Abstract

This paper examines the origin of the circumstances of Kościuszko’s having been held to be the patron saint of West Point, which concomitantly rendered him to be an exemplar of secular sainthood in the early American Republic. The American historian Douglas Southall Freeman (1886–1953), in his 1934 opus, “R. E. Lee: A Biography,” is credited for having identified Kościuszko as West Point’s patron saint at the time Lee matriculated as a plebe (i.e., freshman) in 1825. However, it had been the well-known storied life of Kościuszko in America as well as in Poland that particularly had attracted West Point’s fifth Superintendent, Sylvanus Thayer (1785–1872), on one hand, along concurrently with six Cadets, Lee included, that constituted, on the other hand, a student-based committee to select the best design for a monument to the memory of Kościuszko, who had been appointed by General George Washington to serve as the fortification engineer of West Point. The design selected had been submitted by John H. B. Latrobe of Maryland, a former Cadet, who resigned from the Academy in his senior year ranked first in his class, because his father had died leaving his family in poverty. When the Kościuszko Monument of West Point was dedicated on July 4, 1828, it became the world’s second-oldest national monument raised in honor of Kościuszko’s memory, second only to the Kopiec Kościuszki (Kościuszko Mound) of Kraków, Poland, that had been completed in 1823.

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