Today is the birthday of Polish hero of the American Revolution, Tadeusz Kościuszko, born on 04 February 1746. We all know the part he played in the American Revolutionary War, and he oversaw the construction of state-of-the-art fortifications, including West Point. After the war and his return to Poland, he fought for freedom there as well. After his part in the uprising against the Russians, his arrest, and his eventual release from a Russian prison, he came back to the US for a number of years and became very close friends with Thomas Jefferson. He eventually returned to Europe and lived in Switzerland until his death in 1817.
So what does this have to do with slavery in America? Well, Kościuszko made a hunk of money for his service as a general in the Revolutionary war. In his will, he stated his wishes that his US assets–which were considerable–should be used to buy the freedom of black slaves, including Jefferson’s own, and to educate them for independent life and work. Yes, Jefferson owned slaves, and Kościuszko wanted to see them liberated and educated. However, it did not come to be. Jefferson never carried out the wishes of Kośiuszko’s will.
It’s interesting to note as well that before his death, Kościuszko emancipated the peasants on his remaining land holdings in the former Polish lands, now in Russia, but Tsar Alexander did not allow it.
Tadeusz Kościuszko was a true champion of liberty and showed it by his actions. He fought to free the oppresses, both in America and in Poland, and was a great humanitarian. Thomas Jefferson wrote that “He is as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known.” A great tribute to a great man. And it’s fitting that now, during Black History month, you know the rest of the story.
For more info on Tadeusz Kościuszko, see this Wikipedia article.
Also, see this blog post on “Tadeusz Kościuszko’s Last Will & Testament: An Unwritten Chapter in American History”