A Brief Lesson in Polish (& American) History

Today we are going to talk about Kopiec Kościuszki, AKA the Kościuszko Mound, in Krakow. Seems irrelevant for the 4th of July, right? Wrong! We all know the part that the French played in assisting the Continental Army and America’s fight for freedom. One person that no American will find in a high school history textbook about the American Revolution is Tadeusz Kościuszko. As you might have guessed, this is who the Mound in Krakow was named after.

Tadeusz was born in 1746 in what is now Belarus. At the time, Belarus was a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a dual-state that was ruled by a single monarch. During the peak of its existence, the Commonwealth had a population of about 11 million and covered modern day Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Tadeusz attended the Corp of Cadets in Warsaw to begin his military training where he not only studied to become an officer, but also studied numerous subjects in the liberal arts. He graduated in 1766 after achieving the rank of lieutenant and stayed on as a professor for 2 years to achieve the rank of captain.

Around this time, the Polish-Lithuanian state broke out in civil war. Tadeusz was torn between both sides and decided to leave his home for France, where he enrolled in Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. His time in France aligned with the French Enlightenment, which, when paired with the religious tolerance in his homeland, prepared him extensively for his career later in life.

In 1776,  he caught wind of the American Revolution and, having ambitions of revolution in his own country, set sail for America to become a colonel of engineers in the Continental Army. Tadeusz’s engineering capabilities were crucial for the fortification of several key locations throughout the colonies, including Philadelphia, Saratoga, West Point, and Charleston.


After the Revolution – which we obviously won, in small part to Tadeusz, and that’s why we eat hot dogs and go extra America-crazy on the 4th – Tadeusz returned to Poland where he became involved in political reform and many movements against Russia. After the failure of his uprising against Russia in 1794, Tadeusz was pardoned by the Czar and emigrated to the United States to settle in Philadelphia. While living in the US, both during the Revolution and during his time as an emigrant, he had become a close friend of Thomas Jefferson, as they shared similar ideologies when it came to basic human freedoms. Tadeusz eventually moved back to Europe during the time of the Napoleonic War. Before returning, Tadeusz wrote a will that left all of his American assets to the education and betterment of slaves in the United States.

In 1819, Tadeusz passed away at the ripe old age of 71. Now, my blog post hardly did this man justice, mostly out of fear that you all might not find it as interesting as I did. Tadeusz influenced thousands of people around the world and this is reflected in many ways today, mostly in the forms of monuments and statues. The first monument to be erected in Tadeusz’s honor was the Kościuszko Mound, a completely donation-financed and volunteer-constructed project. The mound was modeled after the prehistoric battle mounds from the region and was constructed from 1820-1823. Over the years, various fortifications were added to the mound to make it more defensible. These fortifications, along with the majority of Krakow were, thankfully, spared from the mass-destruction caused by WWII.


Some other landmarks and honors that bear Tadeusz’ name include two bridges in upstate New York, his residence in Philadelphia, a Polish-American cultural society based in New York, several Polish Air Force units, a Polish naval ship from WWII, and several statues scattered across Poland and the US.

So today when you are thanking our founding fathers for having the courage to say “no more!” to the British monarchy (and maybe thanking the French for their role in the war), just remember to throw in a small “thank you” to Tadeusz Kościuszko, who had the know-how to build great fortifications and had the heart to fight for freedom for a country that wasn’t even his.



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