7 things you (probably) don’t know about Tadeusz Kosciuszko

7 things you (probably) don’t know about Tadeusz Kosciuszko

Seven things you (probably) don’t know about Tadeusz Kosciuszko
April 27, 2017

Tadeusz Kosciuszko is a name most New Yorkers associate with the outdated bridge that snarls traffic along the tripoint of Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. But the life of the Polish general who fought in the American Revolution is filled with enough p(l)otholes to rival the light show Gov. Andrew Cuomo will use to celebrate the new design-built Kosciuszko span.

With New York City looking forward to a new Kosciuszko bridge, we look back at the life of Tadeusz with these seven little-known facts as referenced from History.com.

1. He sailed from Poland to the U.S. to fight for the Continental Army in the American revolution. Kosciuszko was a skilled engineer with a military education by the time he arrived in the American colonies from Poland in 1776. Offering his services to the revolutionary cause, the Continental Congress appointed him as a colonel of engineers, and he initially worked to build fortifications in order to protect Philadelphia from British attack. Kosciuszko was then sent to New York, where General Horatio Gates put Kosciuszko in charge of planning the defensive strategy for his army at Saratoga, whose defeat of the British forces under General John Burgoyne in October 1777 would prove to be a turning point in the Revolutionary War.

RELATED: Who is authorized for design-build and who is not?

2. Before moving to America, he attempted to elope with his employer's daughter and was reportedly beaten by his retainers. While in Poland in 1774, Kosciuszko taught drawing and mathematics to the daughters of general Józef Sosnowski, falling in love with one of them – Ludwika. As the story goes, Sosnowski refused Kosciuszko his daughter's hand, reportedly telling the future bridge namesake that "turtledoves are not for common sparrows, and magnates' daughters are not for petty nobility." Facing the wrath of Ludwika’s father, Kosciuszko fled to France.

3. He designed and oversaw the construction of state-of-the-art military fortifications, including those at West Point, New York. Kosciuszko designed the defenses of the West Point garrison from 1778–1780 during the height of the Revolutionary War and later advocated for the establishment of an American military school for officers. After Thomas Jefferson formally established the West Point Academy in 1802, General William Davie requested Kosciuszko write the manual, Manoeuvres of Horse Artillery, which became a textbook at the academy.

4. Despite being a war hero in America, in Poland his name is associated with an uprising that led to the third partition of the country. After returning to Poland in 1784, Kosciuszko was commissioned a major general in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth Army in 1789, and in March of 1794 he announced the general uprising against Imperial Russia and the Kingdom of Prussia – known as the Kosciuszko Uprising – and assumed the powers of the Commander in Chief of all of the Polish forces. By November, the Polish forces had lost, and the following year Poland was partitioned between Austria, Russia and Prussia, and would not exist as its own country for another 123 years. For his part in the uprising, a wounded Kosciuszko was imprisoned in St. Petersburg, Russia. Following the death of Empress Catherine the Great in 1796, her son and successor, Czar Paul I, granted amnesty to Kosciuszko and other Polish prisoners if he promised not to return to Poland. Kosciuszko once again traveled to the U.S.

5. He was good friends with Thomas Jefferson. Upon arriving in Philadelphia in 1797, Kosciuszko formed a strong friendship with Jefferson and, though he only remained in the U.S. for less than a year, his correspondence with the Founding Father continued for over 20 years. When Jefferson was elected president in 1800, Kosciuszko wrote: “do not forget yourself in your post, always be virtuous, republican with justice and probity, without display and ambition. In a word, be Jefferson and my friend.” When Kosciuszko decided to leave the United States and return to the Russian-controlled sector of Poland in 1798, it was Jefferson who provided him with a passport in a false name and arranged for his secret departure to France.

6. He wrote in his will that he wanted to buy the freedom of Jefferson’s slaves and dedicate his American assets to the education of U.S. slaves. Kosciuszko made several wills, notably one in 1798 stipulating 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. Jefferson refused the executorship and the will was beset by legal complications, including the discovery of later wills. Jefferson's refusal incited discussion in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Kosciuszko returned to Europe in 1798 and lived there until his his in Switzerland in 1817. What was left of the money in Kosciuszko's U.S. trust in the 1850s was turned over by the U.S. Supreme Court to his heirs in Europe.

7. His last name is pronounced Kos-CHOOSH-ko. Even if lifelong New Yorkers swear it's Koss-ee-OSS-ko. 

Nick Powell
Derek Evers
is City & State’s digital director.