This letter was written by David Offley (1779-1838) from Smyrna, Turkey in May 1821. Offley was born in Philadelphia. He served as 1st Lieutenant in the 10th U.S. Infantry, at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., 1798-1800; established the first American commercial firm in Turkey, at Smyrna in 1811, and was the chief U.S. merchant in Turkey; U.S. Commercial Agent to Turkey; Negotiated the first U.S.-Turkey commercial treaty in 1830, and in 1832, was appointed by President Andrew Jackson, 1st U.S. Consul at Smyrna.
Offley wrote this letter to his sister, Mary (Offley) Sharpless, the recently married wife of Blakey Sharpless. Offley’s first wife was Mary Ann Greer. After her death, Offley married a woman from Dalmatia named Elena (“Helen”) Curtovitch.
Though somewhat difficult to read, the letter contains an excellent description of the chaotic conditions in Constantinople in April and May, 1821, during the Greek Revolution while David Offley was residing there. Among the atrocities recorded in Constantinople was the massacre of large numbers of Greeks — many whom were beheaded or hanged by the Turks.
Addressed to Mrs. Mary Offley Sharpless, Philadelphia
25th May 1821
My dear sister,
This moment that I sit down to write, a new embargo exists but everything is so uncertain that perhaps it may be as quickly taken off and the vessels by which I now work with will depart that moment so I must have my letter ready at the time. I wrote you the P.S. to my last letter off ____ in a state of the greatest possible alarm and I was now believe with still more reason than even then knew of the Turks are and with good reason exceedingly agitated against the Greeks. Unfortunately the strangers in town do not know how to discriminate between them and other Christians so that ___ all must see the same situation. The Governor and other authorities of the City had lost the command and respect among the lower orders so that we were entirely at the mercy of an armed mob and I look on it as really astonishing that in all that time not more than about 40 murders were committed and those principally where old quarrels existed.
Mr. Woodmass had all his family on ship board as had most other Europeans in the place. For my part, altho’ I had all preparations made to embark, I did not do it having two children at the breast to be on board ship was particularly agreeable. Altho’ we had two American vessels in the port, I had no invitation from either of them to take refuge on board their vessels until after I had engaged the cabin of a Russian ship on more occasions than one. I have had to remark that Americans in general have less nationality than any other nation.
Business is for the moment at a complete stand. Thank fortune we owe no money and are unfortunate in having large sums due to us that God only knows how much of it we shall ever get. Our consolation is that with cash in hand, goods in store and debts that we took on as perfectly secure, we always have a handsome capital left to continue business. The only difference will be that I shall not be able to render that assistance to my boys as they come of age that I expected to do.
I must now look out for my grandchildren, to secure them the advantages (if they are such) of a good education. My wife has kept up her courage in a most astonishing manner. My house, it is true, is so situated on the marine that it is easily defended and from which I have at all times a secure retreat on ship board. Most fortunately for us, a Pasha has arrived & taken the command of the City and he has given us the assurance of perfect tranquility and from what we have witnessed these three days past, we have reason to confide in his assurances. No disturbances whatever have taken place. The ships & …. The strangers are all sent out of the town and our streets are no longer filled with idle Turks walking about in search of adventures. The Pasha is known to be frequently in the streets under different disguises and as a wink from him is sufficient order to take off a head, everyone is careful how he conducts himself. Yesterday I went thro’ all the Bajars and met with no insult whatever. It is where I would not have gone ten days ago for any condition. All is tranquil at Constantinople.
I will leave this letter open but hope I shall have no further news to communicate.
30th May. All has been quiet and we begin to recover our hopes that all may yet go well except indeed for the Greeks who are doomed certainly to suffer much, Business has a little recovered and we have been able to get in some money. We have some hopes the embargo will be taken of tomorrow morning.
June 1st. The embargo is partially taken off. A few vessels will be allowed to depart and among the number the American. We are tranquil and hope it may remain so. The accounts respecting the Greeks in Europe are very contradictory. This, however, appears most likely that unless they are assured by some European power, they will not be able to contend against the Turks, and hope here then os no danger of war with Russia. Should their hopes be well founded, I trust the time is not far distant when every thing will be restored to its usual order. Otherwise, God only knows what may become of us.
I jave not time by this opportunity to write Mr. Allen and if I had not began yours, it would have been the same. Please send for him and communicate to him the news of our situation. In trade there is nothing doing.
Kiss my dear little daughter for me. My love to mother, brothers & sisters in all which I am joined by my Helen as well as in the assurances, my dear sister, of our wishes for your happiness.
Your affectionate brother, — David