By Kerry Rodgers
Thomas Jefferson described him as, “pure a son of liberty as I have ever known.” Samuel Coleridge, Leigh Hunt and John Keats wrote poems in his honor. He was the subject of a U.S. stamp in 1933. Australia named their highest mountain for him and now The Polish Mint has struck a medal to mark the 220th anniversary of his moment in history.
Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kosciuszko was a Polish military engineer born in Belarus. He graduated from the Cadet Corps in Warsaw aged 20 and undertook additional military studies in France. He returned to Poland in 1774.
In 1776 he went to British North America where he took part in the Revolutionary War as a colonel in the Continental Army. He proved an accomplished military architect and was responsible for the design and construction of major fortifications, including West Point. In 1783 the Continental Congress promoted him to brigadier general.
Kosciuszko returned to Poland in 1784 and in 1798 was commissioned as major general in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Army. In 1794 he commanded the Polish National Armed Forces in a war of independence against Russia.
With Prussian help the Russians defeated the Poles and Kosciuszko was imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress at Saint Petersburg. Poland would lose any vestige of independence until the end of World War I.
Kosciuszko remained under lock and key until Catherine the Great died in 1796 when he was pardoned by Tsar Paul I who loathed Catherine. He emigrated to the United States. His health was not good and he was disabled by his wounds.
Oddly enough, he was viewed with suspicion by the U.S. government and liable to arrest. On learning Polish troops, including two of his nephews, were fighting with Napoleon and that Talleyrand wanted his support against Prussia, he sought to return to Europe.
Thomas Jefferson obtained him a passport under a false name and arranged for his secret departure for France. By the time he arrived he had been factored out of Talleyrand’s plans and declined to accept a command under Napoleon whom he regarded with some suspicion, describing him as, “the undertaker of the [French] Republic”.
He eventually settled in Switzerland, still plagued by poor health and old wounds. He died Oct. 15, 1817, aged 71, after falling from a horse. His will dedicated his American assets to the education and freedom of U.S. slaves but the funds were never used to this end.
Memorials to Kosciuszko are scattered across the globe. They started with the Kosciuszko Mound in Kraków erected shortly after his death when Polish men, women, and children brought earth from his battlefields. They continue today with Poland Mint’s new medal struck to mark the 220th anniversary of what is now known as the Kosciuszko Uprising.
On the obverse is a colorized portrait of Kosciuszko based on a steel engraving by Polish artist, Antoni Oleszczyski. (1833). He is wearing his Society of the Cincinnati Eagle, denoting his role as an officer in the Continental Army, and Order Wojenny Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest military decoration.
The reverse recalls the difficulties Kosciuszko had in providing sufficient arms for his militia during the insurrection. Large units were formed by peasants armed solely with scythes. The motto of these Scythemen provides the sole reverse legend: ZYWIA Y BRONIA [Feed and Defend].
The 38.61 mm medal is struck in 17.50 grams of .999 fine silver. Mintage is 500. Information on purchasing the medal can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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