Konkurs - Thaddeus Kosciuszko


Elizabeth Ratkiewicz kl. XI


I first learned his name in fourth grade. My teacher, knowing my heritage, asked me to pronounce it. I spoke it with pride in my capability of doing so. A class of my fellow ten year olds looked back at me, giggling at the strange sound of letters like rustling leaves and syllables that rolled off my tongue with a definitive crunch. A sole paragraph was dedicated to this hero in my textbook. I have not heard Thaddeus Kosciuszko’s name in a classroom ever since.

American history is quite selective when it comes to remembrance of its heroes. When one such hero is selected, the individuals life is picked apart, their flaws often scrubbed away as their whole lives are pressed into print. However, almost all heroes throughout Americas history, especially those most revered, possess a forgotten or simply ignored hamartia. The founding fathers were riddled with flaws, and fell upon a wide range of adulterers and slave owners. In spite of this, one man of the American Revolution managed to not possess such fatal flaws. Perhaps most ironically, he was not even an American. Thaddeus Kosciuszko was a renaissance man far beyond his years. The purity of his character was centered on a single ideal- everyone deserved freedom, and it was worth fighting for. He came to America to aid in the country’s struggle for independence, and continued to fight for freedom and democracy in his native country of Poland.

Kosciuszko was born to a noble family in the Polish province of Polesie on February 4rth, 1746. He was educated at the Piarist College in Lubieszów and later attended the military academy in Warsaw. Kosciuszko furthered his education in Paris where he studied military and civil architecture as well as painting. Enticed by the Revolutionary activity in America, he left Paris in 1776 to volunteer his efforts to the cause. He first came to the country without knowing any English, and was thought by many to be a Frenchmen since he would solely communicate in French. This may have attributed to the close friendship Kosciuszko developed with Francophile and founding father, Thomas Jefferson. Their bond was lifelong, as the men enjoyed discussing philosophies and politics they found they possessed similar views on most topics. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, Kosciuszko was, “as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known."

Kosciuszko’s most memorable accomplishment of the war was his contribution to the patriot victory at the Battle of Saratoga. Due to his ingenious fortifications of Bemis Heights, which overlooked the Hudson, 6,000 British troops were forced to surrender. This is considered to be an imperative turning point in the war, since it shifted perspective on colonials from ragtag rebels whose only unification was the dream of freedom, to a masterfully led group of patriots that had a serious chance of winning the war. The Battle of Saratoga proved patriot’s worth to the world, and lead to France joining the war on their side, against the British. This could not have been accomplished without the immigrant’s expertise. Afterwards, Kosciuszko took charge of the defense of the Hudson at West Point. His fortifications were so brilliantly designed, the British did not even attempt an assault against them.

After the war, he was promoted as Brigadier General in addition to being granted American citizenship. Kosciuszko then returned to Poland with the hopes of bringing independence to his own country. However, his valiant efforts for insurgence failed and he was captured by the Russians. He was later set free under the condition he would never return to his homeland. He then moved back to America, carrying the grief that his beloved country could not partake in the same freedom he fought so hard to attain in the Revolutionary War. In America, Kosciuszko continued to fight for freedom. Before his eventual move to Switzerland, where he spent the remainder of his life, he left the money from his estate to buy freedom for slaves and ensure them with land and education. His achievements are a testament to his greatest passion, to bring freedom to all. This revolutionary hero is often unjustly crammed in a simple paragraph of a history textbook that cannot encompass his worth. His life and work are proof of the immense contribution immigrants have had on the United States, and continue to inspire immigrants today. Kosciuszko crossed national borders to pursue an ideal that is boundless, and at the source of all human existence, freedom.

I drive by the Kosciuszko Bridge in an America where the word immigrant is often paired with a nasty sneer and condescending tone. I wonder if it was immigrants that built that bridge, every day raising the structure higher, little by little over the water. As commuters make their way across, I wonder how the GPS pronounces his name, is it as broken and strained as when teachers try to pronounce mine? George Washington, a man whose name is synonymous with reverence, learned how to pronounce Kosciuszko’s name out of respect. He did it out of respect for a man who fought for a country that wasn’t his. He did it out of respect for a man who wasn’t even fighting for a country, who was fighting for a belief that was imbedded in every fiber of his being. Every single human deserves to be free. That is Kosciuszko’s legacy. That is the legacy every immigrant comes to America in search off. He is buried in the Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, Poland. He lies with kings, most of which he surpassed in valor and integrity. So, dear reader I ask of you, learn his name, and how to pronounce it.

                            PRACA ZAJĘŁA W KONKURSIE III MIEJSCE

Katarzyna Kobeszko kl. II

Tadeusz Kosciuszko

            Tadeusz Kosciuszko is a name many people hear often, but a story not many know. To those living in America, Kosciuszko is the name of a general of the American Revolution. To those living in Poland, Kosciuszko is the name of a great Polish general that accomplished many feats. To Polish-Americans, it is the name of both. He was very much a patriot for Poland and a fighter for democracy and equality. With the two hundredth anniversary of the death of Tadeusz Kosciuszko this year

            Tadeusz Kosciuszko was born in February of 1746 in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He graduated from the Corps of Cadets in Warsaw, but after the outbreak of a civil war and the First Partition of Poland, he moved to France to continue to study. He returned to Poland after a few years, but came back to France not long after. In 1776, Kosciuszko arrived in America, where he played a significant role in the American Revolution. In his final return to Poland if 1784, he was named a major general in 1789 in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Army and played a vital role in the Polish-Russian War of 1792 that lead to the Second Partition of Poland. After the Third Partition of Poland, Kosciuszko emigrated to the United States where he wrote his will, but eventually returned to Europe and lived in Switzerland until his death in 1817.

            While in France, Kosciuszko’s exposure to the French Enlightenment greatly influenced his thinking later in life. While in Paris, although unable to join the French military academies because he was a foreigner, he continued his military education. He visited lectures and libraries of the Paris military academies for the five years he was in France. During his second Visit to France, French revolutionaries made him an honorary “citizen of France.” Kosciuszko warned these same revolutionaries about Napoleon Bonaparte, who three weeks later took over France. It is little known that while in France, Kosciuszko developed his artistic and musical abilities. He enrolled in the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture.

            Tadeusz Kosciuszko’s history in America begins when he first arrived in the summer of 1776. As a fighter for natural human rights, Kosciuszko jumped at the opportunity to fight in the American Revolution after hearing about it in France, where it was well publicized. It wasn’t long before he was pronounced a colonel in the Continental Army. During the American Revolution, the intelligence of Kosciuszko was quickly recognized by George Washington. He is well known for his military strategy at Saratoga, a major victory for the Americans and the turning point in the Revolution. He is also well known for his design and construction of West Point Fort, now military academy. These same blueprints were sold to the British by Benedict Arnold. Before his work on West Point, Kosciuszko also fortified Fort Billingsport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After his success at West Point, he helped to secure other American forts all across the colonies which helped defend the Continental army. These great military feats accomplished by Kosciuszko are the most common ones known to Americans. At the end of the service, he is inducted into the society of the Cincinnati and promoted to Brigadier General. However, there is so much more that he did. Close friends with Kosciuszko, Thomas Jefferson called him, “The purest son of liberty I have ever known.” This is because he was not only a fighter for democracy and political freedom, but a fighter for human rights. During his time in America, Kosciuszko advocated for the rights of Native Americans and African American slaves. The chief of the Miami Indian tribe gave him a tomahawk/peace pipe as a sign of appreciation. Before he died, he also wrote a will, in which he freed his slaves and dedicated his money to the education and freedom of U.S. slaves. He also attempted to buy Thomas Jefferson’s slaves and free them. Not many people acknowledge Kosciuszko for his attempts at gaining rights for many disenfranchised groups. Although, you will see his name appear in many places, such as the newly opened Kosciuszko Bridge in New York City.

            In Poland, Tadeusz Kosciuszko is seen as a hero. After his return to Poland in 1784 from America, he played a vital role in the beginning of Poland’s fight for freedom. Not long after his return, he received a royal commission as a major general in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Army in 1789. In Poland, he continued to fight for basic human rights. He argued that peasants and Jews should receive full citizenship status, because this would promote them to defend Poland in the event of a war. Kosciuszko’s efforts helped to establish Poland’s first constitution on May 3rd, 1791. Prussia and Austria-Hungary, the neighbors of the Commonwealth saw this constitution as a threat to their influence over Poland, and invited Catherine the Great from Russia to overthrow it. This became the Polish-Russian War of 1792. Throughout the war, Kosciuszko defended Poland bravely in many victorious battles. For his work and efforts, he was awarded the Virtuti Militari, the highest military dedication. After the Battle of Dubienka, King Stanisław August Poniatowski promoted Kosciuszko to lieutenant-general and also offered him the Order of the White Eagle, but Kosciuszko would not accept the royal honor.  Unfortunately, after years of fighting, the Polish king decided to appease the Russian army and surrendered. Kosciuszko then left Poland but came back in 1793, and on 1794 organized the Kosciuszko Uprising in an attempt to free the Polish People from Russian rule, during which he was named the commander-in-chief of the Polish-Lithuanian Army. The Uprising was unsuccessful and resulted in the Third Partition of Poland, but Kosciuszko set the stage for further revolutions and revolts for freedom in Poland.

            Tadeusz Kosciuszko was a man of many talents. He is well known to both the Polish and American peoples, and for good reason. To celebrate his life and accomplishments this year on the 200th anniversary of his death, it is important to remember his life and accomplishments. Kosciuszko was an amazing military engineer, strategist, and general. He had many artistic talents unknown to most as well. But, above all, he was a freedom fighter for liberty and human rights. Many supported him in all his efforts and equality. In Poland, the Jews started a Jewish "Bearded cavalry" to fight alongside of him, and one cavalry leader called him "a messenger from God." He was a strong patriot and nationalist to Poland, and worked his whole life for its independence. Tadeusz Kosciuszko makes it an honor to be of Polish descent and heritage.