Monday, September 26, 2016

Finding Washingtonia

I have been enjoying the digital conversation following my post on Washingtonia, the first refugee camp in Greece, built by Samuel Howe (shown here, about 30 years after his youthful work in Corinth)

I have this crazy idea that if I digitally pool the ground expertise of Tim Gregory, Guy Sanders, Tom Galant, Bill Caraher, Dave Pettegrew, Richard Rothaus, Hector Williams, Dimitri Nakassis, and James Herbst, we will locate the site of Washingtonia remotely. Toward this digital conversation, I transcribe two documentary details (which Tom has in his file cabinet back in San Diego and not in Athens) from Franklin B. Sanborn (journalist, friend of Emerson, member of the Secret Six) and Laura H. Richards (Howe's daughter). 

The first document was found by Sanborn in the letters between Howe and Horace Mann, and quoted Howe directly:

"Afterwards I applied to the Government, and obtained a large tract of land upon the Isthmus of Corinth, where I founded a colony of exiles. We put up cottages, procured seed, cattle, and tools, and the foundations of a flourishing village were laid. Capo d’Istria had encouraged me in the plan of the colony, and made some promises of help. The Government granted ten thousand stremmata of land to be free from taxes for five years: but they could not give much practical help. I was obliged to do everything, and had only the supplies sent out by the American committees to aid me. The colonists, however, cooperated, and everything went finely. We got cattle and tools, ploughed and prepared the earth, got up a school-house and a church. Everything went on finely, and we extended our domain over to the neighboring port of Cenchraea, where we had cultivated ground and a harbor. This was perhaps the happiest part of my life. I was alone among the colonists, who were all Greeks. They knew I wanted to help them, and they let me have my own way. I had one civilized companion for awhile, David Urquhard, the eccentric Englishman, afterwards M. P. and pamphleteer. I had to journey much to and from Corinth, Napoli, etc. always on horseback, or in boat, and often by night. It was a time and place where law was not; and sometimes we had to defend ourselves against armed and desperate stragglers from the bands of solider now breaking up. We had many ‘scrimmages,’ and I had several narrow escapes with life. In one affair Urquhart showed extraordinary pluck and courage, actually disarming and taking prisoner two robbers, and marching them before him into the village. I labored here day and night, in season and out, and was governor, legislator, clerk, constable, and everything but patriarch; for, though I was young, I took to no maiden, nor ever thought about womankind but once. The Government (or rather, Capo d’Istria, the President) treated the matter liberally—for a Greek—and did what he could to help me." (Sanborn 1891, p. 79-80; Howe 1906, vol. 1, p. 365-366)

The second document is not in Howe's words. Sanborn summarizes some topographical information based on the correspondence between Howe and Kapodistrias, which he saw in 1870.

"I found at Athens, in 1870, the correspondence between Capo d’Istria and Dr. Howe on this subject printed in the great volumes of the unfortunate President’s correspondence which his brother edited long afterwards. The colony was near the present railway station of Hexamilia, on the way from the new town of Corinth to Argos. It extended southeast from Hexamilia towards Cenchraea, and was nearer to the Isthmian sanctuary than to New Corinth, which was only founded in 1858. Old Corinth lay on the northwest side of Acro-Corinth, from Dr. Howe’s village." 
(Sanborn 1891, p. 79-80; Howe 1906, vol. 1, p. 365-366)

So, if we were to search for the site of Washingtonia, we need to start from the Hexamilia train station. My sense is that the houses of this camp were huts made out of wood. But knowing that a church and a school house were also built increases the chances of visible masonry remains above ground. I zoom into Google Maps and find myself at 37°53'57.16"N , 22°54'28.45"E where the railroad crosses the main street. The area is industrial. Here I leave my Corinthian topographers to take over.

These sources reveal a couple of additional characters in the story. First is the Scottish politician David Urquhart who assisted Howe in the operations of the camp (there might be some further clues in his papers at Baillol College). Second is an unnamed local woman with whom Howe had a relationship. I am reading the new biography of Howe's wife, by Elaine Showalter, where I learned about the relationship with the Corinthian woman. "Although he was repelled by the Greek tribal women, whom he found coarse, illiterate, and ugly (moreover, he wrote primly, they did not wear stays [corsets]), Howe probably had his first sexual experiences in Greece. He occasionally admitted in his journal that he had been aroused by seeing the body of a young camp follower, “ a most elegant young creature,” and even confessed to getting involved with a woman while he was doing relief work in Corinth, although the Greek government, unsurprisingly, ‘treated the matter liberally.” (Showalter 2016, p. 29).


Howe, Samuel Gridley. 1906. Letters and Journals of Samuel Gridley Howe, ed. Laura E. Richards, Boston: Dana Estes and Company.

Sanborn, Franklin. 1891. Dr. S. G. Howe: The Philanthropist, New York: Funk and Wagnalls.

Showalter, Elaine. 2016. The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe: A Biography, New York: Simon Schuster.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States