Terrorism as It Once Was: The Miss Stone Affair, America, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire

Protestant missionary Miss Ellen Stone is seen here at her arrival back in the United States after her six-month abduction by the Bulgarian freedom-fighters, i.e. the Miss Stone Affair. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The dramedy of the Miss Stone Affair is an stunning episode of history which teaches about courage and integrity in the struggle for freedom. And about Stockholm Syndrome.

A Major Footnote in History

Is it possible for a case of terrorism to be endearing?

Could a dramatic kidnapping end up being comic?

Could two nations – one being the United States of America – end up having good relations even though their formal ties started off on the wrong foot?

The answer to these questions is positive when it comes to what has been described “America’s first modern hostage crisis", better known as “the Miss Stone Affair".

This historical episode also happened to be one of the first cases of really tangible interaction between the United States and Bulgaria.

Much has been written about the Miss Stone Affair in the US, Bulgaria, and beyond but the story is absolutely worth re-examining as a reminder that it is not impossible even for what essentially was an act of international political terrorism to feature valor, honor, and… humor.

Perhaps the most comprehensive and lively account of this incredibly curious episode in history – with the best possible title – is the book “The Miss Stone Affair: America’s First Modern Hostage Crisis" (2003) by US Pulitzer Prize-winning author Teresa Carpenter.

“When I first came across this story in the form of a periodical abstract at the New York Public Library I had envisioned writing a monograph, based upon documents from the National Archives and Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and the papers of the Congregationalist Missionaries at Harvard," Carpenter told me in an email when I first published a version of this article several years ago.

“It was originally limited to the effects of the event upon/and responses by the US State Department and the American press," she noted.

“The further I got into my research, however, the more real and compelling the players in this drama seemed and I realized that I would not be content without visiting the countries and sites where the events occurred, talking to descendants and friends of descendants and, in a manner of speaking, breathing the same air,” the researched said.

What was so amazing about this story, the first international crisis with an American citizen taken hostage abroad in modern times?

Covers of the 2003 book by Pulitzer-winning, best-selling American author Teresa Carpenter, “The Miss Stone Affair: America’s First Modern Hostage Crisis.” Photos: Amazon.com

For the Freedom and Unity of All Bulgarians

To tell a very long story very short, after the medieval Bulgarian empire was invaded and conquered by the Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century, Bulgaria was reborn as a country, a nation-state in its own right, only on March 3, 1878, as a result of the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-78.

The war itself, one of the first cases of the otherwise somewhat controversial notion of humanitarian intervention, ensued after the Ottoman troops and irregulars butchered both rebels and civilian population in the Bulgarian uprising of April 1876 (“The April Uprising").

Under the San Stefano Peace Treaty between Russia and Ottoman Turkey, Bulgaria was set up as a state with a territory of 170 000 square kilometers encompassing the three historic and geographic regions traditionally inhabited by Bulgarians – which to this day bear the names of one-time Roman provinces: Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia.

Three months later, in July 1878, the Great Powers from the so called “European Concert of Powers" (the 19th century heavyweights of Britain, France, Russia, Prussia/Germany, Austria/Austria-Hungary, and Italy) revised the San Stefano Treaty in the so called Berlin Congress.

As a result, the large newly-liberated Bulgaria was gone, and two small autonomous Bulgarian states were set up – the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Roumelia. These two states united in 1885 in what has been celebrated as Bulgaria’s “National Unification”.

However, half of the region of Thrace and all of the region of Macedonia, both inhabited mostly by Bulgarians at the time – were left in the hands of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, with the Bulgarians and the other Christian living there continuing to suffer from the Ottoman oppression.

Bulgaria’s entire political and public life from its liberation in 1878 until the Soviet occupation and the imposing of communism by Moscow in 1944 was ruled by the desire to unify all Bulgarian-populated lands in one nation-state.

This resulted in Bulgaria’s participation in five wars in that period: the Serbian-Bulgarian War of 1885, the First Balkan War of 1912-1913, the Second Balkan War of 1913, World War I, and World War II. Because of a series of diplomatic blunders and the intricacies of great power politics it ended up losing Southern Thrace and almost all of Macedonia for good.

Freedom-fighters such as Sandanski and Chernopeev sought to help unify Bulgarian-populated lands in Macedonia with those in Moesia and Thrace, after the Berlin Treaty divided liberated Bulgaria in five parts. All of the region of Macedonia was made part of Bulgaria in the San Stefano Treaty, but was then completely left out of Bulgaria at the Berlin Congress three months later. Maps: Wikipedia

Yet, before all that went down, the Bulgarians in Macedonia and Thrace still in the hands of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century did not stay idle, and more often than not, they were the pro-active side, trying to bring about Sofia’s all-out involvement.

In 1893, several Bulgarian revolutionaries gathered in Thessaloniki, the most important Ottoman city in Europe outside Istanbul (Constantinople), and found the VMORO (Internal Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Organization; initially called “Bulgarian Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Committee”; the “Bulgarian” ethnonym was dropped later in order to attract the other ethnicities to the cause to cause of earning liberation from the Ottomans).

The revolutionaries organized a secret network in the Ottoman provinces backed by cells in the free Bulgarian lands. A constant issue for them was the lack of money to fund their fight for freedom.

In the summer of 1901 some of the leaders of the organization – Gotse Delchev, Yane Sandanski and Hristo Chernopeev – got together to discuss the money issue and decided that kidnapping important people for ransom – which could be considered a form of terrorism – was a good option to raise fund for guns and other necessities.

They even considered kidnapping the newly enthroned Bulgarian monarch, Knyaz (later Tsar) Ferdinand (r. 1887 – 1918) himself.

Miss Ellen Stone, a native of Massachusetts, spent more than 20 years as a Protestant missionary in Bulgaria and the Bulgarian parts of the Ottoman Empire between 1878 and 1901. Photos: Wikipedia

US Missionary Miss Stone: Wrong Place at the Right Time

One of the major revolutionary leaders of a band of Bulgarian rebels in the region of Pirin Macedonia, or “voivode,” Yane Sandanski decided to kidnap the inspector of the American missionaries in the Ottoman Empire, Dr. John House, who was based in Thessaloniki.

Sandanski wanted to kill two birds with one kidnapping – get a large ransom, and to attract international attention to the plight and the liberation fight of the Bulgarians left under Ottoman rule in Thrace and Macedonia.

American Protestant missionaries actually played a rather big role in Bulgaria’s National Revival in the 19th century – a fact absolutely unknown to Bulgarians today because the Soviet-engineered communist regime in 1944/8-1989 wiped out any school texts on the subject (or possibly mentioned vaguely “colonization attempts" by the “American imperialists".)

When Sandanski and a fellow revolutionary leader, Hristo Chernopeev, went to the town of Bansko, which then was on Ottoman Turkish territory, to figure out how to lure American missionary John House there, they found out that another important missionary – Miss Ellen Stone – happened to be in town. She had been transferred to Thessaloniki in 1898.

Miss Ellen Maria Stone, an American Protestant missionary, arrived to Bulgaria shortly after Bulgaria’s Liberation in 1878. In 1901, she was 55, not married, and she spoke Bulgarian very well.

Sandanski and Chernopeev, who had nine other men under their command, were joined by another voivode, Krastyo Asenov, with five more rebels. Together they laid an ambush for two days in Predela, a mountain pass near Bansko (today a world-class ski resort).

They were dressed as Turks in order to avoid the bringing the wrath of the Ottoman authorities and irregulars upon the civilian Bulgarian population once the news about the American missionary’s kidnapping was going to break.

On September 3, 1901, at about 5 pm, the rebels ambushed the convoy of Miss Stone and 12 other Protestants, taking all of them captive.

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The Bulgarian revolutionaries who abducted Miss Stone: Yane Sandanski (sitting, middle), Krastyo Asenov (standing), Hristo Chernopeev (sitting, right), with their associate Sava Mihaylov (sitting, left).

A Bulgarian revolutionary band (or “cheta”) roaming the mountains in the regions of Macedonia and Thrace at the beginning of the 20th century such as the freedom-fighters who kidnapped Miss Stone looked like that. This particular photo shows a gathering of some of the leaders, or voivodes, of the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising of 1903 before its outbreak. Hristo Chernopeev, one of Miss Stone’s kidnappers, is right in the middle of the photo, lying down. Photo: Wikipedia

Classic Stockholm Syndrome, and Beyond

Voivode Yane Sandanski decided that the relatively elderly Miss Stone would need help during her captivity so the rebels also retained as a hostage Katerina Tsilka, a young Bulgarian Protestant married to Georgi Tsilka, an ethnic Albanian Protestant pastor, who was also in the convoy.

All other captives with the exception of Miss Stone and Tsilka were released a few hours after their abduction.

Shortly afterwards, Sandanski revealed to Miss Stone that the kidnappers are Bulgarians – first, because the rebels did not speak Turkish, and, second, because that was supposed to to calm her down.

Miss Stone had lived among the Bulgarians in the Ottoman Empire and was well aware of their struggle for freedom. It is probably not a big surprise that she started to identify – and rather ardently – with the goals of her captors: what psychologists described in the second half of the 20th century as the “Stockholm Syndrome”

There are still legends and funny stories in Bulgarian popular culture today, probably a bit exaggerated, about the kidnapping of Miss Stone by the Bulgarian rebels from Macedonia, and how the mighty lady literally took control of their detachment, and started making the rugged, hardened freedom-fighters shave and clip their nails, and nearly converted them to Protestantism. At one point, the stories go, one got to wonder who had kidnapped whom.

The fact that Miss Stone did start to identify strongly with the freedom cause of the rebels was later confirmed by her enormous advocacy efforts back in the United States after she was released in favor of the Bulgarian cause in Macedonia.

Terrorism with a Human Face?

The kidnappers’ plan, however, suffered major drawbacks from the very beginning. First, on the second day after the kidnapping, the voivode, Sandanski, broke his leg, and his band had to cross the border into Bulgaria so that he can see a doctor.

What is more, it turned out that Katerina Tsilka, the young woman kidnapped to look after Miss Stone, was in her fifth month of pregnancy.

The revolutionaries emerged to be determined to provide the two hostages with the best living conditions and care that were possible in their situation so they started to make preparations for the birth of the child.

They had Miss Stone and Tsilka knit clothes for the baby to be born, with the aid of the housewives in the houses where they stayed in different villages as this entire time the small detachment kept moving from village to village in the mountains to avoid being caught.

“You will look after that woman as if she was a princess! She should not be hungry or thirsty for even a single moment!” the leader Sandanski ordered to the rebels.

There they were – the captors – a dozen Bulgarian rebels, the elderly American Protestant Miss Stone, the pregnant young woman Katerina Tsilka – moving from village to village wandering around the mountains in the geographic region of Pirin Macedonia while demanding the ransom.

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Miss Ellen Stone, a native of Massachusetts, spent more than 20 years as a Protestant missionary in Bulgaria and the Bulgarian parts of the Ottoman Empire between 1878 and 1901. Photos: Wikipedia

A Real Thanksgiving Story

Apart from everything, the Miss Stone Affair does have a Thanksgiving flavor to it.

One day the rebels noticed that Miss Stone was especially sad. They asked her what had happened, and Tsilka told them about this day was a special holiday for the Americans on which they would be with their family and would eat turkey.

“When they learned this was an American holiday, in order to cheer up the saddened American woman, the rebels procured for her a fat turkey and together they made a meal,” the Bulgarian commercial representative in Thessaloniki at the time wrote in a report to the Bulgarian Foreign Minister at the time, Stoyan Danev.

“I found it touching when I learned, during my research, that Miss Stone’s captors, realizing that Thanksgiving was a special holiday, observed it by killing and cooking her a turkey,” Carpenter emphasized in her email to me.

When America Couldn’t Flex Its Muscle Yet

Around 1900 the USA was still an emerging young colossus which had little influence in European affairs despite the American presence in the Ottoman Empire.

According to some American accounts from later history periods, the case with the abduction of Miss Stone represented the weakness and failure of the United States to protect its citizens in that part of the world. Such a judgment is probably a bit harsh and unjustified, however.

It took the Bulgarian captors of Miss Stone nearly two months to manage to get in touch with American representatives in order to demand a ransom.

For one thing, the kidnapping coincided with the assassination of American President William McKinley who was shot on September 5, 1901, and died eight days later.

Sandanski kept his hostages Miss Stone and Tsilka informed about the news surrounding McKinley’s assassination.

The revolutionaries promptly explained to Miss Stone their objectives and made her write a letter to a close person outlining their demands. They asked for 25,000 gold Turkish lira, or approximately USD 110,000, a colossal sum at the time.

The initial letter demanding ransom was not properly delivered, and did not make it to any American representatives but did cause both the Ottoman and Bulgarian authorities to start chasing Sandanski’s rebel detachment.

At the same time, the Supreme Macedonian-Adrianople Committee, a revolutionary organization also seeking to liberate Thrace and Macedonia from the Ottomans, rivaling VMORO, and based in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, also started pursuing Sandanski with its troops in order to retake the hostages and capture the ransom itself.

At one point, Sandanski’s small VMORO band clashed with another purely Bulgarian detachment of 80 men sent by the Supreme Committee, and barely got away.

Eventually, Krastyo Asenov managed to get a ransom letter to the American missionary Edie Hasckel in Samokov, who took it to the American diplomats in Istanbul.

The talks for the release of Miss Stone were taken up by Charles Dickinson, the American consul in Istanbul, who was about to receive accreditation as the American diplomatic agent in Bulgaria. Initially, the rebels demanded the ransom by late October but the talks get stalled as the American diplomatic service refused to pay the colossal sum.

US Consul in Istanbul, Charles Dickson, got in a fight with the Bulgarian government over the Miss Stone kidnapping, which resulted in diplomatic tensions between Bulgaria and the USA even before the two countries had established diplomatic relations. Photo: Wikipedia

The Missionary Lobby in DC and Bulgarian-American Relations

At the same time, however, the Protestant missionary lobby pressured the US government to act. What they reached was a Solomon’s solution – the missionaries collected the ransom money amongst themselves but the American government promised to reimburse them subsequently after getting it back either from the rebels or from the respective authorities in the Balkans.

Thus, the missionaries collected from donations a total of USD 66 000 – or 15 000 gold Turkish lira.

The US Consul in Instanbul, Dickinson, however, decided to haggle with Chernopeev and Asenov offering them only 10 000 Turkish lira, which they refused.

At that point he broke off the talks, meanwhile also getting in a conflict with the Bulgarian government which he for some reason decided to hold accountable for the kidnapping of Miss Stone.

Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister, Stoyan Danev, refuted Dickinson’s criticism saying there was no proof the Sandanski band was on Bulgarian territory, and that the entire kidnapping was the initiative of VMORO, a sort of an early 20th-century “NGO,” to put it that way, albeit a violent one.

As a result of the conflict with Dickinson, the Bulgarian government refused to grant permission for his accreditation as the American diplomatic representative in Sofia.

Thus, the entire episode led to a diplomatic scandal between Bulgaria and the United States, before the two countries even had established formal diplomatic relations. The case, however, did emphasize the importance of doing so.

In December 1901, rumors that Tsilka had died during child labor, and Miss Stone had died of sorrow shortly thereafter alarmed the Protestant missionaries who forces the US government to start acting more vigorously.

The negotiations were taken up by Dr. House, the person who was originally supposed to be kidnapped by Sandanski, and the treasurer of the American Council in Istanbul William Pete.

The new team decided to offer to the captors all the money they had – 15 000 Turkish lira – and to spread rumors that was all they could offer.

Katerina Tsilka, Miss Ellen Stone and Tsilka’s baby girl Elena shortly after their release by the Sandanski band. Photo: Wikipedia

Due Date in Captivity

Meanwhile, the fate of the hostages kept making headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. The elderly Miss Stone and the young Tsilka already in her 7th-8th month of pregnancy kept moving with the revolutionaries from village to village evading the Ottoman troops, the Bulgarian police and the bands of the rival revolutionary organization.

Yet, in addition to escaping being caught, the other major concern of the Sandanski group was Tsilka’s due date.

“I asked Tsilka if she could travel, and if the time had come for her to give birth. We had prepared everything two months in advance. We got cloth, and the women knit clothes and made dipers. Tsilka told me that she was going to give birth in one hour,” recounted voivode Yane Sandanski some time later.

On January 3, 1902, in the village of Serbinovo, Katerina Tsilka gave birth to a healthy baby girl whom she named Elena, after Miss Stone. The birth of the child was celebrated with a feast by the rebels.

Yet, Turkish troops arrived only three days later, and they had to flee again. Tsilka, however, could not ride on a horse, so the rebels carried her and the baby around in a chest.

“The rebels must have been quite a picture with their guns and diapers in their backpacks, carrying around the baby, running around the mountains,” as one Bulgarian author sums it all up.

Tsilka herself had studied in the United States and took care of her newly born child according to Western medicine – her techniques made an impression on the voivode Sandanski who remembered medical methods, and is known to have used this knowledge years later.

The crying of the baby, however, created greater danger for the rebels. After all, Miss Stone and Tsilka were hostages. It was at this point that some of the rebels suggested that they should kill the hostages in order to avoid being caught.

The voivode was outraged at them, and prohibited any such course of action with the following words,

“If we kill them, we kill ourselves, and our cause before the people. Actually, let us all die if we must, but let’s not hurt our cause.”

The band managed to hide in Vlahi, Sandanski’s home village, and the voivode instructed Chernopeev and Asenov to finish the ransom talks any way they can because they “had all been fed up.”

At that point, House and Pete struck a deal with them for a ransom amounting to 14 500 Turkish lira – or USD 63,800. This happened on the ninth day after the band had hidden in Vlahi.

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The then leader of the US Protestant pissionaries in Thessaloniki, John House, was the original target of the abduction plot. He was later instrumental in completing successfully the talks for the ransom and the release of the hostages. Photo: Wikipedia

The Happy End

On January 31, 1902, Sandanski and Asenov met with House in Bansko. House brought the money after he withdrew it from the account of the US State Department in the Ottoman Bank branch in Thessaloniki. He was accompanied by 250 Ottoman Turkish soldiers.

Sandanski brought a letter from Miss Stone, explained to House that the entire abduction was “for a good cause”, and demanded that the Turkish soldiers withdraw before the ransom was to be delivered.

The Turkish officers refused. As a result, Sandanski and House invented a plan to trick them.

Apparently, House was suffering from the same Stockholm Syndrome that Miss Stone had – the American missionaries as a whole are recorded to have supported wholeheartedly the Bulgarian causes for liberation from the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Sandanski and House told the Turks they had agreed to make the transfer in another town to the south but House delivered the money secretly in his pockets to other Protestants in Bansko, from where Sandanski picked it up.

The two must have gone back and forth many times since the gold coins weighed a total of 105 kg!

House put bullets in the emptied chests and revealed the truth to the Turkish authorities only when they reached the supposed transfer site.

Miss Stone and Tsilka were released on February 23, 1902, near Strumitsa (today in the [Former Yugoslav] Republic of Macedonia, after spending 173 days in captivity.

Today’s Bansko is Bulgaria’s most famous mountain and ski resort; in the early 20th century, however, this was where much of the Miss Stone Affair took place – including the kidnapping and the ransom payment. Photo: Wikipedia

The First Modern Hostage Crisis in American (and Bulgarian) History: Aftermath

Even though Miss Stone’s kidnapping had not been formally sanctioned by the leadership of the VMORO, the Bulgarian rebel organization in Macedonia and Thrace, and was the initiative of Sandanski and Chernopeev, the two voivodes gave all the money to the leader of the organization Gotse Delchev who paid 2 Turkish lira to each of the members of the Sandanski group.

Another VMORO leader, Gyorche Petrov, later remarked that, unfortunately, most of the “Miss Stone money” was spent on the fratricidal war against the rival revolutionary organization, the Sofia-based Supreme Committee.

Other accounts, however, suggest that almost half of all the guns – or 7,500 rifles – used by VMORO’s Bulgarian rebels in Macedonia the follwoing year – in the so called Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising of August 1903 – were purchased with money from the ransom.

(In terms of rebel numbers, and territorial scope, the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising might have been the largest Bulgarian uprising against the Ottoman Empire.)

Therefore, the ransom money from the Miss Stone Affair was indeed put to some good use with respect to the Bulgarian fight for freedom and national unification.

Unfortunately, the 1903 Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising in the Ottoman regions of Macedonia and Thrace, was crushed by the Ottoman forces outnumbering the rebels more than 12 to 1, and failed to generate the sought after international intervention for reasons of Great Power politics.

Once the hostages were released but the perpetrators were not caught, the government of the Ottoman Turkish Sultan got worried that the Americans might demand that it repay the ransom money since the abduction took place on Ottoman territory.

The Ottomans thus started a rumor that Miss Stone herself had agreed to be kidnapped, and that the plot had been engineered with the help of Tsilka’s husband, Georgi Tsilka, the ethnic Albanian Protestant pastor. This led to his brief arrest.

After Miss Stone’s release, however, the US government, too, was in a debacle. It had no legal grounds to demand the ransom money from the Bulgarian government. At the same time, demanding it from the Ottoman government would only encourage the rebels to commit more kidnappings of American missionaries.

Eventually, the US government decided to assume the costs, and to restore the money to the missionaries from the US state budget in order to preserve its diplomatic ties with both Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire.

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The issue of the Miss Stone Affair ransom was nonetheless a thorny one: between 1908 and 1912, the US Senate approved four times a draft bill to that end but it got defeated four times in the House of Representatives.

The law providing for assuming the cost for the ransom by the US government was finally passed on March 21, 1912, ten years after the “Affair”.

Miss Ellen Stone is the first American citizen kidnapped for ransom in modern times. The Miss Stone Affair made headlines in the European and American press for months.

The Bulgarian kidnappers, who used outrightly terrorist methods, did achieve both of their major goals.

First, they did get a sizable sum for arms procurement, and, second, they did bring international attention – especially America’s – on the plight of the Bulgarians and Christians still remaining in the Ottoman Empire.

It was in that period that then US State Secretary John Hay and even US President Theodore Roosevelt made statements in favor of the Bulgarians in the Ottoman Empire and their cause.

Miss Ellen Stone returned to America as an ardent supporter of the cause for the liberation of the Bulgarians in the regions of Macedonia and Thrace.

She is probably the first woman ever to have exhibited what psychologists describe as the Stockholm Syndrome in a Modern Era international hostage crisis.

After her release she provided no information whatsoever to the Ottoman authorities who were trying to catch her captors.

The American “McLure’s Magazine” paid her USD 44,000 (almost as much as her ransom) to publish her memoirs and to do 50 lectures around the States in 1903-1904.

Katerina Tsilka’s memoirs were also published there under the title “Born among Bandits”.

Elena, the baby born to Katerina Tsilka in captivity, grew up and married the American consul in Tirana, George Miner. She died of tuberculosis at 24.

Her mother, Katerina Tsilka, gave birth to one more daughter and two sons. She died in Tirana in 1952 at the age of 86.

Bulgarian voivode Yane Sandanski subsequently went through several stages of his revolutionary career, often adopting controversial views and then reneging on those.

At one point, he stopped fighting for joining the regions of Thrace and Macedonia with Bulgaria but because a supporter of an independent and multinational Macedonian state around the time of the Young Turks’ Revolution in 1908.

By the time of the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, and the First World War, however, he flipped back to his original positions for uniting the Bulgarians in Macedonia with the free Bulgarian lands.

He was killed in 1915 by a rival faction in VMORO, as the organization started to break up. Earlier, as the leader of one of the warring factions, Sandanski himself had ordered the assassinations of rival group leaders.

Nonetheless, Sandanski remains one of the most revered Bulgarian revolutionary heros, with numerous folklore songs dedicated to him.

His most famous quote, “To live means to fight: the slave fights for freedom, the free man – for perfection”, is engraved on his tomb in Southwest Bulgaria, where a beautiful resort town, Sandanski, is named after him (as there is another town not far away named after his fellow revolutionary Gotse Delchev).

The title of a book by British author Mercia MacDermott dedicated to Yane Sandanski, For Freedom and Perfection: The Life of Yane Sandansky (Journeyman Press, 1988), speaks for itself.

The grave of Bulgarian revolutionary Yane Sandanski (1872-1915) is in the Rozhenski Monastery. This photo is from inside the Kordopulova House in the nearby town of Melnik. His most famous quote reads, “Living means fighting. The slave fights for freedom, the free man – for perfection.” Photo: Wikipedia

Hristo Chernopeev, Sandanski’s co-voivode in the Miss Stone Affair, was killed in battle in the First World War on the Balkan front as an officer in the Bulgarian Army, also in 1915.

The third voivode of their rebel band, Krastyo Asenov, was murdered by his own subordinates during the Ilinden Uprising in 1903 at the age of 26 because he chose to get married as the rebellion was in progress.

He perished at his own wedding because his marriage decision truly infuriated the other rebels.

He was the nephew of one of Bulgaria’s legendary anti-Ottoman freedom fighters, voivode Hadzhi Dimitar (Dimitar Asenov) (1840-1868) who died in battle with the Turkish troops after crossing into Bulgaria with a rebel band from Romania.

Miss Stone outlived all of her captors – she passed away in 1927 at the 81. She never came back to Bulgaria after 1902 despite her pledge to donate money to a Bulgarian school.

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An estimated 26,000 rebels took part in one of the largest Bulgarian uprising against the Ottoman Empire, the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising of August 1903, on a territory in Macedonia and Thrace spanning from the Ohrid Lake to the Black Sea. The rebels were defeated by superior Ottoman forces with modern artillery, and Great Power politics prevented Bulgaria from coming to their aid. The uprising received public support in the United States, which is testified by press coverage sympathetic to the cause of the rebels. Photo: Wikipedia

The rebel band of voevode Hristo Chernopeev (sitting in the middle, in the front row), one of Miss Stone’s kidnappers, in 1903, the year of the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising of the Bulgarians in the regions of Thrace and Macedonia against the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Photo: Wikipedia

Despite its elements of both terrorism and comedy, or, rather, dramedy, perhaps the underlying theme of The Miss Stone Affair is that its characters had a sad fate.

When one thinks of the the terrorist approaches, the kidnapping and extortion employed by the VMORO fighters, one should not forget that those men sacrificed themselves, their families, their happiness in the struggle for freedom.

The premature ends of their lives were a testimony to their integrity in their fight for rights and freedom – because they seemingly had reasons to spend most of their conscious lives being chased around the mountains in the Balkans by the Ottomans, and at times by the Bulgarian gendarmes and rival rebels.

The greatest evidence of the high ideals and the integrity of their cause, however, is the support they received from their victim.

Miss Stone knew the Bulgarians well, and obviously identified with their righteous struggle.

Of course, if she had not been abducted, she would have been but a regular witness to the events and developments in the Balkan Ottoman provinces at the time.

However, history happened so that she actually became a major player in it, taking all across America the story of the courageous rebels who cooked her a Thanksgiving dinner in the mountains of the region of Macedonia.

While the rebels led by Sandanski did achieve their immediate goals, they failed to achieve much in terms of their underlying objectives – the unity of all Bulgarians in the Balkans into one nation-state.

This was actually a much wider failure for Bulgaria whose dreams of national unity, and ensuing strength, peace, and prosperity collapsed in the Wars of 1912-1918 – due to its own diplomatic blunders and the background of great power politics. But that already is a whole other and much bigger story.

All that said, “The Miss Stone Affair” remains an amazing story with amazing protagonists.

Interestingly enough, it did contribute a great deal to stimulating the formal Bulgarian-American diplomatic relations – and actually hurt them much less that one would have thought – largely because in that period those Americans who had been in touch with the Balkans were widely sympathetic to the Bulgarians and their national cause.

“I’m so glad I went the extra mile. (Or possibly the extra ten thousand.) That trip to Bulgaria was one of the highlights of my life, professional and personal… I came away from that experience feeling a very warm kinship with the Bulgarian people…,” contemporary Pulitzer-prize winning, bestselling American author Teresa Carpenter told me in her email.

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Another Important Footnote

The following post was made by Ms. Carpenter on the Amazon.com website in response to comments on her book, The Miss Stone Affair: America’s First Modern Hostage Crisis.

Ms. Carpenter’s comments speak for themselves – but to those not familiar with Balkan history, apparently, representatives of the Macedonian nation which was established after the communist takeover of Yugoslavia, in 1944, 40 years after the “Miss Stone Affair”, have tried to appropriate this episode of history as belonging to their own – or, alternatively, as Ms. Carpenter suggests – to rewrite history in a way that is more favorable to Serbs and Greeks.

The research of the American author has demonstrated that in 1901 the region of Macedonia was populated mostly by Bulgarians, and the kidnappers of Miss Stone, people revered today by two nations – Bulgaria and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – were Bulgarians.

I was really going to steer clear of politics when re-telling the Miss Stone story but I believe this point here is worth mentioning since Ms. Carpenter decided to “set the record straight” herself.

(from http://www.amazon.com/Miss-Stone-Affair-Americas-Hostage/dp/0743258053 )

“The author speaks, June 27, 2004

By Teresa Carpenter “cafe reader” (New York,NY USA) – See all my reviews

This review is from: The Miss Stone Affair: America’s First Modern Hostage Crisis (Paperback)

I am Teresa Carpenter, author of the Miss Stone Affair. I feel compelled to correct two outrageous claims made by anonymous reviewers here on Amazon concerning the identity of the kidnappers of an American missionary woman in the amazing 1901 case I chronicle.

One asserts that there is “One very important error” in the book , namely that Bulgarians never lived in this part of Macedonia and that the kidnappers were not Bulgarian.” The other alleges, equally absurdly, that “Bulgarians never lived on this part of the Balkan peninsula.”

I cannot imagine how they can write this with a straight face when Bulgarians were so clearly the dominant force in the region during the time of the Stone kidnapping in 1901.

I suspect the assertions of these “reviewers” are part of a partisan attempt to rewrite history more favorably to Serbs and Greeks. The facts say otherwise, and that is probably why they do not have the courage to sign their names. Thank you for allowing me to set the record straight.”


*Note: An earlier version of this article appeared on Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency).


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