Poles in America

By Michael Szporer

  • The first organization of American Poles was the Association of Poles in America (Stowarzyszenie Polak? w Ameryce) founded in 1830 by the veterans of Revolution of 1830 (November Uprising).
  • Jan of Kolono, a Polish sailor under the sponsorship of the King of Denmark reached the Labrador and explored the Atlantic coast as far as Delaware in 1475. The first known Polish settlers date to Jamestown, reaching the Virginia Colony 1607-08, at least twelve years before the Mayflower.
  • The early American Poles were artisans, responsible for the first strike in America. The occasion arose in 1619 when the House of Burgesses in Jamestown refused the right to vote to all those who were not of English stock. The Poles were accorded the same rights after a successful work stoppage. According to the Court Book of the Virginia Company of London on July 31, 1619, it was decided that “Upon some dispute of the Polonian residents in Virginia it was now agreed that they shall be enfranchised and made as free as any inhabitant there whatsoever.”
  • In Peter Stuyvesant’s New Holland (modern day New York), a Pole Dr. Alexander Charles Kurcyusz (Curtius) founded the first institution of higher learning in New York City in 1659.
  • While we all have heard of Thaddeus Kosciuszko’s and Casimir Pulaski’s contributions to the American Revolution, POLES IN AMERICA informs us that their friend Hayam Solomon, a Polish Jew, financially backed the American Revolution. John Zielinski, a relative of Pulaski, also fought and died in the siege of Savannah on September 25, 1779. There were other American patriots of Polish descent, Matthew Rogowski, Charles Litomski, and Michael Kowacz, the last killed in the Battle of Charleston, South Carolina on May 11, 1779.
  • Little known fact is that the last King of Poland Stanislaw August Poniatowski was friendly to the rebel Colonies and condemned the English system of “taxation without representation.” Early American poets Joel Barlow and David Humphreys celebrated the Polish King and the Polish Constitution, second in the world and modeled on the American.
  • Sandusky, Ohio, was named after James Anthony Sadowski, killed by the Indians in Virginia, whose sons, James and Joseph, distinguished themselves in the history of the state of Kentucky as companions of Daniel Boone. They were the first to enter the unknown lands. In 1774 the brothers sailed with about forty men down the Ohio and the Monongahela rivers and camped at the site of modern day Cincinnati, Ohio.
  • James Sadowski was the first white settler from the English colonies to have sailed the Mississippi to New Orleans, and from there to Baltimore. Another explorer Paul Mostowski of Warsaw in 1776 even wanted to found New Poland in what are today the southern states.
  • Ted Strawinski, an eighteen year old Polish student, was the first recorded victim of the Civil War, having perished during the attack on Fort Sumpter by the Confederate army. The first Union officer to fall on the field of battle was captain Constantine Biedowski on May 10, 1861.
  • President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation called for 75,000 volunteers in Washington DC under General Vladimir Krzyzanowski, who distinguished himself in the battle of Bull Run; Krzyzanowski, one of the finest Union officers, was later honored by Congress and is regarded as the most distinguished Pole of the Civil War.
  • Others fought in the ranks of the Union. Major Raszkowski’s two Polish companies of the 31st New York state militia fought in Polish uniforms and Krzyzanowski’s the 58th was dubbed as the Polish Legion. Colonel Vincent Sulakowski from Texas organized an army of 30,000 exiles for the Confederacy but there were no funds available for transport.
  • During the Civil War, at least 5,000 Poles, one hundred and sixty officers among them, served in the Union army, along with General Victor Kochanowski who distinguished himself at the Battle of Gettysberg. Over 500 Poles died to preserve the Union and over 100 for the Confederacy.
  • The first American soldier to fall during the Great War (WWI) in France was a Polish American and, of course, the great Polish American musician and patriot Ignace Jan Padarewski was nominated by the chief of state Jozef Pilsudski as the first prime minister of independent Poland in 1918.

© mszporer, 2002 Used with permission.