Kidnapping, ransom, and an unsolved murder are part of an intriguing tale of the family history of 2004 Norwich University graduate Gretchen (Herrboldt) Hahn, whose ancestry can be traced all the way back to Alden Partridge.
Hahn is a seventh-generation descendant of George Musalas Colvocoresses, the Greek boy who was taken in and raised as a son by Partridge in the early days of the institution.
Born in Scio (Chios), in the Greek Archipelago, George M. Colvocoresses was kidnapped along with his mother and two sisters and ransomed by the Turks during the Greek War for Independence. Young Colvocoresses—estimated to be only about eight at the time, was put on a ship and sent to the United States in 1822, where a sympathetic Partridge learned of his plight and offered to adopt him, educating George at what was then his American Scientific, Literary and Military Academy.
When Hahn received her commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the US Army on May 8, 2004, her great-great-uncle Col. Alden Partridge Colvocoresses, USA (Ret.) administered her commissioning oath. The great-grandson of George M. Colvocoresses, Alden P. Colvocresses is a key link in a military family whose roots are deeply intertwined with those of Norwich.
“I was really pleased to learn of Gretchen’s connection with our University’s founder,” said Norwich President Dr. Richard Schneider. “When you move seven or eight generations down the family tree, it is easy for these connections to be lost, but at Norwich we value our history, and the fact that our mission has not changed since Capt. Alden Partridge founded the school makes this connection even more significant.
“Although Alden Partridge Colvocoresses is not a graduate of Norwich, we will celebrate his presence on campus as a link to our past, and we are thrilled that he is able to come to the campus for the first time to be a part of Gretchen’s graduation and be able to see the University with which his family has been so involved.”
Hahn’s ancestors have been involved in a number of significant events at Norwich, in the United States, and in US Military history.
George Musalas Colvocoresses, NU 1831, was appointed to the US Navy in 1832, and from 1838 to 1842 he served in the United States Exploring Expedition, better known as the Wilkes Expedition, to the West Coasts of North and South America, the Pacific Islands, Australia, New Zealand, and Antarctica. Three separate geographical features, two on the West Coast and another in Antarctica, were named for Colvocoresses.
A milestone in American science, the Wilkes Expedition brought back a wealth of geological, botanical, zoological, anthropological, and other specimens that created a foundation upon which much of American science was formed. As the vessels sailed along the edge of the ice pack south of Antarctica for some 1,500 miles, land was sighted on several occasions, providing the first definitive proof of the Antarctic continent.
In 1852, George Colvocoresses published a book about the trip, Four Years on a Government Exploring Expedition. Other papers of his are on file at Yale University’s library.
During the Civil War, George M. Colvocoresses commanded the USS Supply on the Atlantic Coast for the Union forces in the Civil War, capturing the Confederate blockade-runner Stephen Hart. He later performed a raid on Savannah, capturing 26 prisoners and 22 horses, destroying a bridge to cut off the Confederate Cavalry, and returning safely to the Union ship Saratoga. He also served in India, helping to capture the Barrier Forts on the Canton River.
After his retirement from the Navy, Capt. Colvocoresses met with an untimely death. He was found dead in 1872 on a busy street in Bridgeport, Conn., less than an hour before he was to board a ferry to New York City. He was shot in the chest and a large sum of cash and bonds he was carrying was stolen. The case remains unsolved to this day.
His son, George Partridge Colvocoresses, named for his father’s benefactor, also led a distinguished military career, rising to the rank of Admiral in the US Navy.
Adm. Colvocoresses served under then-Commodore George Dewey, NU 1855, in the Asiatic Fleet, distinguishing himself as a junior officer aboard the cruiser Concord at the Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898 in the Spanish-American War.
Adm. Colvocoresses, whose name appears on the Centennial Stairs, returned to the Hill in 1919 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Norwich’s founding to deliver an address about Capt. Alden Partridge, whom he had known in his youth.
Adm. Colvocoresses had two sons: Harold, and George M. (II).
Alden P. Colvocoresses served in the United States Army in World War II with the 16th Armored Engineer Battalion of the 1st Armored Division in North Africa and Europe. Twice wounded in combat, he received the Purple Heart as well as two Silver Stars with Oak Leaf Clusters—the second while under the command of Maj. Gen. Ernest N. Harmon, NU 1916, who later served as the 19th president of Norwich.
Alden became involved with aerial photo mapping for the 1st Army, and oversaw some of the photo mapping as preparation for the D-Day assault on Normandy.
After leaving the Army, Alden was a pioneer in satellite mapping techniques, including the Space Oblique Mercator projection that maps images from Landsat satellites, which he used to develop the first satellite map of the United States.
Alden (who died in 2007 at the age of 98) was the brother of Hahns’s maternal great-great-grandmother.
On May 8, Hahn continued her family’s military tradition when she received her commissioning oath from her great-great-uncle Alden P. Colvocoresses. On May 9, she became the first descendent of NU founder Alden Partridge to graduate from Norwich in 138 years.
Hahn’s father, Curtis Herrboldt, was unable to attend his daughter’s graduation and commissioning ceremony. A major in the US Army at the time, he was involved with reorganization efforts in Afghanistan.
“I found out about Norwich from my mother, who knew of the connection to the school and suggested that I look into it,” said Hahn.
“I really like the fact that my family is tied to the history of Norwich, and the fact that Norwich was one of the first military schools to admit women. I had looked at Auburn, and South Dakota State, which is my father’s alma mater, but Norwich was the right choice. I have lived the Army experience my whole life. That’s all I know, and I think it is a wonderful way of life.”
Hahn’s husband, Norwich alumnus Timothy Hahn, commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Air Force upon graduating from Norwich in 2002. The two are carrying on the Norwich legacy of citizen-soldiers established by Alden Partridge almost 200 years ago.
A version of this story, written by then-NU Director of Public Relations Dave Caspole, was published on norwich.edu in 2004.