On ‘Talk Like A Pirate’ day in September 2019, we posted a message on Twitter showing a watercolor portrait of an ornately dressed man named “Marmalakè.” The artist had identified him as the “Pirate of Micone.” Our team had some fun with the image and described Marmalakè as a “bucko” and “a meditating pirate.” That odd tweet caught the attention of Antonis Kotsonas, an assistant professor of Mediterranean History and Archaeology at New York University. Antonis was researching the activities of the United States Mediterranean Squadron during the latter years of the Greek War of Independence and believed the portrait might depict a Greek pirate named Manolis Mermelechas.
Along with the portrait, Antonis was interested in a group of watercolor landscapes of Greek islands painted by artist Joseph Partridge. The images had been painted between 1827 and 1830 while Partridge was serving as a marine aboard the sloop of war USS Warren. Those years corresponded with the final years of Greece’s War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire. The war had been raging since 1821 and by 1826 had wrought such economic hardship that many Greek seamen had turned to piracy as a form of survival–not just for themselves, but for the communities they lived in as well. In early 1827 Warren, captained by Master Commandant Lawrence Kearny, a man with extensive experience combating piracy, was sent to the Aegean to help protect American merchant ships and conduct antipiracy operations.