Abstract

My interest in Tadeusz Kościuszko’s importance to African-American history derives from a book that Gary Nash and I published in 2008 called Friends of Liberty: Thomas Jefferson, Tadeusz Kościuszko, and Agrippa Hull.1 In that book, we studied Kościuszko’s relationship with the black American revolutionary soldier and farmer Agrippa Hull and, later, the Polish patriot’s deep friendship with Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and the man who is often regarded as the key interpreter of early American freedom. Kościuszko asked Jefferson to create, manage, and act as executor for an estate of monies awarded in 1797 for the Pole’s revolutionary service to the United States. After Kościuszko’s death in 1817, Jefferson reneged on his promise and declined to execute the will, which would have paid for the education and manumission of enslaved people, including, potentially, members of Jefferson’s own family and his other bonded workers. Had Jefferson done so, Nash and I argued, his actions would have been a powerful symbol against slavery in addition to freeing a substantial number of people. Eventually, as we showed, the largest amount of cash that Kościuszko ever earned languished, purloined by unscrupulous figures, until the U.S. Supreme Court granted the remnants of the estate to his Polish heirs in 1852.

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