
By: Michael Kokkinaris
FREEDOM OR DEATH! “LASKARINA BOUBOULINA, THE PIRATE QUEEN OF THE MEDITERRANEAN” by Michael Kokkinaris She built her own fleet. Captured the impregnable fortress of Nafplion. Saved hundreds of harem women. Started a revolution. And was the first and only woman ever to be named Admiral. Not bad for a twice-widowed mother of seven in the 1820s . . . TITLE CARD FADES IN: MAY 17, 1771 CONSTANTINOPLE ANGLE ON: Panoramic view of Constantinople, with the Sultan’s palace. CAMERA PANS TO REVEAL the prisons of Bosphorous. In the middle of the night we hear the cry of a newborn inside the dungeons of the Ottoman prison in Istanbul. A beautiful baby girl is born under the moonlight inside a cell that looks more like a rathole. LASKARINA BOUBOULINA is born when her mother, Skevo visits her dying husband, Stavrianos Pinotsis, who had been imprisoned by the Turks. The arrest and imprisonment of Pinotsis is due to his participation in the Peloponnesian revolution of 1769-70 against the Turks. This revolution, which is known in Greek history as the Orlof revolution subsequently failed. At this time Spetses island was almost destroyed by the Turks for taking part in the uprising. TITLE CARD SUPERIMOSED: MARCH OF 1801 She is the unchallenged leader among her eight half brothers and sisters. Strong, stubborn, courageous, determined. Dark in colouring, untamed, with regal stature, she marries for a second time to DIMITRIOS BOUBOULIS. JULY OF 1811 Her second husband BOUBOULIS, a real menace to the pirates, was killed during one of the most heroic naval exploits of the time. He is ambushed by two Algerian pirate ships which he simultaneously destroyed and as described by a historian at the time “he fell at the last moment of victory, when looking over his ships gunwale at the destroyed enemy, a bullet hit him on the forehead and left him dead”. The fallen hero’s command is taken immediately by a fighting relative, who having kept secret the captain’s death from the rest of the crew resumed even more intensely the bombardment against the enemy spreading death amongst them. BOUBOULINA is twice widowed and the mother of seven children now, but at the same time, extremely rich from the fortunes of ships, land and cash inherited from her husbands. The cash alone which she inherited from Bouboulis was over 300.000 Spanish golden tallara (sovereigns of those days). She manages not only to keep this fortune intact but also to increase it due to her good management and successful trading. She became partner in several Spetsiot vessels and in time managed to build three of her own. Among these was the famous “Agamemnon” the first and the largest Greek fighting ship of the 1821 war of independence, whose construction cost BOUBOULINA the amount of 75.000 tallara. She showed her business mettle (given her character and having had six kids, one can expect that she knew how to take charge) and within five years had increased her husband’s fortune significantly. Mind you, she was probably running a profitable sideline as pirate queen, her men were after all fighting islanders. She broke every rule and regulation imposed on Greek shipowners by the Ottomans by building a full-blown man-o-war–the regulations were in place to prevent precisely what she was doing. To build a corvette armed with eighteen heavy cannons. The Agamemnon was to become her flagship and the finest warship in the nascent Greek navy. Three smaller ships were also constructed at her orders. The Sultan attempts to confiscate BOUBOULINA’s fortune using as an excuse the fact that her husband had taken part in the Ottoman-Russian wars, using his own vessels, alongside the Russian fleet. In fact Bouboulis for his services to the Russians, had been highly decorated by them and was also awarded the title of captain in the Russian navy and that of honorary Russian citizen. In her massive effort to save her fortune, BOUBOULINA sailed with her ship “Coriezos” to Constantinople, where she meets the Russian ambassador, COUNT STROGONOFF, a well-known philhellene. She sought his protections citing her husband’s services to Russia and produced an official document signed by the Russian admiral Senior, in which all of her husband’s services were listed. In addition, her ships at the time were flying the Russian flag, due to a merchant treaty between Russia and Turkey which included Greek shipping. STROGONOFF, in his effort to protect her and save her from imminent arrest by the Turks, sends her to Crimea, Russia, to an estate given for her use by Tsar Alexander I. Before she leaves for Russia, she manages to gain an audience with the Sultan’s mother, VALIDE-SULTANA, who was extremely impressed by BOUBOULINA’s character, personality and her pleas for help. BOUBOULINA stayed in Russia for approximately three months and waited for the crisis to defuse, during which time the Sultana finally convinced her son, the Sultan Mahmud II, to issue a special declaration by which BOUBOULINA’s fortune was saved. No longer under threat of arrest, BOUBOULINA left immediately for Spetses. While in Constantinople, BOUBOULINA became a member of the underground secret organization, FILIKI ETAIREIA (Friendly Society) which for a number of years had organized and prepared the Greeks for the revolution against the Turks. BOUBOULINA is the only woman who was allowed to join this organization, as they would not accept woman in their ranks.
CUT TO: The first revolution navy flag is raised on Spetses by BOUBOULINA on the main mast of the Agamemnon, her ship, and is saluted with cannon fire in front of Spetses harbour. BOUBOULINA’s flag showed an eagle with an anchor at one foot and a phoenix rising from the flames at the other. This symbol is the rebirth of the nation with the help of the naval force which are represented on the flag by the anchor. Her flag was similar to that of the Byzantine emperor Comninos. It’s March 13th 1821, twelve days before the official beginning of the Hellenic War of Independence. IN PARALLEL ACTION IN USA: PETROS MAVROMICHALIS, on behalf of the Messinian Congress sends a letter to the then Secretary of State JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, which is published in the American newspapers, asking for moral support. “Your virtues, Americans, are close to ours, although a broad sea separates us”, writes among other Mavromichalis. “We feel you closer than our neighboring countries and we consider you as friends, co-patriots and brothers, because you are fair, philanthropic and brave… Do not deny to help us…” IN BALTIMORE, PHILADELPHIA, NEW YORK: During a fundraiser in New York City, NICHOLAS BIDDLE, a banker, offered the then largest personal donation of $300 to the “New York Greek Relief Committee”. Leading the fundraising efforts in Baltimore is CHARLES CAROLL, of Carrollton, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, and in Philadelphia the leader is MATHEW CAREY. IN YALE AND COLUMBIA UNIVERSITIES: Passionate speeches are delivered to young students with emphasis on “…liberating the holy land of Socrates and Leonidas”. IN HARVARD UNIVERSITY: EDWARD EVERETT, a Harvard professor and great philhellene, publishes in the North American Review, publishes every correspondence of letters or appeals that he is receiving from Greece and through articles and speeches he made strong public pronouncements for the recognition of the Revolution . On December 3rd, 1822, US president JAMES MONROE in his annual address to Congress said: “A strong hope is entertained that the Greeks will recover their independence and assume their equal statue among the nations of the earth.” IN THE AMERICAN CONGRESS: Congressman DANIEL WEBSTER from Massachusetts makes a motion in Congress for the appropriation of money, to send an American envoy to Greece and for the support of the Greek struggle for independence. On January 19th, 1824, Webster gave a powerful and resonating speech in defense of his proposal: “I have in mind the modern not the ancient, the alive and not the dead Greece… today’s Greece, fighting against unprecedented difficulties… a Greece fighting for its existence and for the common privilege of human existence”. Congressman HENRY CLAY, from Kentucky, supports Webster’s motion and in a moving oratorical speech asks Congress to officially recognize the Greek War of Independence and to send an envoy to Greece to examine and report on the situation. He stresses the fact that the entire American nation was showing sympathy and support for Greece and urged Congress to suppress any fears and apprehensions and to help a Christian nation. However, the speeches of the great philhellenes, WEBSTER and CLAY, were widely publicized in America, Europe and South America and sparked the interest of many individuals, who decided to help the Greek revolution with various means, including many volunteers from New York, Vermont, Boston. IN A NYC TAVERN: WILLIAM TOWNSEND WASHINGTON, surrounded by decadent hookers and drunken sailors, a nephew of president George Washington, handsome and stubborn, a womanizer par excellence, travels from the heavy winter of the East coast to the “sun and glory of Greece and its ethereal women”. Three ships are leaving for Greece from the New York harbor “Chancellor”, “Jane”, “Six Brothers”. WASHINGTON drunk, with his long hair loose on his shoulders, appears dressed in white bedsheets holding a self-made spear from a broom posing as LEONIDAS, is asking the captain of “Six Brothers” to embark for Greece. CUT BACK TO GREEK WAR OF INDEPENDENCE: During the revolution BOUBOULINA has her own small private army made up of Spetsiots, her brave lads (palikaria) as she used to call them – which she herself armed, fed and paid, together with the crews of her ships. This expenditure continued for a number of years, and included large amounts of money for food and ammunition which went to help the Greek armies surrounding the Turkish strongholds of Nafplion and Tripolis. In this way she manages to spend the whole of her considerable fortune during the first two years of the war, a war which lasted nearly seven years. On April 3rd Spetses island revolted – the first navy force to join the uprising. A few days later the naval forces of Spetses isd joined by those from the islands of Hydra and Psara. The forces of these three islands totaled over three hundred ships and played a leading role in the war. It is accepted by most historians that without a strong navy it would have been very difficult for Greece to gain it’s independence. “We shall win or cease to live, but shall do so with the comfort of knowing that we did not leave the Greeks behind us enslaved.” Upon the Spetsiot uprising BOUBOULINA commanding a fleet of eight vessels, five of which were her own, sails towards Nafplion and begins it’s naval blockade. With its three forts Bourtzi, Acronafplia and the famous Palamidi and armed with three hundred cannons, Nafplion was considered to be impregnable. BOUBOULINA lands with her forces at nearby Mili, where her fiery words and great enthusiasm gave courage to the Greek land forces to keep on with the siege of Nafplion. Her naval attacks on Nafplion’s seaside fortifications were actions of unrivalled heroism. Indeed the very rare event in the history of nations, of a woman to take up arms. A very rich woman who decided to sacrifice to the altar of her country everything: her ships, her money and her sons. This woman was Laskarina BOUBOULINA, whom the nations of the world saluted as a heroine. She was indeed lion hearted. On December 4th 1821 on board of her own vessel she alone gives orders for the boats to attach the fort. They immediately sail forward but a rain of bullets and cannon fire from the seaside fortifications make her brave lads fall back. Like an angry Amazon watching the battle over the side of her boat, she shouts: “Are you men or women lads? No man dares to move forward?”. Her officers obey regroup and attack and they fight until the very end. They die in vain since the fort is impregnable by sea. BOUBOULINA herself lands with her forces and stays until the fall of the fort on the 30th November 1822 leading her men in battle, spending her fortune. BOUBOULINA takes part in the naval blockade and subsequent capture of Monemvasia, which was another fort along the Peloponnesian coast. Her ships also blockade Pylos, close to the southern tip of the Peloponnese and brought supplies to the coastal town of Galaksidi in the Corinthian gulf. The captains of her ships were her sons and her half brothers. Her brave lads fought many battles alongside the Greek land forces. At the battle of Argos a city close to Nafplion a few dozen Spetsiots, having as their leader BOUBOULINA’s first born son Yiannis Yiannouzas, put up a fight against more than two thousand Turks, under the command of the notorious barbaric Veli-Bey. The battle was unequal, and like the ancient Greek warrior Leonidas, Yiannouzas fell like a hero. He charged on foot against the Turkish riders and VELI-BEY, who was well protected by his soldiers. He brought the Turk down from his horse and mortally wounded him with his sword. As he was about to finish him off, a bullet struck YIANNOUZAS on the forehead and left him dead. No Spetsiots escaped the Turkish attack but their sacrifice gave enough time for the civilian population of Argos to escape into the nearby hills, so avoiding certain death. A few days before the fall of Tripolis which was then the capital city of the Peloponnese and thus the headquarters of the Turkish pasha ruling the area BOUBOULINA arrived at the Greek camp outside the city, riding a white horse and accompanied by her spetsiot warriors. She was received with loud cheers. At the camp she met General KOLOKOTRONIS, who was the leading man figure in the War of Independence. A feeling of respect and friendship developed between them to such a degree that later they became relatives by the marriage of their children, ELENI BOUBOULI and PANOS KOLOKOTRONIS. BOUBOULINA participates as an equal with the rest of the generals, in their war meetings and decision making. They begin to address her as Kapetanissa, (meaning lady-captain). On the 11th September 1821 Tripoli fell to the surrounding Greek forces. The fall of the city was followed by a massacre that went on for three days and nights – a massacre which had as a reprisal the total destruction of Chios island by the Turks and the killing of the whole population. After the defeat of the Turks at Tripoli she was one of the first to enter the town on A WHITE HORSEBACK and restrained the rampaging men during the infamous sacking of the town. She personally arranged for the safe passage of Turkish women and children to Istanbul, in accordance with a promise she’d given Valide-Sultana back in Constantinople. Thirty thousand dead filled streets and lanes and the blood flowed in rivers. During this terrible massacre BOUBOULINA managed to save the harem of Hoursit Pasha, the city’s ruler. This she did at the risk of her own life, when she received a plea from the Pasha’s wife to save the lives of the harem woman and their children. By doing that, BOUBOULINA kept a promise given back in 1816 to the sultan’s mother in Constantinople, (when the latter intervened to save BOUBOULINA’s fortune), that if ever a Turkish woman asked for help, she would not refuse, but instead do her best to assist. CUT TO: TITLE CARD FADES IN: NOVEMBER 30, 1822 WILLIAM TOWNSEND WASHINGTON despite his erratic personal behavior and colorful life-style is fearless and brave in the siege of Mesologhi. He learns the Greek language, puts on a “foustanella” (Greek kilted skirt) and upon joining the “kleftes” (Greek guerilla fighters) he becomes known as “Kapetan Vasili”. WASHINGTON is brave, participates in many battles survives the Mesologhi exodus and is repeatedly wounded. WASHINGTON meets and falls in love with LASKARINA in the siege of Nafplion in a military camp. He falls heroically fighting in the battle of Nafplion in 1822. LASKARINA mourns over his dead body. After the fall of Nafplion on 30th November 1822, the result of an almost two year siege by the Greek forces, BOUBOULINA stays on there, in a house given to her by the state as a reward for her services to the nation. At the the end of 1824 the country was hit by a second and more destructive civil war caused by opposing factions attempting to assume leadership despite the ever-present Turkish danger. PANOS KOLOKOTRONIS, BOUBOULINA’s son in law is assassinated and his father, the General, THEODOROS KOLOKOTRONIS, is arrested and finally put into prison by his political opponents, at a monastery on Hydra. BOUBOULINA, who had strongly reacted to the imprisonment of Kolokotronis, was considered by the government to be dangerous to the state, and is arrested (twice) with orders for her imprisonment. Finally BOUBOULINA is expelled back to Spetses where she stays for the remaining month until her death. February of 1825 finds BOUBOULINA living in her house on Spetses, without any fortune, bitter with the politicians and the outcome of the struggle for freedom.. On the 12th of February the Egyptian Admiral IBRAHIM lands almost undisturbed with 4.400 Turko-Egyptian troops on the south of the Peloponnese, a force that the Greeks could have easily opposed and defeated had they not been fighting among themselves. Suddenly the Hellenic nation was again in grave danger That landing was the beach-head of the main invasion that followed, resulting in the recapture by the Turks of most parts of the Peloponnese and the massacre and tyranny of it’s population for nearly another three years. After Ibrahim’s landing, the politicians freed KOLOKOTRONIS and offered him the leadership of the army once more. BOUBOULINA dies at home of what may or may not have been a stray bullet, shot in the head during a family feud while she was making preparations to face the Egyptian army of Ibrahim Pasha. The sunburned daughter of the sea was shot dead by a Spetsiot bullet on the 22nd May 1825, in a dispute with members of the Koutsis family of Spetses. The reason for the dispute, which took place at her first husband’s house, was the elopement of a Koutsis daughter with BOUBOULINA’s son Yeorgios Yiannouzas. The implacable and angry words of the Kapetanissa were enough to arm the hand of the killer unrecognizable in the darkness. After her death the Russians gave her the honorary title of admiral, an honor unique even now in world naval history for a female figure. WE HEAR THE SOUND OF THE CANNONS IN THE SIEGE OF NAFPLION. A TILE CARD FADES IN: LASKARINA BOUBOULINA MAY 11, 1771 – MAY 22, 1825 “Against her, the unmanly were ashamed and the brave stepped back.” CLOSE ON: A HANDWRITTEN EPISTLE signed by THEODOROS KOLOKOTRONIS, sent to EDWARD EVERETT, dated July 5th, 1826. THE EPISTLE CATCHES ON FIRE. IN THE BACKGROUND WE SEE ACTION MONTAGE SEQUENCE FROM THE BATTLEFIELDS OF THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE TO BOUBOULINA’S HEROIC ACHIEVEMENTS AND THE LOSS OF HER BELOVED ONES. “Greece is forever grateful to the philanthropy of our Christian American brothers who share her struggle and who also support with their funds her just war for independence… the Greeks, determined to live or die free, do not fear shedding their blood… or the killing of their old, their women and their children… and they are ready to accept death rather than slavery; and now, more than ever, enthusiastically and united they are moving forward against the Turks… The Greek nation is not ungrateful to its benefactors. It is grateful to those who proclaim its epic struggle and their names will be recorded with indelible letters in the annals of the reborn Greece, in timeless display, for the respect of upcoming generations… You are benefiting humanity and fulfilling Christ’s will. “