The Plight of Greece and Abolitionism
Americans saw the Greek War of Independence as symbolic of debates going on in America about slavery, bringing their own domestic anxieties and concerns to bear on the Greek conflict.
Black observers in the United States were the first to link the Greek revolution to American slavery. This black version of Philhellenism appeared in the most important black abolitionist text of the 1820s - David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. Yet, for African American and white abolitionists, the Ottoman political oppression of the Greeks and the sale of Greek women and children into slavery paled in comparison to the horrors of slavery in the American South.
Similar criticisms of racism and hypocrisy were raised at the ecstatic reception of The Greek Slave. The statue received a sarcastic review in Frederick Douglass’ North Star newspaper: “We pity and love the poor outraged Greek slave-girl... And to the feeling heart and discerning eye, ALL SLAVE GIRLS ARE GREEK AND ALL SLAVE MUNGERS TURKS, wicked cruel and hateful; be their names Hassam, Selim, James or Henry.”
The Greek Slave was one of the most famous sculptures ever carved by an American artist. Made in Florence by Hiram Powers between 1841 and 1843, the life-size female nude represents a Greek girl stripped and chained at a slave market, an allusion to the atrocities that the Ottomans committed during the Greek War of Independence. By implication, it was soon linked to the ongoing debate over slavery in the United States.