Vlachi and the Aspropotamos Society in Annapolis
The Vlachi (a.k.a. “Aromanians”) are a Romanian ethnic group native to the Balkans, traditionally living in northern and central Greece, Romania, Albania, North Macedonia, Bulgaria and other nations within the former Yugoslavia.
The majority of Greek Vlachs live in northern and Central Greece: Macedonia and Thessaly, particularly along the Pindus mountains.
Map of Greece with regions inhabited by Vlachi in yellow:
Vlachs originate from the Roman people of south-eastern Europe; from a mix of Roman colonists (from various Roman provinces) and indigenous peoples who were Latinised. Historians trace the influx of the Vlachs, and the use of the term Vlach, back to the 3rd Century A.D. Many Vlachs settled into the less-accessible mountainous areas of Greece and other areas in the Balkans because of the barbarian invasions and immigrations of the 5th-7th centuries.
The Vlachi in Greece, who are often isolated mountain folk, speak Greek and Vlachiko (Aromanian – a Romanian dialect). They are all Greek Orthodox Christians. In addition to language, a distinguishing feature of the Vlachs has been their annual migration. Even today, when herding no longer dominates the Vlachi lifestyle, many Vlachs, including expatriates from the US. still tend to journey to the Vlach mountain villages in the Summer. The majority of the Vlach population lives in northern and central Greece: Epirus, Macedonia and Thessaly, particularly along the Pindus mountains. Even today, when herding no longer dominates the Vlachi lifestyle, many Vlachs, including expatriates from the US. still tend to journey to the Vlach mountain villages in the Summer.
While Greek Vlachi consider themselves foremost to be Greeks, there are distinct cultural differences. In Greece, Vlachi are considered to be a linguistic (but not ethnic) minority and, except for their mountain migrations, are otherwise indistinguishable in many respects from other Greeks. Although Vlachi would distinguish themselves from other native Greek speakers when speaking Vlachiko, they consider themselves to be fully part of the broader Greek nation. Vlachi have long been associated with the Greek national state, actively participated in the Greek independence, and have obtained important positions in government. The most famous Vlachos was former Massachusetts Governor and unsuccessful Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.
The Vlachi in Greece, who are often isolated mountain folk, speak Greek and Vlachiko (Aromanian – a Romanian dialect). They are all Greek Orthodox Christians.
Many of the Vlachi who emigrated to Annapolis came from Agia Paraskevi (Greek: “Αγία Παρασκευή”, or Aromanian: “Giúrgea” or English “Georgia”) a mountain and riverbank village within the Kalabaka municipality, in the district of Aspropotamos. The local Vlachs of Agia Paraskevi call themselves armâń gurțań, and speak a Pindus dialect of Aromanian.
During much of the 20th Century, many Vlachi Greeks immigrated to Annapolis, evolving it into an East Coast hub for Vlachi from North Carolina to New Jersey. No longer isolated in the Pindus mountains of Greece, the Vlachi thrived by learning English, working hard to grow economically and to assimilate into American society, and found camaraderie with fellow Greeks immigrants from other regions. However, the Vlachi were different with their Aromanian third language, and initially somewhat clannish with their common mountain lifestyle backgrounds.
One major reason for Annapolis becoming such an attraction for Vlachi that many Vlachs came from nearby mountain villages along the Aspropotamo river and valley, with its steep mountainsides and wide, steep pastures ideal for goats and mountain sheep. A significant factor and an impetus for immigration to Annapolis was its the landing here of five brothers and two sisters, and their families, followed by friends and relatives of the Aspropotamo valley, in particular the from the mountain village summer retreat of Ayia Paraskevi (Georgia) and Trikala (winter). Those five brothers and two sisters were from the Samaras family:
- Theodore Samaras – (1887 – 1942) immigrated 1907 and naturalized 1914
- George Samaras – immigrated 1919 and naturalized ____
- Spiros Samaras – (1883-1967) immigrated ____ and returned to Greece 1925
- Milpos Samaras – immigrated ____ and naturalized_____
- Peter Samaras – immigrated ____ and naturalized_____
- Angeliki Samaras – immigrated ____ and naturalized_____
- Agoritsa Samaras – immigrated 1920 and naturalized ____
Samaras family members followed in 1920: Katherine Economou (betrothed to Theodore Samaras), Daphne (2nd wife of George), and George’s children Constantinos (Charlie) and infants Nicholas.
Many other Vlachi arrived in the first three decades of the 20th Century, including:
- Katherine Economou’s siblings Demetrios (“Jim”) and Maria Economou
- Ted Demas (married Maria Economou)
- John & Efthehia Charas
- Characklis ?
- Louis and Steliou Alexiou
- [Patty Padussis’ grandfather Pappas – was he a Vlachos?]
- Chris Gumas and family & brother John
These Vlachi bonded with other Annapolis Greek immigrants to help grow and solidify the Annapolis Greek American community.
Over time, some departed Annapolis for other nearby locations where more Vlachi were located: Westminster, Baltimore, Bel Air, Jersey City, Virginia (Winchester, Stanton, Richmond, Norfolk), Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. However, the Vlachi subculture and family ties kept them close together, despite physical separation, with Annapolis serving as a major hub for the Greek-American Vlachi.
This mid-Atlantic Vlachi network manifested itself with the creation of the Aspropotamos Society in the 1950s. For many years, the Aspropotamos Society engaged in an annual major social event called the Panayiri (weekend of August 15th , the day of the Assumption). The Panayiri events were held at various cities along the region, including Charlottesville and Valdosta, Georgia, but most frequently at Annapolis – The Bay Ridge Beach Club or Annapolis Roads Country club. Activities included picnicking, swimming, lamb roasts and Greek food dinners, and Greek dancing.