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Journalist finds Jefferson a disappointing patriot

During the revolutionary war, Thomas Jefferson met a 30-year-old civil engineer from Poland who believed in the American cause so strongly that he traveled to this country and enlisted in the continental army. Thadeus Kosciuszko designed essential forts in Pennsylvania and New York, was given the title General and rewarded with a sizable amount of money.

“Congress paid him a salary for the revolutionary war. It was worth maybe half a million dollars for today, ” says Journalist Bartosz Dudek. A native of Poland, Dudek came to Monticello this summer to learn more about the man who befriended Thomas Jefferson. The two would exchange 41 letters, and Kosciuszko made Jefferson the executor of his will.

“He begged his friend, Thomas Jefferson, to free his slaves and get them education for the money Kosciuszko left in America," Dudek explains.

Thadeus Kosciuszko
Smithsonian
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Jefferson's friend, Thadeus Kosciuszko, left money is his will to free the slaves at Monticello.

Jefferson called the Polish patriot the purest son of liberty, and when Kosciuszko died in 1817, Jefferson thought about setting up a school for freed slaves.

“The second thought he had was to deport the slaves to Africa or Haiti, because in his opinion it was not possible that the freed slaves would be living together with their former masters," says Dudek, "but he didn’t do it, because he said he was too old.”

Jefferson was 76, struggling with his own finances when he appeared in federal court in 1819 and asked a judge to appoint someone else to be executor of the will. Some of Kosciuszko’s fortune was squandered by the executor and the rest sent to heirs in Europe. A year after Jefferson’s death in 1836, his slaves were sold at auction.

Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.