George Musalas Colvocoresses lived on the island of Chios during the Greek struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire. In March of 1822, Ottoman soldiers slaughtered an estimated 25,000 of the island’s inhabitants, and enslaved as many as twice that number.
Colvocoresses, about six years old, was taken captive along with his mother and two sisters. His father reached safety and paid a ransom for his son’s freedom. He arranged for his son to sail to the United States, bound for the port of Baltimore, Maryland.
Captain Alden Partridge, after reading a newspaper account of the experience of George Colvocoresses and his family, contacted a member of the Greek Committee in Baltimore and proposed to adopt the Greek youth. Motivated by what he called a “deep interest” in the welfare of the “oppressed people” of Greece, Partridge offered to take custody of George, and promised that the eight-year-old would be well cared for and educated at his school.
George relocated from Baltimore to Norwich, Vermont in March 1824. Captain Partridge, then a bachelor, made arrangements for George to live with his brother Aaron Partridge and his wife. Reflecting later in life, Colvocoresses observed that his benefactor was “stern and rigid in manner but with a most kind and benevolent heart.” The feeling of affection was mutual: Alden Partridge named his first son George Colvocoresses Partridge, while George named his son George Partridge Colvocoresses.
Captain Partridge’s ward completed his studies at the Academy in 1831, and in the following year he obtained an appointment as a midshipman in the U.S. Navy, where he would remain for 35 years.
In 1838, Colvocoresses was attached to the Wilkes expedition, a four-year-long scientific survey expedition undertaken by a fleet of U.S. naval vessels that sailed almost 87,000 miles. Four sites explored by the Wilkes expedition now bear George Colvocoresses’ name. He would go on to publish his journals of the experience under the title Four Years in a Government Exploring Expedition in 1852.
Colvocoresses’ subsequent naval career continued to carry him all over the world. During the Civil War, he was placed in command of the U.S.S. Supply and subsequently the Saratoga. Secretary of the Navy and fellow Partridge protégé Gideon Welles commended Colvocoresses “for his zeal, discretion, and good services to the country.”
Colvocoresses retired as a captain in 1867. His life came to an unlikely and violent end in 1872 when he was murdered while traveling through Bridgeport, Connecticut. His will provided for a monument to be placed over the grave of Alden Partridge, who had died in 1854. A polished red-granite obelisk was erected, which still dominates the old cemetery in the village of Norwich, Vermont.
Adapted from an article by Professor Gary Lord appearing in the Summer 2006 edition of the Norwich Record. Feel free to contact the Norwich University Archives with any questions.