A search by a great-great-granddaughter in the US for more information about her ancestor, Nikolaos Sistos (Sistakis or Sistonikolis) has led to the interesting but also the sad story of a fighter of the Greek War of Independence.
The descendant, Helen Schafer, sought help from specialist Gregory Kontos of the Greek Ancestry website to discover how Nikolaos Sestos was related to her family. Ms Schafer said her ancestor had five sons.
A search of the Chania region’s Male Registers at the Historical Archives of Crete failed to yield any results, nor did a search of the male registers of the village of Kakodiki where Sitsos died in 1904.
“That was no surprise – like many Cretan families, the Sistakis had moved a lot back and forth from Crete to liberated Greece… . The family had spent some time in Piraeus. Many of its sons were born there leaving no traces in Cretan records,” said Mr Kontos.
A search, however, of Warriors’ Archive of the Historical Archives of Crete uncovered something revealing and historically significant.
It was a written application made in 1901 by Nikolaos Sistos of Kakodiki to Prince George of Greece and Denmark, the second son of King George I of Greece, who was high commissioner of the Cretan State in the years before the island united with Greece in 1913.
The Cretan state had come into being in 1898 in the wake of yet another revolt against the Ottoman overlords. The Turks were forced to accept the creation of the Cretan State thanks to the intervention of the Britain, France, Russia and Italy.
In 1901, Nikolaos Sestos of Crete wrote his letter to Prince George, he was 105 years old. Sestos humbly informs the prince that at his age he no longer has the means to support himself. He asks the prince to accept “the request of probably the last surviving fighter for the liberation of Greece, who also as an affectionate offspring, fulfilled his duty to his homeland”.
The letter describes how he spent most of his adult life fighting for the Greek cause in key engagements including at Missolonghi in the disastrous third siege of 1826, under Captain Lazaros Prouskos during a naval battle off Samos on 5 August, 1824.
He fought under the legendary Georgios Karaiskakis at Faliro on 24 August, 1827 in the unsuccessful attempt to raise the siege of Athens. Karaiskakis died there as did Sistos’ brother George.
He says that he went on to fight in other battles for the Greek cause over the course of the 19th century.
Sadly, the old warrior died penniless in Kakodiki, three years after writing the letter.
The only memory of him that survived with the family is a charcoal drawing of the old warrior on a ship’s deck that once hung on the wall of his home in Kakodiki.
Translation of the letter Nikolaos Sistsos sent to the High Commissioner of Crete, Prince George of Greece and Denmark in 1901:
To His Royal Highness
Prince George of Greece
High Commissioner in Crete
Request of Nikolaos Sistos resident of Kakodikion, Selinos
In Kakodikion, April 5th, 1901
Having participated in the virtuous fight for our country since 1821 and therefore having taken part in many battles in Greece and in our homeland – in particular, in the siege of Missolonghi, in the naval battle that took place near Samos under the brave captain “Capetan Lazaros Prouskos”, and in Faliro under the brave “Karaiskakis” where my dearly departed brother Georgios was killed – and in all the revolutions of our country during the past century, not having, however, any means to live…
… and being already one hundred and five years old, I respectfully implore Your Royal Highness, if it wishes, to provide me with some little help.
I hope, your Highness, that the request of probably the last surviving fighter for the liberation of Greece, who also, as an affectionate offspring, fulfilled his duty to his homeland, will be accepted.
I remain always Your Royal Highness’s loyal subject and devoted servant.