OPINION

As It Were: Polish patriot Thaddeus Kosciusko left mark in central Ohio despite never living here

Ed Lentz
Guest columnist

When driving north on Riverside Drive out of Dublin and toward O’Shaughnessy Dam and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, beautiful homes, spacious landscapes and the Scioto River may be observed.

A quite large glacial boulder surrounded by a stone enclosure and accompanied by a historic marker also might be noticed.

Ed Lentz

Because traffic in that area of Liberty Township near state Route 750 is a bit on the heavy side and there is no easy place to park nearby, it might be difficult to see that the historic marker memorializes “Polish Patriot – Thaddeus Kosciusko.”

This observation might lead to obvious questions: “Who exactly is Thaddeus Kosciusko? And why exactly is he remembered by a large rock in central Ohio?”

Thaddeus Kosciusko

The second question is probably easier to answer.  

The boulder was left by a departing glacier and became an easy landmark to mark a boundary in what once was a densely forested area before Ohio became a state.

The stone marked a corner of a tract of about 500 acres called the “Kosciusko Lands” and had once been property of Thaddeus Kosciusko – a Polish patriot, an American hero and a man who never saw the land that bore his name.

It was a name worth remembering.

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Thaddeus or Tadeusz Kosciusko was born in 1746 to minor nobility in what was then the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, then a portion of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

At the age of 20, he graduated from the Corps of Cadets in Warsaw. He traveled to France in 1769 to study and became educated as a military engineer.

In 1776, he traveled to America, where he offered his services to the rebel army of the colonies in the American Revolutionary War against Great Britain.

Met with some doubt by military leaders, Kosciusko simply asked that they give him an opportunity.

Commissioned as a colonel, Kosciusko soon proved to be a talented and skillful engineer. He supervised the construction and preparation of several fortifications – most notably West Point on the Hudson River.

At the conclusion of the war, Kosciusko was promoted to the rank of brevet brigadier general by a grateful Congress. Returning to Poland, he became involved in conflicts with Prussia, Russia and others over the destiny of his homeland.

Defeated and captured after leading an uprising in 1794, Kosciusko was freed by his Russian captors in 1796.

In 1798, Kosciusko returned to America. At the end of the war, the newly formed United States did not have a lot of money to pay soldiers who had in many cases fought for years with little or no pay. But it did have a lot of land.

In compensation for his services during the war, Kosciusko was paid $15,000. This was a large but not extraordinary sum in those days.

In addition, veterans were entitled to land grants in the territory north and west of the Ohio River. Kosciusko was entitled to 500 acres.

By the time he arrived back in America, much of the U.S. Military Lands in central Ohio had been sold or allocated.

Perhaps for that reason, the property Kosciusko selected was at the edge of the military lands.

Eager to return to Europe but unacquainted with American land law, Kosciusko tried to sell his land by simply endorsing his land warrants.

Without a deed transfer, the land never changed hands. Departing America, Kosciusko left his will with a friend, Thomas Jefferson, who at that time was secretary of state. Kosciusko’s will dedicated his assets to the liberation and education of African American slaves.

Kosciusko spent the rest of his life fighting to restore the independence of his beloved Poland. He died in Switzerland in 1817.

Citing his own age and frail health, Jefferson deferred the execution of Kosciusko’s will to others.

The estate proved to be a difficult one to probate. In the wake of his American will, Kosciusko had executed no less than three other wills.

It was not until 1856 that the estate finally was settled. None of his assets were ever spent for the purposes proposed in his will.

Unable to easily sell his Ohio land, Kosciusko apparently left them behind. In time they were sold at a sheriff’s sale for accumulated back taxes.

In 1810, the Ohio General Assembly sent a committee to seek a site for a new state capital in central Ohio. The committee recommended the Sells Plantations, where Dublin is today. Had that recommendation been accepted, the Kosciusko lands would have been in the center of a new capital city.

In the end, a different site was chosen on the “High Banks opposite Franklinton at the Forks of the Scioto" – Columbus.

But the boulder remains to remind us of the Polish presence in central Ohio.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.