Monday, May 27, 2024

Tadeusz Kościuszko, Son of Liberty

by Kit Hawthorne

Over the course of the American Revolutionary War, many European noblemen took it upon themselves to sail across the Atlantic and fight for the Patriot cause. One of these brave adventurers was Andrzej Tadeusz Bonaventura Kościuszko, born in 1746 to a family of small country landowners in eastern Poland.

Kościuszko in 1761, aged 15

As a member of the Polish Lithuanian gentry, Kościuszko came into frequent contact with his country’s serfs and was well aware of their miserable plight. In his day, a nobleman could buy, sell, or loan out his serfs. They owed him the bulk of their time and could not travel freely or practice a trade without his permission.

The gentry’s income came directly from their serfs’ labor. Kościuszko’s family owned only a single village, which put them near the lower end of the nobility spectrum. The death of Kościuszko’s father in 1758 made the family’s financial situation even more precarious. As a younger son, Kościuszko had few options for a future livelihood, so his mother used her influence to get him accepted at age nineteen to Warsaw’s new Royal Military Academy. Here he not only learned literature, languages, history, geography, law, mathematics, and military engineering, but also came under the influence of Oxford-trained Englishman John Lind, the school’s superintendent. Lind’s curriculum supported a philosophy that encouraged the students to reshape their country’s government with the goal of eventually elevating their peasants into citizens—a call to action that deeply impressed Kościuszko and his classmates.

Kościuszko ultimately finished his military education in France, where he was exposed to the work of François Quesnay, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Abbé Guillame Thomas Raynal, and other Enlightenment thinkers. Taken together, their writings explored the basis for a sound national prosperity, exposed the moral bankruptcy of slavery, and linked the plight of Polish serfs to that of American slaves.

The developing struggle in North America between England and its colonies mirrored the conflict between Poland and the eastern European powers that were determined to carve it up and annex it. At some point in 1776, Kościuszko made up his mind to cross the Atlantic and offer himself to the Continental Army, which desperately needed competent military engineers. By the middle of October, he’d been commissioned a colonel.

In 1779, Private Agrippa Hull was assigned as Kościuszko’s orderly. Hull was a freeborn Black man from western Massachusestts. His parents were members of their local Congregational church during the ministry of Jonathan Edwards, and Hull grew up in Stockbridge, an ethnically diverse village that included Black, white, and Native American families, whose children played together freely. (For a while, one of Jonathan Edwards’s young sons was more fluent in Mohawk and Mahican than in English.) Hull enlisted in the Continental Army in 1777 at age eighteen. He arrived at Ticonderoga just in time for the Saratoga Campaign, a British offensive meant to gain control of the Hudson Valley. In one of the more surprising upsets of the war, the Patriots gained the upper hand, winning a huge victory that convinced France to enter the war openly on the side of the Patriots.

Kościuszko took a great liking to Hull, whose wit, intelligence, and diligence made him a favorite with Patriot officers. The two became excellent friends and served together for the remainder of the war. According to legend, at the war’s close, Kościuszko begged Hull to return to Poland with him, but Hull refused. Hull mustered out in July of 1783, having become one of the longest-serving Patriot soldiers in the Revolutionary War. He returned to Stockbridge, where he married and lived to the age of eighty-nine as a beloved and valued member of the community.

Like many Continental officers, Kościuszko was awarded land in America as a reward for his service. He was also granted American citizenship, but chose to return to Poland, where he continued his distinguished military career by leading an insurrection against Russia and Prussia in 1794. The Kościuszko Uprising, also called the Polish Uprising of 1794, ultimately failed, but remains a vivid symbol of Poland’s long struggle for national sovereignty.

Portrait by Kazimierz Wojniakowski

Another lifelong friend that Kościuszko made during his time in the United States was Thomas Jefferson. Like Kościuszko, Jefferson had started as a member of his country’s minor gentry, but had risen to a position of leadership as the author of the Declaration of Independence. Both men were aware of, and troubled by, the glaring contradictions between the ideals set forth in that document and the enslavement of Black Americans. They made a pact to someday use Kościuszko’s fortune to purchase the freedom of Black slaves, including Jefferson’s own, and to provide for their education. To this end, Kościuszko made a will that outlined his wishes and named Jefferson as executor. Sadly, the plan was never carried out, due to a variety of factors, including the bequest’s legal complexities and Jefferson’s advanced age at the time of Kościuszko’s death. The case of Kościuszko’s will came up before the Supreme Court three times and continued to be tied up in court until 1856, nearly forty years after Kościuszko’s death in 1817. Ultimately, the money was used to found a school for Black Americans in Newark, New Jersey.

Today, Kościuszko is venerated as a hero by his Polish countrymen and by Polish Americans. Jefferson called him “as pure a son of liberty, as I have ever known.”

Portrait by Karl Gottlieb Schweikart

My upcoming release, Treason Trail, features Kościuszko and Hull as minor characters.

In the final days of the Revolutionary War, army nurse Nessa Shaw finds a wounded man who claims to be a Patriot but can’t remember anything else about himself besides his first name, August. As they grow closer, Nessa uncovers a deadly plot that challenges her trust in August and his loyalties, forcing her to reevaluate everything she thought she knew.

Kit spent years in a Celtic folk band, singing, composing, and playing Irish pennywhistle. She lives on a Texas farm that’s been in her husband’s family for seven generations. She’s an avid reader who enjoys logging her reads (and plotting her life) in her Bullet Journal. She also enjoys drawing, sewing, quilting, knitting, and restoring old furniture to beauty and usefulness. She writes historical romance and contemporary western romance. Find out more at


  1. I've never heard of this brave young man. I knew others had come to fight for America's liberty from Prussia and France.

  2. Thank you for posting today, and for introducing us to this man. Is this your first time on the blog? If so, welcome!!!