When she drove past the statue in Ilioupoli when she was on honeymoon in Athens, Mandy Nickas noted that the name it bore was of Ioannis “Tsakalos” Theofilopoulos, her maiden name.
In 2014, while on another visit to Greece, she drove past the beautiful clifftop village of Lagadia on her way to her father’s village at Agridi in near Olympia in the Peloponnese. Another statue of Ioannis Theofilopoulos had been erected at in Lagadia where he was born in 1795.
It was only 2017 when a cousin visited Lagadia and read some documents that the possibility that the family was related to the honoured fighter of the Greek War of Independence that began in 1821.
“My cousin Vassilis then contacted us and said that my dad, Panayiotis, and my brother (also named) Ioannis should take a DNA test because it is easier to match DNA through the males,” said Ms Nickas.
Within a matter of months, it was confirmed that they were related to the old fighter who served as ship’s pilot and officer in the fledgling Greek navy under Admiral Konstantinos Kanaris and Dimitrios Papanikolis. In later years, he was also to fight on land.
Ms Nickas’ ancestor did not receive the recognition that his efforts deserved and he died in poverty on 1 December, 1885. Theofilopoulos had fought under Theodoros Kolokotronis and the grandson of the great general attended the funeral to pay his respects..
“We have no details about his wife and family and we do not know whether he was buried in Lagadia (where he was born) or in Athens which is most likely,” said Ms Nickas.
However, much information about his role in the war has surfaced in websites linked to the 200 year anniversary of Greek independence.
A mid-19th century photograph of her ancestor by Petros Moraitis is housed in the National History Museum and is one of very few that photographs that were taken of surviving fighters of the Revolution. Theofilopoulos is also shown in a painting in the Elftherios Venizelos Hall of the Greek Parliament, where he is seen holding the Greek flag next to Admiral Kanaris.
Theofilopoulos directed the fire-ship commanded by Admiral Kanaris that destroyed the Turkish flagship at Chios. He also fought in naval actions in the northern Aegean.
He took part in the Battle of Patras of 20 February 1822.
He also fought on land under Kolokotronis and by 1830 he headed the militia in Tripoli. In 1865 as one of the last living veterans of the war, he signed several documents under the military rank of “Major”.
“I feel very proud and emotional about my ancestor,” said Ms Nickas, the mother of two teens Eleni and Vassiliki. “I have the DNA of a man who fought for liberty and who wanted people to live free. Having all these sources talk of him makes me very proud.
“I read his story to my father Panayiotis and my aunts Georgia and Voula and they were crying, they had no idea (of what he achieved).”
“In fact my father looks a lot like our ancestor,” said Ms Nickas adding that there were up to 60 descendants of Ioannis Theofilopoulos spread around the globe in Greece, Germany, the United States and, of course, Australia.