Early 1900’s Greek Peddlers in Manhattan – Including My Grandfather

“The first pushcart market was established in 1866, when four peddlers, tired of pushing their loaded way over the cobbles of the Civil War paving, propped their carts up by the curb in Hester Street and let their customers come to them.”  (NY Times, Mar. 30, 1930)

Of course, this population dramatically increased.

From New York Times 1927 – “The itinerant peddler is common enough in New York. … Down of the east side there are nooks to rambling old buildings, which, although just big enough for one person to stand in them, afford the heads of families a profitable business. … In certain sections of New York no nook or corner is too small to rent out to a vendor of confectionery, soda water or knick-knack.  A small counter or a shelf or two is enough to house and display his stock.”  (NY Times, Feb. 27, 1927)

I always thought that Manhattan Greek immigrants, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – including my grandfather – peddled flowers, fruit, vegetable, and fish.  But some of the first Greek peddlers were furriers, from Kastoria Καστοριά, Siatista Σιάτιστα and other northern Greek or Macedonian towns.  Early small shops and peddlers began along 8th St. in the late 1890’s.  As the century turned, Greek peddlers, pushing their carts, moved into flowers, fruit, fish, vegetables, etc.   (“The Greek Community of New York”, Michael Contopoulos, 1992)

Early in the 20th century, Greek immigration grew.  Greeks, leaving their home, came to America to make a life.   “They were in pursuit of a good life, to rapidly accumulate savings and to enjoy the social amenities of the contemporary, materialist world.  When the Greek immigrants disembarked in New York, they were met by relatives, friends, travel agents and padrones at South Ferry”.  (“The Conceptual Poverty of U.S. Foreign Policy,” Atlantic, September 1993, 55.)

My paternal grandfather could have been one of these.  He came to America and had a specific destination beyond New York.  He came into NYC, and journeyed ahead for Lynn, MA to friends expecting him.

Differently my maternal grandfather knew no one in America and followed a path as laid out by author Michael Contopoulos.  “Of the remaining Greeks, some sought employment as flower sellers and pushcart peddlers in New York.  Others found job opportunities in the confectionary, fur, shoe shining, restaurant and hotel businesses, and in oriental cigarette manufacturing establishments.  The immigrants who had neither relatives nor friends made inquiries at the numerous, nameless, little eating places in the Lower Manhattan Greek district.  These little restaurants acted as unofficial clearing houses of employment opportunities.  In this way, the newcomers found job leads, addresses and directions from their compatriots.  They accepted openings as workers, busboys and cook’s assistants in the laundries, dining rooms and kitchens of prominent hotels, such as the Belmont, Brevoort, Chelsea, Plaza, Prince George, Bretton Hall, and Seville.”  (“The Greek Community of New York”, pages 64 – 78, Michael Contopoulos, 1992)

My maternal grandfather came to NYC ahead of my grandmother.  She stayed in Greece with the children about three years before immigrating to America.  In the meantime, my grandfather became a peddler fairly soon after arriving.

Many years ago – I was about 10 or so – we would often visit my grandparents on Lexington Avenue in NYC.  My Dad would drive us from Stamford, CT in a 1955 black Mercury.  I-95 and Bruckner Boulevard had not been built yet.  You can imagine that ride with our parents and younger sister in the front, and 3 not well-behaved boys in the back.

Sometimes my Mom and Dad would drive me and my grandparents toward Williamsburg Bridge on the East Side of Manhattan.  Via translations, I heard my grandfather’s stories about working with other Greeks and sharing revenue and costs as a team.  They would go to Williamsburg Bridge or nearby and gather stock for peddling.  Before my grandmother came, the team of peddlers may have lived together, or at least closely in separate rooms.  He spoke of living alone and missing his wife.

My grandmother told us that she would take her kids and go to work in the morning with my grandfather.  She would ask other male peddlers, single and alone in Manhattan, if they needed any clothes washed.  She would take the clothes home, wash and dry, and return the next day or so.  This would bring in an extra bit of money to the household.  They had five daughters, so any additional money would obviously help.

I remember looking at the both of them, much older by that point, and smiling at them and thinking about their lives.  Even as we all got older, thinking of their first years in America and the feeling of them together so in love and with a smile, stayed in my mind and heart.  It was hard work, but he had been a farm laborer growing up in Greece.  Neither grandparent ever said anything negative about Manhattan or America.

My grandparents, as other Greek immigrants for sure, migrated from an agrarian-provincial environment to an industrial-urban society in Manhattan and other cities.  Like others, my grandparents held onto The Greek Orthodox Church, and Greek newspapers, but moved forward into America completely in love with it.

Supporting this positive view of Manhattan and America, was an early 1900 Greek newspaper – The Atlantis.  “The immigrants toiled endlessly.  Pushing their small carts, the itinerant vendors plied the streets, selling chestnuts, flowers, peanuts and fruit.  …” The Atlantis glorified the United States as a “New Jerusalem.”  The newspaper eulogized America for recognizing initiative, individuality and self-respect.  To the Atlantis, America favored the “self-made man.  (Summary of several Atlantis articles, 1902 – 1908, more on The Atlantis in future posts.)

I don’t remember the exact streets my grandparents referred to during our ride.  “The blocks on Orchard Street between Rivington and Delancey (as spelled in article) are called “Wall Street” by all the pushcart men in town.” NY Times, Mar. 30, 1930

These streets sound familiar, but that was a long time ago.  But I do remember that Williamsburg Bridge was where he would pick up supply for the next few days.  Here are two pictures, Rivington from 1912 and Williamsburg Bridge from 1906. (http://all-that-is-interesting.com/new-york-immigrants-photos#1)



What I heard about my grandfather’s early years as a peddler in Manhattan are reinforced by a terrific personal story told by an unknown Greek peddler.  (Part of an anthology.  “The life stories of undistinguished Americans as told by themselves.  https://archive.org/stream/lifestoriesundis00holtrich#page/62/mode/2up  “There were six of us in a company.  We all lived together in two rooms down on Washington street and kept push carts in the cellar. Five of us took out the push carts every day and one was buyer, whom we called boss.  He had no authority over us; we were all free.  At the end of our day’s work we all divided up our money even each man getting the same amount out of the common fund – the boss no more than any other.”

“The system prevails among all the push-cart men in the City of New York – practical communism, all sharing alike.  The buyer is chosen by vote.”

“The buyer goes to the markets and gets the stock for next day, which is carried to the cellar in a wagon.  Sometimes buying takes a long time, if the price of the fruit is up, for the buyer has to get things as cheaply as possible.  Sometimes when prices are down he buys enough for a week.  He gets the fruit home before evening, and then it is ready for the next day.”

(As my grandfather agreed.)  “I found the push cart work not unpleasant, so far as the work itself was concerned.  I began at nine o’clock in the morning and quit about six o’clock at night.”

“I could not speak English and did not know enough to pay the police, so I was hunted when I tried to get the good place like Nassau Street, or near Bridge entrance.  Once a policeman struck me on the leg with his club so hard that I could not work for two weeks.  That is wrong to strike like that a man who could not speak English.” (This marks the end of the quote. “The life stories of undistinguished Americans as told by themselves.  https://archive.org/stream/lifestoriesundis00holtrich#page/62/mode/2up

Even years later, my grandfather talked about how frightened of the police he was.  Many Greek peddlers, and no doubt other immigrant peddlers, had issues with the law.  Limited English fluency and inadequate observance of the license ordinances were among the major problems faced by the immigrants.  It is very likely that my grandfather’s concern with police had lots to do with his lack of speaking/writing English.

More on legal issues of Greek peddlers in the next post.

Thousands of Greek Immigrants in U.S. Go Back to Fight Balkan War – 1912

Many of you may be aware of this, but I was stunned.

Based on their allegiance to Greece, thousands, estimates as high as 45,000, of Greek immigrants, who obviously made difficult decisions to leave home and family, and went through difficult trips to immigrate to America, went back to Greece to fight in the First Balkan War in 1912.  After the war, the vast majority of these young men returned to America to re-establish themselves.

In addition to these returning male immigrants, the re-immigration back to U.S. initiated the immigration of Greek women who brought with them their children, family traditions, Greek culture, and desires for Greek Orthodox Churches.

My maternal grandfather had fought in the Balkan War of 1912 also, and my grandmother came to the U.S. once the war was over.

In Greece, the Greek government had called for anyone who served in the Greek Army between 1900 and 1909, or who were members of the first, second, third, seventh, and part of the eighth army divisions between 1896 and 1899, to support the war effort.  A second decree called for all non-commissioned officers from infantry, light infantry, and artillery from 1896 to 1911.  All reservists who served from 1870 to 1888 were also requested.

In the U.S., in 1912, there were approximately 350,000 Greek subjects, who had served in the Greek military.  As part of growing the Greek war effort, the government sent hundreds of letters and telegrams to Greeks living in the U.S.  The Greek government representatives in America expected an exodus of Greek immigrants to join the army of their native Greece and fight Turkey.

1,000 Greek Immigrants in NYC back to Greece – As of early Oct. 1912, about 1,250 NYC area Greeks, ages 21 to 40, had responded to the Greek government.  They were heading back not just to fight for Greece, but to see their family.  The trip was free, but of  course they were going to war and in danger of losing their lives.  Much of the army, including my grandfather, was from Peloponnese, and the fighting was in the northeast area of Greece – Macedonia, Turkey borders, Bulgaria.  Consul General Botassi sent the first 600 Greek immigrant volunteers onto the Austro-American ship “Martha Washington,” and sent to Patras Πάτρα, Greece.

NYC police was called to the dock to keep the Greeks from rushing the gangway, but there was no serious trouble.  The shipping managers did not want to over populate the ship.

Baltic_War_NYCThis is a handful of Greek immigrants ready to leave on the Martha Washington – right around Oct. 5, 1912.

As the ship left the pier, the soldiers waved and sang the Greek National Anthem.

The remaining volunteers were housed in boarding houses in Brooklyn.  They would board the ship Madonna the next day.

Days before, the Greek ship Macedonia took guns and ammunition from Bethlehem Steel to Piraeus.  Greek men were not allowed on the same ship as weapons and explosives.

Very Brief Overview of the First and Second Balkan Wars Relative to Greece 

There were two Balkan Wars – First Balkan and Second Balkan.  The First War took place in the Balkan part of Europe against the Ottoman Empire – Turkey.  Four Balkan nations had achieved independence from the Ottoman Empire late in the 19th century and early in the 20th century – Bulgaria, Montenegro, Serbia, and Greece.  There were large amounts of ethnic populations for these nations still residing in the Ottoman Empire, and many Turks residing in the Balkan nations.

The Balkan nations had tried to influence European powers to get the Ottoman Empire to reform and work with the ethnic populations.  But there was not any progress, and the Balkan nations felt they could defeat Turkey.  The Balkan League was formed in 1912 – Bulgaria, Montenegro, Serbia, and Greece.  Bulgaria focused on negotiations with Serbia, and did not want to negotiate with Greece.  Bulgaria felt like it could get most of the Aegean area of Macedonia, including Thessaloniki – Θεσσαλονίκη.  Greece and Montenegro was considered the weakest of the four nations.  Greece’s army was much smaller than Bulgaria’s and Serbia’s.

Greece had selected Eliftherios Venizelos to lead the government.  The goal was to reverse their defeat by the Ottomans in the Greco-Turkish War of 1897.  With this defeat in mind, Greece had invited French military to lead a reorganization of the Greek military.  But this effort was stopped by the First Balkan War.

Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro had plans to coordinate their efforts: Serbia and Montenegro focused on the border area – called Sandzak at the time – of their countries; the Bulgarians and Serbs in Macedonia; and Bulgaria in Thrace.  The Ottoman army totaled approximately 315,000 – 115,00 to fight Bulgaria in Thrace, and 200,000 to fight Serbia and Montenegro.

Among the Balkan League, Bulgaria had the largest, and most equipped, army of 600,000 soldiers.  Bulgaria was focused on Thrace and Macedonia.  Serbia had about 225,000 soldiers.  With Montenegro they were focused on that border area and Austro-Hungary.  I do not have the size of Montenegro’s army, but it is identified as the small.

Greece had a smaller number of soldiers, approximately 125,000 assigned to the fighting, and 140,000 in the National Guard and reserves.  But Greece was the only Balkan nation that had a substantial and relatively modern navy.  The Greek navy was the main reason Serbia and Bulgaria moved to include Greece in the coalition. The Ottoman navy was much larger, faster, and better armed than Greece’s.   But, Greece was hopeful it could still be able to prevent Ottoman’s reinforcements from being rapidly transferred from Asia to Europe.  This potential capability was the main reason Bulgaria and Serbia allowed Greece’s entrance into the alliance.

The First Balkan War – Ά Βαλκανικός πόλεμος – lasted from October 1912 to May 1913.  Greece was considered the weakest of the three main allies.  Nevertheless, Greece’s navy made it much more difficult for Ottoman enforcement to be transferred quickly from Turkey.

As war started in October 1912, the Greek fleet, under Pavlos Kountouriotis,  took over the island of Lemnos – Λήμνος – in the northern part of the Aegean Sea.  This island gave Greece the ability to interfere with the Ottomans’ flow of supplies and troops from the Dardanelles.  Greece was able to supply their own troops.

The Ottoman army underestimated Greek forces and capability, but more importantly misread Greek strategy.  The Ottomans believed Greece would split their focus between Epirus and Macedonia.  But Greece focused their army to Macedonia, led by Crown Prince Constantine, fielding seven divisions, and navy, with Thessaloniki as the goal.  Greek morale grew when a Greek torpedo sank an Ottoman ironclad ship – “Feth-i-Bulend.”  The conquest of Thessaloniki, on Nov. 9, 1912, by the Greek Army of Thessaly, hurt the Ottomans badly.  The Constantinople corridor to the war was severed by this Greek victory.

In the early part of the war, with Greeks patrolling nearby, the Ottoman fleet remained inside the Dardanelles.  The Greek navy wanted to mine the area, but were fearful of international reactions.

By November 1912 the Greek navy had taken over the islands of Imbros, Thasos, Agios Efstratios, Samothrace, Psara, and Ikeria.  Into December, the Greek navy continued to Lesbos and Chios.  The Ottoman troops fought very fiercely on these islands.  But the Greek army took over Lesbos on Dec. 22 and Chios on Jan. 3.

By December the Ottoman fleet was ready to directly combat the Greek navy.  The first major fleet battle was the Battle of Eli on December 16.  The Ottoman battleships and torpedo boats sailed out and confronted the Greek fleet from Impros.  The Greek fleet was able to push the Ottoman ships back into the Dardanelles, with damage to some Ottoman ships.  A few days later, the Ottoman fleet sailed out again, but the Greeks again pushed them back.

In January, the Ottoman fleet tried again.  This time they snuck through the Greek fleet and attacked the island of Syros, sinking a Greek cruiser.  But Kountouriotis refused to leave his post, and the Ottoman plan was not successful.  Later in January, the Greek fleet defeated the Ottomans’ again in the Battle of Lemnos.  Despite the age of the Greek navy, many of its ships were faster and more agile.  In February 2013, the Greeks launched an aerial attack of the Ottoman fleet.  It did not do any damage, but this is the first naval-air operation in military history.  In the Ionian Sea, the Greek fleet was able to provide supplies to army units in Epirus.  Samos became Greek by March 1913.

The Greek army was not as successful in the southwestern portion of Macedonia – area of Bitola.  The Ottoman divisions began building up, and eventually the Greeks were badly outnumbered and splintered from their main resources.  Eventually, the Greek army had to retreat.  As a result, Serbian efforts for takeover of Bitola and other parts of Macedonia succeeded, and beat out the Greek effort.

After the efforts in Macedonia were complete, a large part of the Greek army was redeployed to Epirus – the southern part of today’s Albania.  They were badly outnumbered, but still successful.  Ioannina – Ιωάννινα – was won over on March 6, 1913.  Taking over Ioannina allowed the Greek army to continue into northern Epirus.  But again – their advanced stopped, with Serbia taking control

Even Bulgaria acknowledged the role of the Greek fleet in the overall Balkan League triumph.

Bulgaria and Montenegro fought in the western part of the Balkans – Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia.  Serbia and Montenegro fought against the major part of the Ottoman Western army, in the areas of Kosovo and eastern Macedonia.

The First Balkan War ended with the Treaty of London on May 30, 1913.  the Ottoman Empire lost almost all of its European territory, roughly west of Thrace.  Albanian independence was demanded by the European powers.  The treaty declared Albania as an independent state.  Macedonia was divided by the Balkan allies.  Almost all this territory had been occupied by Greece and Serbia, who reluctantly removed their troops.

In the beginning of the Second Balkan War Serbia and Greece quarreled with Bulgaria over the division of Macedonia.  On June 1, 1913, Serbia and Greece formed an alliance.  On June 29, Bulgaria attacked Serbian and Greek forces in Macedonia.  The Bulgarians were defeated.  The peace treaty divided most of Macedonia between Greece and Serbia.  Bulgaria only had a small part.

This very briefly describes some of the Greek Army and Navy activity during the First Balkan War.

Thank you.




Where My Liverakos Grandfather is From, Marriage, Arrival in NYC

Where is my Liverakos Grandfather From – I am not sure where in Greece my grandfather is from.  He was born on July 23, 1880.  I am pretty certain he came from Sparta, or the nearby area, in Laconia, Greece.  Here are the locations labeled or hinted at as birth places:

  • Sparta – Σπάρτα – listed as his birthplace on his Citizenship application document.
  • Skoteini – Σκοτεινή – My grandfather listed Skoteini as his place of birth on his 1942 Draft Registration form.  This location is in the northern part of the Peloponnese, Argolis.  It is about 110 km from Sparta.  I have always thought this was some sort of error in translation.
  • Gytheio – Γύθειο – My grandfather’s cousin – Peter LIverakos – identified Gythio as his place of birth on an Ellis Island ship manifest.  There are Liverakos’ living in Gytheio currently.  There are several examples of the Liverakos name voting in the Greek records.  http://arxeiomnimon.gak.gr/index.html
    • Many of these records are from the Gytheio area.  Here is one example of a vote from a George Liverakos – line 363 – from 1872.  I have no way of knowing if this man was related to me and my grandfather.  I like to think it is possible.
    • Liverakos_File_025_Page_166
  • Melitini / Malitzina – Μελιτίνη – There are several instances of Liverakos’ voting in this area.
  • East Mani – Ανατολική Μάνη – My New Jersey cousins have told me that I have cousins – OK distant cousins in the Mani area of Greece.  This is very exciting news.  They also confirmed to me that George and Peter Liverakos were cousins.
  • Malsini – listed on the Shipping Manifest for immigration – see below.  Malsini is not a location in Greece.  My guess is that they meant Melitini.

Grandparents Wedding & Children – On Oct. 26, 1904 Anna (Antonia) and George were married in Sparta.  My grandfather was 25 years old.  This is documented in the Petition for Naturalization document of NYC, Sept. 23, 1938.  My three oldest Aunts – Mary, Stella, and Patricia – were born in Greece.  My mother and Aunt Tina were born in NYC.

G. Liverakos Petition for Naturalization Sep. 23 1938

Arrival to Ellis Island – There is no record of my grandmother arriving to Ellis Island.  This seems to be common for females immigrating to the U.S.  My grandfather arrived on July 27, 1914.  He was 35 years old.  The ship was called Saxonia, and was part of the Cunard Line.  It picked up my grandfather in Patras – Πάτρα –  Greece.   Patras was the leading port for the Peloponnese area of Greece, especially for immigration.  The ship also stopped in Sicily, Naples, and Lisbon, before heading to New York City.  Here is the Manifest for passengers.  My grandfather is on Line 5.


Note that my grandfather’s last name is spelled incorrectly – Liveracos rather than Liverakos.  There is no “C” in the Greek alphabet.  I am simply assuming this is my grandfather.  I have never seen another George Liverakos on the Ellis Island records.

Thank you.

Next Post – my grandfather and other Greek immigrants return to Greece to fight wars

Introduce Maternal Grandparents

The next 3 or 4 posts will be about my maternal grandparents – Anna and George Liverakos – focused on my grandfather.  They lived most of their time in the U.S. on Lexington Avenue and 104th St., New York City.


First though – I want to describe the difference between them and my paternal grandparents and family.

The biggest difference is that I knew them.

They lived long lives, unlike like my paternal grandparents.  My family grew up in Stamford, CT.  My maternal grandparents were pretty physically close to us.  My father would drive us to Lexington Ave to visit.  By the way – this was before I-95 and Bruckner Expressway.  We basically drove Main St. to Manhattan.  Yikes.

Unlike like my paternal side, my maternal side were raised as devoted Greek Orthodox.  This includes my family.  Oh boy – let me tell you!!!  To this day, my paternal side’s family life carries a minimal Greek Orthodox presence.  (Church attendance, involvement, etc.)

My maternal side led us as devout and dedicated Greeks and Greek Orthodox.  Me and my two brothers were very active in church, and our family (including my sister) attended church each Sunday.  But beyond that, much of our Liverakos maternal family lived as traditional Greeks.  My immediate family lived as somewhat more American.  (Our paternal parental families were much more American and helped to impact us.)

My maternal grandparents never learned much English.  Most of the family children – except me and my brothers/sisters – spoke Greek to communicate with them.  We were all close though, and my maternal grandparent love was with us every day.  It was part of our life – unlike our paternal grandparents.

I will talk about my maternal grandfather’s life in later posts, but he was much happier and dedicated to his life than my paternal grandfather’s.

Anyway – like before – I did not realize my love for my maternal grandparents until today I guess.

Thank you.



Continued – My Grandfather Peter Lecouras – Work & Family

My grandfather arrived in NYC Ellis Island on August 5, 1906.  The Manifest list was provided on previous post.  He was heading to Lynn, MA.  He was 23 years old at the time.

First Address – His first address, or at least earliest address listed is 47 Waterhill Street, Lynn.  This is the first confirmed date, through Lynn City records, I have for him.  I have never heard this address from my family.  This address is prior to his marriage and family.

But an interesting addition to this City Record is that three other Greeks live at this address.  Their names are: Louis, Solerios, and Theodore Lycouras.  This is the same last name my grandfather used on the Manifest.  There was also a Spiros Lycouras (line 3) from Agios Petros on the Manifest right below my grandfather.  I have been unable to trace this name, but will keep trying.


Start Work – My grandfather started work at this time.  In his first few years he worked for various local shoe companies through Padrone leadership and guidance.

New England led the U.S. in shoe manufacturing.  Massachusetts was responsible for 50% of national production of shoes.  Lynn, and neighbors, had several shoe manufacturing companies, and my grandfather jumped across several within a few years.  I know a name of only one of them – A E Little – a fairly large company in Lynn.

Padrone moved Greek men and women to companies as needed.  The work was steady.  Pay rates were inconsistent, at least this is what I was told by my family.   My grandfather was apparently upset on pay rates, although it is hard to understand how an immigrant can have such knowledge.  It was my father’s opinion that beyond pay rates and routine work management, my grandfather did not handle the after work requirements well.  This mostly concerned the social and work related evening meetings.  As mentioned earlier, these meetings maintained community and kept Padrone management in the lead.

Somewhere during this time, my grandfather drank too much.  He was not married and had no family around.  No excuse, but it is easy to see a young, lonely man get a bad drinking habit.  My family has no real detail of this time, but my family made it clear that a drinking problem existed.  My father, and others, blamed Padrone and their insistence on meetings and parties for driving this drinking problem.  It was my father’s belief that my grandfather led a very stressed life, soon to be more stressful with marriage and family.  The Padrone requirements were too much for him and not to be trusted.  He jumped assignments often.  Of course, there was no family at this time.  So my father’s word came to me based on what he gathered while growing up.

My Grandmother Arrives – My future grandmother came to Lynn shortly after he did.  I cannot find any proof of her arrival, and do not have arrival date, etc.   That appears to be common for women – no tracking of arrivals, or much about them at all.

Her name was Anastasia Fourtouni.  A much older picture below.

Paternal Grandmother

My family always told me she was from Agios Petros, as grandfather was, or from a nearby village.  My grandparents were friends while in Greece – or at least family friends.  The only Fourtouni’s (male of course) I have found proof of show homes near Sparta in the 1870’s.  Of course movement to Agios Petros could have easily occurred by the early 1900’s, ahead of coming to America.

Like my grandfather, I never met my grandmother.   Although I remember my parents telling me that my grandmother saw me as an infant.  (Somehow that makes me very happy!!)

My Grandparents Marry – My grandparents got married on May 5, 1911.  He was 27, and she was 24.  They got married in St. George Greek Orthodox Church, Lynn, MA.

Church Marriage License and Lynn, MA Marriage Records – Line 990


Grandfather Leaves Shoe Industry – Lynn records show my grandfather working at General Electric in Lynn right at the time of the marriage.  They moved to 39 Flint Street in Lynn in 1926.  I am certain of Flint Street, having visited the area as a kid, and hearing from my whole family.  But I never heard about working in General Electric.

In any case, they began having a family.  My father Charles was born first, followed by Margaret, John, Harry, George, Spiro, and Christina.  Most grew up and raised families in the Lynn area.  The exceptions being Uncle Spiro and my father.  Uncle Spiro was killed in WWII as a Sergeant and Gunner for the Air Force.  He was 22, and I am named after him.

Drinking continued, and if General Electric employment is true, the Padrone organization must have been out of the picture.  I can’t imagine General Electric, especially in Lynn through the years, needing or wanting Padrone management.  (General Electric was a huge presence and employee in Lynn.)

Grandfather Dies – My grandfather died at 40 in 1926.  Buried at Pine Grove Cemetery, Lynn, MA.  My understanding is that drinking did him in.  I do not have any medical records or history.


Six kids and Mom not working put that family in financial trouble.  Plus, Great Depression about to start.  My Dad quit elementary school in sixth grade to work.  Similar to my grandfather, he hated his work environment in Lynn.  Soon, he came to Stamford, CT to work for another Lecouras family, distant relation, who had a Banana distribution business.

Most of Dad’s early income went to his mother to support brothers and sisters.  There is no doubt my father had issues with his situation – away from home, young, laborer, no education, and alone.  Despite his feelings and how he must have presented himself to his family, my Aunts – Margaret and Chris – loved and adored my father for life.  They never forgot what he did.  There recognition of my father helped me see my father as more than Dad.  Of course, eventually my Dad raised his own family.

Thank you – Next – Move to My Mom’s Father



Grandfather Gets to Lynn, MA – Introduce Padrone System

I need to note: My father hated the Lynn Padrone (Padroni) and the Greeks who managed it.  Padrones led my grandfather and then my father.  More on this in next post.  For now, here is a general explanation of a Padrone system.

Paternal Grandfather

The Padrone system was a contract labor system utilized by many immigrant groups in the United States in order to find employment in various locations.  The two main immigrant groups were Italian and Greek, but Padrones was also used by Chinese, Japanese, and Mexicans.  This system was used in the early 1900’s.  The system died after WWI interrupted the flow of immigrants, and was essentially extinct by 1930. As progressive legislation was passed around the nation, and new immigrants found family, friends, and contacts already here to assist them, the role of the Padrone changed.   It became less of a labor boss to an economic adviser.  Padrones were able to frequently help clients look at finances or work improvement.

Immigrants were ignorant of American employers, specific jobs, and economic practice.  They lacked contacts in native firms, and language skills.  Immigrants traveled to towns – away from Ellis Island in  my grandfather’s case – to a completely unknown location.   My grandfather was a farm laborer from a small Greek town – Aghios Petros.  He knew nobody and had no family in the United States.  Of course, he did not speak English.

So for my grandfather, Greeks of Lynn and other places, a Padrone was integral to finding work and living among immigrants.

Padrone was an Italian word – “boss” or “manager.”  The system varied across the country and through various immigrant groups, but was essentially a network of business relationships formed to meet employer needs, fill skilled and unskilled positions.   Padrone leaders  were typically first generation immigrants or Americans themselves, who acted as middlemen between immigrant workers and employees.

Immigrants were most often uneducated – both from home and certainly relative to the United States.  They arrived here and given their background could never learn quickly from other similar immigrants to understand what was happening – who was hiring, or what employers needed.  As an example, my grandfather was a farm laborer from a small Greek town – Aghios Petros.  He knew nobody and had no family in the United States.  He did not speak English.

Padrones were  both exploiters of immigrants, and helpful as well.  They sourced open jobs with available immigrants.  Employers, in most cases, did not have any registration of immigrants, especially new ones.  Immigrants had no way to know who may need work, or what needed done.  Obviously immigrants lacked language and local education.

Padrones provided housing, food sources, and transportation to best available jobs.   Often they served the immigrants for the police or local government.  They often tried to prevent the immigrants from being exploited by an employer.  I was told by my relatives, while growing up, that Padrones often helped send letters and money back to the immigrants family in Greece.  They acted as spokesmen and advocates for immigrants.  American business employees rarely understood the old world traditions, customs, and languages.  For an American it could be easily difficult to deal with immigrants.

But there is other perspectives concerning Padrone.  My father, and other family members, fed me these opinions as I grew up.

Padrones were often foreigners themselves who had acquired the English language to some degree, and had made connections to employers and contractors.  The Padrone was paid for his services – by both employer and employee.  Greeks, like my grandfather, took whatever jobs they could find, and for low wages – wages cut due to reward to Padrone manager.  I heard several complaints that my grandfather’s hourly rate was impacted by the Padrone.  The Padrone manager found and assigned jobs for people like by grandfather.  The Padrone made sure that every immigrant worker stayed even – everyone except himself of course.

Padrones often did more than arrange work assignments.  In Lynn, and other towns, they established Greek quarters.  My grandfather and lots of other Greeks lived in Lynn – in and around Waterhill and Wyman Streets.  These were all 2 or 3 family houses, owned by Padrones.  Padrones did more than arrange work assignments.  In Lynn, and other places, they established Greek quarters.  These Greeks were instructed relative to living in Lynn, and as an American.  Padrones ran get-togethers with Greeks.  The party or work discussions reviewed and tested Greeks on their expectations.  Confirmation was part of the Padrones activity.  These Greeks were expected to illustrate what they have been instructed relative to living in Lynn.  Testing and confirmation took place within large parties brought together by Padrone.  Failure by individuals cost them jobs and money.

Next Post – My Grandfather’s Work and Personal Life – Plus the Impact to My Father


My Grandfather’s Trip from Agios Petros, Greece to NYC – 1906

My grandfather arrived to the United States, Ellis Island, NYC on August 5, 1906.

He left Aghios Petros as Παναγώτις Λυκούρας.  He arrived in NYC as Panayiotis Lycouras.  He was going to Lynn, MA.  After he settled in Lynn, MA, he became Peter Lecouras – my grandfather. 



The name of the ship was La Gastogne.  The ship departed from Le Havre, France, on July 23, 1906.  The ship’s owner was Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, a French company. 


Steamship companies like La Compagnie Generale Transatlantique generated volume of ship passengers by offering ticket packages.  La Compaignie Generale Transatlantique offered to transport passengers by train from their homes to the company village in their port, Le Havre.  They had agents throughout Europe, including Greece, which offered to transport immigrants by rail and steamship from their homes.  The agent would work to arrange where a train would be available for a future passenger.

Παναγώτις Λυκούρας – my future grandfather – took advantage of this plan.  Agios Petros did not have a railroad crossing at the time.  My grandfather had to get to Tripolis to pick up a train.  A cart and mule carried his baggage from Agios Petros to Tripoli.  This is approximately 35 km – 22 miles.  This trip, at the time anyway, required walking through villages, hills, and terrible terrain.  Once arriving in Tripoli, my grandfather picked up a railroad trip to Le Havre, France.  La Compaigne Generale Transatlantique ran a railway line with carriages tailored to the needs of emigrants.

Arrival in Le Havre was to the companies rooms allocated to future transport passengers.  Once my grandfather, and others arrived at the company village, they would be prepared for the ocean voyage.  They were examined by doctors, given an antiseptic bath and a short haircut, vaccinated, and quarantined several days before being placed on the steamship.  Their luggage was fumigated with steam before boarding.  This process destroyed many of their belongings.

Other steamship companies had similar processes – Cunard had a similar port in Liverpool, Holland-America in Rotterdam, and Hamburg-America in Hamburg.

These health requirements were driven by future inspections and potential problems.  Steamship companies were liable for fines – approximately $100 per person around 1900 – for each passenger rejected by U. S. immigration.  Beyond the fine for rejection, the steamships had to take the passengers back to Europe.

La Gastogne left Le Havre for NYC on July 23, 1906.  Fourteen days later would be the arrival in NYC.

Here is an overview of what a trip was like below desks. —– Passengers, such as my grandfather, came on board poor and received minimal trip accommodations.  There sleeping area and public space were down below.  These passengers were identified as “steerage passengers”  The quantity of these passengers were minimally 200 per ship, but some steamships had well above that.

The main portion below deck was a den – but called steerage.  The size varied across the steamships, but generally steerage was about 40 feet long and about 12 feet wide.  Instead of a ceiling, a hatchway opened on to the main deck.

The sleeping quarters are large compartments, accommodating as many as 300, or more, persons each. For assignment to these, passengers are divided into three classes: women without male escorts; men traveling alone; and families. Each class is housed in a separate compartment and the compartments are often in different parts of the area.  As an example, a berth was 6 feet long and 2 feet wide and with 2 1/2 feet of space above it.  This is all the space to which the steerage passenger can assert a definite right.  Generally they consist of an iron framework containing a mattress, a pillow, or more often a life-preserver as a substitute, and a blanket. The mattress, and the pillow if there is one, is filled with straw or seaweed. 

Given very limited space, with much filth and stench, and inadequate means of ventilation, the result was difficult and often created harmful health.  Overtime improvements for steerage was made.  Plus, required by law, wash rooms and lavatories, separate for men and for women, were added.

That is a brief overview of the sailing conditions for poor passengers – like my grandfather.

Roughly 9 days later, my grandfather arrived at Ellis Island on August 5, 1906.

Drivers of Greek Emigration – Early 20th Century – Part 3: Geography and Topology of the Peloponnese

In the period 1890-1914, almost a sixth of the population of Greece emigrated, mostly to the United States and Egypt.

In two previous posts, I described two economic issues in Greece, especially in the Peloponnese, that impacted the rush to emigrate to the United States.  A wave of emigration was spurred by the economic crisis of 1893 that followed the rapid fall in the price of currants – the major export product of the country – in the international markets.

These were two economic drivers of immigration, but there is another driver, one that is somewhat speculative and more of a qualitative issue, unlike economic issues.

In addition to the economic conditions in Greece in the early 20th Century, another “push” for immigration was the topology and environment of the Peloponnese.  The area was characterized by small villages nestled into “tiny, fertile valleys.”  These pockets were walled off from neighbors by barren, difficult mountains.  The result was a population living in small towns and villages, separated from each other by more or less impassable terrain.  (Or course the topology has not changed much, but our ability to navigate and communicate has.). Given the lack of communications and transportation facilities at the time, it was no wonder these villages were isolated from each other.

Physical isolation led to social isolation, and to economic isolation.  Large commercial or industrial growth could not take place given social, communication and travel encumbrances.  Villages and towns were on their own – Greek for sure – but local entities, with local social ties and local economic ties.

Villages and towns grew to be self-sufficient.  Currants, wheat, olives, corn, vegetables could be grown everywhere.  The fields small, but fertile.  Surrounding mountains supported goats and sheep, for cheese, meat, and clothes.  Everyone could grow, trade, provide service to each other, within their village.

But each man’s products were the same as his neighbors’ and there was little reason for trade or commerce outside of their village.  No one went unfed or under nourished; subsistence was very likely.

But what about growth?  It did not seem possible to differentiate yourself or get ahead.  Where was the outlet for ambition?  How could you hope for success, for bold plans?

Imagine a young man in a village.  What did he see around him?  He will have the same life as his father and grandfather.  Where was the elbow room?  Where was the dreams for a better life?

About this time, there were voices and stories infiltrating the villages and falling on eager ears of young men.

In the early 20th century, stories started coming in of work and riches in America.  How could a young ambitious man not pay attention?   Subsistence is not enough for many a young man – restless, strong, bold.  Relatives did not just tell stories of America, and jobs and wealth.  They also sent money home.  Real money that young local farmers and laborers could not provide their families.  This money was not just good for families, but for the Greek government who saw the money encouraging the economy.

Emigration was, in a sense, encouraged by Greek authorities, who saw remittances as helping to improve the balance of payments of the Greek economy. The lasting effect on Greece’s national consciousness was the expansion of the notion of “Hellenism” and “Hellenic diaspora” to the “New World.”  http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/greece-history-migration/

The main source for this post is – Fairchild, Henry Pratt, Greek Immigration to the United States, Yale University Press, 1911

Next Post – Imagining my Grandfather’s Trip to the United States

Drivers of Greek Emigration – Early 20th Century – Part 2: Greek Financial Crisis of 1893 – “Regretfully We Are Bankrupt”

In a previous post – Drivers of Greek Immigration – Early 20th Century – Part 1 – I described the Currant Crisis in Greece.  The fabulous growth in currant exports rapidly dwindled starting in 1890.  The French wine industry had recovered from the French Blight, and by 1893 France banned all imports of currants.  The impact to rural Greece was tremendous – warehouses full of currants without any market, over production of currants, and poor allocation of land as farmers tried to revert their land back to olives and more traditional crops.  Clearly rural Greece, especially the Peloponnese, was hit very hard by the Currant Crisis.

But, urban Greeks were also impacted.  Many urban Greeks had loaned money to currant farmers, either directly or through banks, in order to develop new or enlarge existing farms.  So there were two immediate impacts from the Currant Crisis – loss of revenue for farmers and defaults on loans that could not be paid.

All this was only a piece of a larger economic crisis in Greece.  The Currant Crisis meant less money for the Greek government, at a time when any revenues were greatly needed.  Excessive borrowing for agriculture, plus decreasing revenue to the Greek government dovetailed with the Financial Crisis of 1893.

A little background – raise your hand if this sounds familiar —— Loans and debt crises were part of Greece’s economy throughout the 19th century.

Great Britain made loans to Greece in 1821.  The Greek Civil War was underway, and Greece was not really a sovereign state yet.  The loans were used to support the civil war on behalf of Greed citizens and nation.  There was another loan made in 1832 by the French, British and Russians. From 1829 to 1862 Greece was barely able to meet the interest on its debts contracted during the War of Independence. The loan from 1832 was defaulted on 11 years later, effectively freezing Greece out of the international credit markets for decades.

After the Greek government settled outstanding defaults in 1878, the global capital markets opened once again to Greece and, as you might expect, lenders were only too eager to provide funds.  All was forgiven, and loans started pouring back into Greece.  These loans would not have any better chance of getting paid back, but they were different in one very important way from previous loans.  These loans were an attempt to rapidly modernize Greece, and the plan worked.

This borrowing increased to unsustainable levels and the government suspended payments on external debt in 1893.

“The bankruptcy under the Trikoupis government was different,” according to Thanos Vermis, Professor of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of Athens. The default under Prime Minister Charilaos Trikoupis had separate characteristics. It happened because of over-borrowing, but those loans resulted in infrastructure projects that actually benefited the Greek people—for example, that’s when the railways, that are still in use today, were built. It was a bankruptcy that actually gave something back.” https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/the-history-of-greek-debt-and-bankruptcy-8876

On the December 10, 1893, Prime Minister Trikoupis rose in parliament and uttered the words: “Regretfully, we are bankrupt.” In a dash for modernisation and growth, Greece had woefully over-borrowed. Repayments might have proved troublesome even if the economy had been buoyant, but state revenues stuttered, and overseas earnings sagged alarmingly. Currants made up nearly three-quarters of the country’s exports, and the collapse in demand for them, and so prices, was devastating. By mid-1893, more than half of the Greek budget was being used to service existing loans. It couldn’t last, and it didn’t. The country had to cede control over its finances to a commission of officials from Britain, France, Germany and elsewhere.  http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/history/winter-1893-greece-is-bankrupt-summer-1896-it-hosts-the-first-modern-oly

So we have reviewed three drivers of Greek immigration in the early 20th Century, especially for the Peloponnese, where my grandparents are from.  Part 1 discussed the Currant Crisis, Part 2 the Greek Financial Crisis of 1893, worsened by the Currant Crisis.  In Part 3, I will discuss how the geography and culture impacted immigration.

Coffee after Church – Two Refugees

57_14aI have been attending Holy Trinity in Waterbury for less than two years – Greek Orthodox.

I have lived nearby for years, but have just ventured back to Church.

I think I have gone back to attending for a sense of belonging and a way to off set loneliness.  I have read recently that lots of older men (I am in my 60’s) start to feel alone as they get older.  I have experienced some of that these last few years – family members pass, friends move and move on, work relationships come and go, children, nieces, nephews have their own lives.  Nothing new here.  For me, the most significant loss was my brother’s death over 5 years ago.  I have not recovered.

When I first walked into this church and took a seat, an older man quickly walked over to me and introduced himself and started whispering in my ear – his name, where to go after services, who the priest was – 15 minutes out of no where.  Turned out, he was our cantor (psaltes in Americanized Greek).  He has since passed.  But, I got a real good feeling from such a warm welcome.

One of the reasons I have been reluctant to go back to Church was I never felt all that at home among Greeks.  I am second generation American, and my parents loved this country like lots of first generation do, and passed that along to us kids.  We were to be American – period.  I never learned Greek (except cooking) or anything.  But we were brought up in Church – you bet – every Sunday, altar boys, Sunday school – all of it.

So, back to this past Sunday.  I had attended a few coffee hours, and received many offers to sit and get to know some people.  That is not really like me, and I typically cut all that short.  But this Sunday, a man named Paul suggested I sit down with the gang – the older men in the Church.  He had introduced himself to me before; he was from northern Greece – Macedonia area.

At some point, we talked about our families, and what part of Greece, etc.  He mentioned how he understands the plight of the Syrians and others who are refugees.  He told me his story as to why he had this empathy.

His family is from Northern Greece.  His story takes place at the end of the 1940’s to early 1950’s during the Greek Civil War.  This was a war between the Democratic Army of Greece, supported by the Communist Party, and the Greek Government, supported by Great Britain.  Communists had infiltrated Albania, in Greece’s northern border.  (Over recent years – starting with the Greek Civil War and continuing to the Bosnian wars, borders for Greece, Macedonia, Albania have been somewhat fluid.)  Paul’s family lived in this area.  He told of moving several times as soldiers of either side came through the villages.  School started, stopped, and re-started through those years.  His father was taken away to the military.  He saw his Uncle taken outside to the road and shot in the head – Paul was 12.  There was guerilla warfare in this region all through this period.  Paul is in his 70’s, and still has vivid memories of this time.  Children were evacuated from nearby villages to other parts of the area, to today’s Macedonia and other areas.  Paul’s family moved often, but were able to stay together.  This period was part of a much larger battle, and an early snapshot of what was to be the Cold War.  But, in northern Greece, this was life.

His family made their escape to the United States only through luck and happenstance.  A family relative was sent to Athens for medical care, and some of the family went to look after her.  Paul’s father also reached Athens.  Paul’s family never went back home.

Amazingly, the path today’s Syrian and middle Eastern refugees take is in the same general area where Paul is from.  Through northern Greece – Thessaloniki – Epirus areas – into Macedonia, and on their way.

It seems to me there are many of today’s descendants of immigrants who feel our current influx – Hispanic, Arab – is a terrible thing in America and should be stopped.  I don’t have to re-hash our politics.  But others, like Paul and I, don’t see a lot of difference between our grandparents and parents who came from Greece and those entering our country now.

Paul’s first hand story, and his ability to feel empathy is something I will not forget.