#Onthisday in 1798, Battles of Saratoga veteran Tadeusz Kosciuszko wrote a will stipulating that the proceeds of his American estate be spent on freeing and educating African-American slaves, including those of his friend Thomas Jefferson, whom he named as the will’s executor.
Polish-born Thaddeus Kosciuszko was a distinguished military man who traveled across Europe to the Americas to fight for independence. In September, 1777 American General Gates tapped Kościuszko to survey the country between the opposing British and American armies. Kościuszko chose the most defensible position, a raised area a few miles south of Saratoga, known as Bemis Heights, to build their fortifications and stop the British advance to Albany. Kościuszko’s judgment and meticulous attention to detail frustrated the British attacks during the Battles of Saratoga.
Kosciuszko’s will said “I, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, being just on my departure from America, do hereby declare and direct that should I make no other testamentary disposition of my property in the United States, I hereby authorize my friend Thomas Jefferson to employ the whole thereof in purchasing negroes from among his own or any others and giving them liberty in my name, in giving them an education in trade or otherwise, and in having them instructed for their new condition in the duties of morality which may make them good neighbors, good fathers or mothers, husbands or wives, in their duty as citizens, teaching them to be defenders of their liberty and country, and of the good order of society, and in whatsoever may make them happy and useful. And I make the said Thomas Jefferson my executor of this.”
Jefferson refused the executorship and the will was beset by legal complications, including the discovery of later wills. Jefferson’s refusal incited discussion in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Kościuszko returned to Europe in 1798 and lived there until his 1817 death in Switzerland. In the 1850s, what was left of the money in Kościuszko’s U.S. trust was turned over by the U.S. Supreme Court to his heirs in Europe.
Saratoga has been defined by the people who by choice or by chance make up this community. There are many individuals like Tadeusz Kosciuszko that help define this country and our community. It is the determination of our forefathers, in surmounting overwhelming odds that help define the American spirit – the will and ability to shape a better future. It is the people it is that define this community by choice or by chance have changed this country and even the world political development. That is why studying the people of Saratoga is integral to a good understanding of the condition of being human.