THADDEUS KOSCIUSZKO supported the noble heroes of his day and challenged the infamous tyrants of his era. He pushed enlightened ideals of democracy and republicanism and fought for the rights of peasant serfs, African slaves, Jews, Native Americans and all those who were willing to join in his visions of life, liberty and the pursuit of tolerance for all.
In the summer of 1776, Kosciuszko arrived in the United States from Poland, walked into Ben Franklin's print shop and told the sage of Philadelphia that he was trained as a military engineer and artilleryman and that he wanted to enlist in the Continental Army. After testing the Pole's abilities and knowledge of geometry, Franklin put Kosciuszko to work for the Pennsylvania Committee on Safety, putting him in charge of designing forts to protect Philadelphia from the British navy which was planning an attack. Kosciuszko soon became the most popular military engineer in America.
The Battle of Saratoga
Continental Army General Horatio Gates quickly realized that Kosciuszko was a skilled military tactician and recruited the Pole to become his chief strategist. It was Kosciuszko who developed the plan for the Battle of Saratoga, the turning point of the American Revolution. When Gates was given credit for the victory, he told a friend, "Stop. Let us be honest. In war, as in medicine, natural causes not under our control do much. In the present case, the great tacticians of the campaign were the hills and forests, which a young Polish Engineer was skillful enough to select for my encampment." At right is Kosciuszko's own drawing of those battle plans along the Hudson River.
George Washington spelled Kosciuszko's name eleven different ways, but eventually he grew to trust and appreciate the Pole, telling him, "no one has a higher respect, and veneration of your character than I have." Washington gave Kosciuszko two pistols and a sword with the Latin engraving: "America cum Vashington suo Amico T. Kosciuconi," (America and Washington are joined with our friend T. Kosciuszko). Seeing that Kosciuszko was his most talented engineer, Washington put the Pole in charge of "the key to America" -- West Point. Little did Washington know that Benedict Arnold would try to sell Kosciuszko's blueprints for West Point to the British.
Agrippa Hull & Slavery
Kosciuszko's aide de camp during the American Revolution was a Black man named Agrippa Hull, who exposed the Pole to the horrors of slavery. Hull served with Kosciuszko in the Carolinas where a network of Black spies that told Kosciuszko what the British Army was up to. Kosciuszko gave Hull his prized pistol, which he had received while studying in the Royal Knight's Academy in Warsaw set up by Polish King Stanislaw Augustus.
Kosciuszko tried to buy and free Thomas Jefferson's slaves
After the Revolution, Kosciuszko became close friends with Jefferson and convinced him to build a military academy at West Point. Kosciuszko also gave Jefferson a fur coat (shown at right) that was given to him by the czar of Russia. The Pole also left a last will and testament with Jefferson, instructing him to use it to "buy out of my money so many Negroes and free them, that the remaining sum should be sufficient to give them education and provide for their maintenance" ... and give them "100 acres of land, with instruments, cattle for tillage and know how to manage and govern it."
Poland passed the first written democratic Constitution in Europe, second in the world, only to that of the United States. When Russian Czarina Catherine the Great realized that the Poles wanted to free the enslaved serfs of Eastern Europe and end feudalism, which was her free source of peasant labor, she convinced the armies of Russia, Austria and Prussia to invade Poland from all sides and crush the democratic movement. Kosciuszko led a revolution of peasants, burghers, Jews and noblemen to try to bring democracy to Europe, but it was crushed by overwhelming odds.
The Jewish Cavalry
Jews had religious freedom in Poland but were required to pay additional taxes by the King. Kosciuszko walked into the synagogue in Krakow and asked the Jews to help with the uprising. He promised that the Jews would be treated equally in Poland after the revolution. Berek Joselewicz called Kosciuszko "a messenger from God" and started a Jewish cavalry, which became the first wholly Jewish military brigade since biblical times. This bearded army fought with the Poles against the Russians in the uprising.
Jean Lapierre was a black man who joined Kosciuszko at the barricades in Warsaw during the uprising to free the white peasants of Poland. He was well read and spoke several languages, including Polish. When the Russian Czarina imprisoned Kosciuszko, Lapierre went him to Russia and stayed with him in prison. Later, Lapierre returned to Poland where he worked as a bookkeeper. This painting of Lapierre was buried in the archives of the Polish Military Museum in Warsaw Poland.
Chief Little Turtle
When Me-She-Kin-No-Quah, Chief Little Turtle of the Miami Indians, heard that Kosciuszko had stood up for the rights of Native Americans, he went to visit the Pole at his home in Philadelphia and brought him a present, a combination tomahawk and peace pipe as a sign of appreciation. Little Turtle told his tribe that he had made friends with a righteous white man, whom he called "Kotcscho." The Pole gave Little Turtle two pistols and told him to "shoot dead the first man who comes to subjugate you."
The French Revolutionaries loved "Citizen Kosciuszko" and considered his uprising as an offshoot of their own movement. At their first meeting, Napoleon told Kosciuszko, "I urgently wanted to meet the hero of the north" and the Pole called the Frenchman, "the hero of the East." But Kosciuszko quickly saw through Napoleon's motives and told the French revolutionaries to "keep an eye on that man, he might spoil your arrangement." Three weeks later, Napoleon staged a coup d'etat and took control of France. Kosciuszko refused to join the "gravedigger of the republic" while Polish troops helped Napoleon to invade Russia, which proved disastrous for the French dictator.
After writing the pamphlet that spurred the American Revolution, Thomas Paine ended up living in Paris. He was so excited about the Polish Revolution and its Constitution, that he considered moving to Warsaw. He became friends with Kosciuszko and when Napoleon extinguished the democratic movement in Europe, Paine and the Polish revolutionary attended dinner parties together and bemoaned the end of liberties in Europe. When he became President, Jefferson invited both of them to come back to America. While Paine returned to the United States, Kosciuszko spent his final years in Europe trying to find ways to educate peasants and slaves across all borders.