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Evidence of the mercantile potential of these islands can be inferred from a reference in Herodotus (Hist. I. 165): after the abandonment of their besieged city during the Ionian revolt, the people of Phocaea sailed to Chios and asked the Chians if they could purchase the islands of Oinousa and settle there; Chios refused, fearing that the islands ‘might be made into a new centre of commerce to the exclusion of their own’. The Phocaeans were renowned seafarers and traders, and would not presumably have made such an offer had they not seen the island’s hidden trading potential. Thereafter the islands are, in effect, an extension of Chian territory and follow the history of their large and important neighbour. In the Middle Ages the islands were probably abandoned; repopulation from Kardamyla began in the 18th century. At the time of the 1822 massacre on Chios, the inhabitants fled to Syros, then the Aegean centre for Greek shipping. Within 40 years of returning to the island five years later, Oinoussaian families between them owned almost thirty ships, plying routes through the Mediterranean and Black Sea.
The emergence in the 19th century of three important families or ‘clans’, in particular, on the island—the Hadjipateras, Lemos and Lyras families—and their formation of a consortium was the beginning of the story of longdistance, international shipping for Oinousses. In 1905 they purchased their first steamer, the 3,500 ton, Marietta Rallis. With characteristic resilience, after substantial losses in the Second World War, the group took advantage of the possibility to purchase ‘Liberty Ships’ (a standardised and rapidly built cargo ship of British design, which was produced in large numbers by American shipyards during the war) from the US government, and contracted a number of new cargo ships from shipyards in Japan and Yugoslavia. In the 1950s the same group founded ‘Orient Mid-East Lines’, which ran liner services between the USA, the Mediterranean and Far East. The Lemos family holding of shipping is by most measures the largest private holding in Greece, and one of the largest in the world. In 1962 the Pateras family built, and richly endowed, the nunnery of the Evangelismos, at the west end of the island, in memory of a daughter of the family, Irini, who died at 20 and is considered by some a candidate for sanctification: the abbess of the convent is her mother.