Why does Michigan have a major city named Ypsilanti? From 1809 to 1820, a Frenchman—Gabriel Godroy—ran a trading post on the Huron River at the site of present-day Ypsilanti. He traded with Huron, Chippewa, Pottawatomie and Ottawa Indians. I do not know why his business closed in 1820 but I suspect the successful efforts to expel Indians from Michigan were drastically reducing his business. In 1823, Benjamin Woodruff and a group from Ohio came to a where Gabriel Godroy had run his trading post and sought to become successful farmers. They originally called their small settlement Woodruff’s Grove. At this time, the territorial legislature was concerned about the names residents were selecting for their settlements. While some locations had been given by the French explorers, many of the new migrants from the east were the first whites to live in their area. They tended to name the sites after themselves or places they came from. In quite a few instances, a name was used for several different settlements, even within the same county. As a result the territorial legislature encouraged people to be imaginative in selecting names for their villages and had the prerogative of assigning names if they thought the locals made a bad choice.
In the early 1830s, it was time to find a new name for Woodruff’s Grove. Waterville and Palmyra were proposed, but the winner was Ypsilanti. Early in this nation’s history, the founders and their successors knew that the principles of our constitutional democracy were borrowed from the ancients Greeks. Thus, Hellenic ideals were esteemed. Thomas Jefferson presumed that monumental governmental building should resemble those constructed by the most accomplished architects of ancient Greece and Rome. This explains the classical architecture of many governmental buildings erected before the Civil War.
The later decades of the Eighteenth and the early decades of the Nineteenth Century witness many attempts to restructure government—the Revolution in France, for instance. Some colonies also won their freedom: Haiti and the United States. Beginning in about 1814, residents of Greece sought to free themselves from domination by Turks and the Ottoman Empire. Demetrius Ypsilanti was one of the military and political leaders of that independence movement. Indeed, he played a role similar to that of George Washington since Ypsilanti was both a military and political leader. On January 15, 1822, Ypsilanti was elected president of the Greek assembly, but the Turks were not willing to relinquish their control without warfare. In 1828, Ypsilanti commanded Greek troops in East Hallas, and on September 29, 1829, he forced the Turkish forces led by Asian Bay to capitulate at the Pass of Petra, greatly helping to establish Grecian independence. This was a tremendous symbolic victory for the Greek independence movement. The struggle continued for some years, and a decade later, Greece was an independent nation. Judge Augustus Woodward was among the most prominent and influential Michigan figures at this time and a man of great learning. He probably recognized that Demetrious Ypsilanti and George Washington played similar roles in creating their nations, so Judge Woodward suggested or insisted that Woodruff’s Grove be renamed after the hero of the Greek independence movement. Thus, Michigan has one of the few American cities named for a prominent Greek hero.
Demetrius Ypsilanti had a distinction that George Washington lacked. The Greek War of Independence was financially supported, to a large degree, by Manto Marvogenous, an extremely rich and titled Austrian woman of the Enlightenment who was born in Trieste in 1796. Her family moved to Greece in 1809. This was the Age of Enlightenment, and much more so than in the past, women were about to obtain advanced educations. She did so, undoubtedly learning about the revolutions and governmental changes in France and the United States. She inherited a fortune from her family—a family of merchants—and used those monies to fund the Greek independence movement. She traveled to France to appeal for support for the Greek independence. She was also assumed to be one of the most beautiful and powerful woman in Europe in the 1820s. She may have been the trophy woman of her era, highly esteemed by the titled European elite. Demetrius Ypsilanti became her very close personal friend and was, at one point, engaged to marry her. However, General Ypsilanti called off the wedding. And, as you might expect in an opera, Manto Marvogenous became very depressed and reclusive. Eventually she devoted herself to writing her memoires, but she lived modestly since she had spent her fortune to support Ypsilanti’s successful efforts to free Greece from Turkish rule. She is viewed as a heroine in Greece where you can find statues reminding Greeks of her accomplishments. I do not know if this accomplishment influenced Augustus Woodward. A statue honoring Demetrius Ypsilanti stands at the foot of the Ypsilanti Water Works Standpipe but, so far as I know, there is no statue in Ypsilanti honoring Manto Marvogenous.
Sculptor: Christopher Nastos
Date of Installation: 1928
Picture: Ren Farley, November, 2009
Description prepared: February, 2010
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