Reprinted with permission of the Delaware County (PA) Daily Times
October 18, 2017
by Joseph Batory
It was 200 years ago that a hero died (Oct. 15, 1817). He was Andrzej Tadeusz Kosciuszko, who is well known and beloved in Poland for leading the military uprisings against the subjugation of the Polish people by Russia and Prussia.
But Kosciuszko was also a critical player in the American Revolution.
Kosciuszko came to America from Poland in 1776. He was a highly skilled engineer who was inspired by the American cause and offered his services to the colonies in their struggle for independence. Kosciuszko was soon commissioned as Colonel of Engineers by the Continental Congress and began fortifying battle sites, many of which were critically important to America’s fight for independence against the British.
Kosciuszko’s major contribution to the American Revolution occurred in New York, where he planned the defense fortifications for Saratoga. The Battle of Saratoga was a key to America’s struggle for independence and proved to be the turning point in the war.
Few people know that there is also a monument dedicated to General Thaddeus Kosciuszko on the grounds of the West Point Military Academy. The reason is that Kosciuszko designed the defenses of the West Point garrison from 1778–1780 during the height of the Revolutionary War, when George Washington considered West Point to be the most important military post in America. Because of Kosciuszko, West Point became known as The American Gibraltar because it was unable to be penetrated by the British Army.
Kosciuszko was inspired to the American cause when he read the Declaration of Independence which reflected so many of his beliefs. He soon learned that Thomas Jefferson was responsible for drafting the Declaration so Kosciuszko was determined to meet Jefferson.
Eventually while traveling south with the Continental Army, Kosciuszko stopped in Virginia to introduce himself to Jefferson. The two men spent the day sharing ideas and philosophies and eventually became very close friends.
In 1783, Kosciuszko was appointed Brigadier General and was awarded the prestigious military Cincinnati Order Medal by General George Washington, Commander-in- Chief of the Continental Army.
Washington also presented Kosciuszko with gifts for his bravery and outstanding contributions to the cause of the American colonists. Washington in a letter to Congress wrote: “Kosciuszko has most splendidly served our young republic.”
Kosciuszko was a true leader, who had technical knowledge but also idealism and a sense of sympathetic understanding and generosity. Jefferson wrote of Kosciuszko, “He is as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known.”
Tragically, Kosciuszko, a devoted champion of the poor and oppressed, never witnessed the arrival of freedom in his homeland, Poland.
Kosciuszko was a firm believer in equality and a strong opponent of American slavery, European serfdom, and the negative treatment of Native Americans, women and other groups who faced discrimination.
Kosciuszko’s death was complicated by the fact that he had several wills. In one of them he had designated that the proceeds of his American estate be spent on freeing and educating African-American slaves, including those of his friend Thomas Jefferson, whom he named as the will’s executor.
There were in fact legal complications with this will, but a number of historians have criticized Jefferson for refusing this executorship and never aggressively pursuing the humanitarian wishes of his friend Kosciuszko.
Joseph Batory’s pride in his Polish-American heritage is reflected in this article.