Bidwell Lore – Agrippa Hull and Tadeusz Kosciuszko

Welcome to Bidwell Lore number 142! This week we will talk about Tadeusz Kosciuszko, someone Agrippa knew very well during the war.

Portrait of Agrippa Hull, unknown artist, unknown date. Acc# 47.002. Courtesy of the Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives. Painted from an 1845 daguerreotype taken by Anson Clark in West Stockbridge, also in the collection of the Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives.

Agrippa Hull and Tadeusz Kosciuszko
Rick Wilcox, 2022

This week we want to introduce you to Tadeusz Kosciuszko, someone Agrippa Hull knew very well. Kosciuszko was born in 1746 and died in 1817. Below are excerpts from Smithsonian magazine that help tell his story.

 “Kosciuszko was born in 1746 and grew up in a manor house, where 31 peasant families worked for his father. His early education included the democratic ideals of John Locke and ancient Greeks. Trained at Warsaw’s School of Chivalry, he enrolled in Paris’ Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, where his real goal was to learn civil engineering and the strategies of Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, Europe’s authority on forts and sieges. [1]

He returned to Poland and was hired to tutor Louise Sosnowska, the daughter of a wealthy lord. You may be able to surmise where this story is headed. They fell in love and tried to elope in the fall of 1775. Lord Sosnowska had his guards chase them down, bringing Louise back to her home. Fearing for his life and not seeing a future in Poland, he traveled back to Paris and, hearing that Americans were in need of engineers, he crossed the Atlantic in June of 1776.

“Two months after Ben Franklin helped draft the Declaration of Independence, a surprise visitor walked into his Philadelphia shop. The young man’s curly brown hair cascaded down toward his shoulders, and his English was so broken he switched to French. Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a 30-year-old Pole just off the boat from Europe via the Caribbean, introduced himself and offered to enlist as an officer in the new American nation’s army.

Franklin, curious, quizzed Kosciuszko about his education: a military academy in Warsaw, studies in Paris in civil engineering, including fort building. Franklin asked him for letters of recommendation. Kosciuszko had none. Instead, the petitioner asked to take a placement exam in engineering and military architecture. Franklin’s bemused answer revealed the inexperience of the Continental Army. “Who would proctor such an exam,” Franklin asked, “when there is no one here who is even familiar with those subjects?” On August 30, 1776, armed with Franklin’s recommendation and high marks on a geometry exam, Kosciuszko walked into Independence Hall (then the Pennsylvania State House) and introduced himself to the Continental Congress.” [2]

Kosciuszko’s engineering skills proved critical during a number of major campaigns in the Revolutionary War, including the battles of Fort Ticonderoga and Saratoga. He was involved in the design of Fort Clinton at West Point and in South Carolina he twice rescued American forces from the British by directing a crossing of two rivers. He worked to undermine the defenses of a British fort in South Carolina and was rewarded with a British bayonet in the buttocks. After the war, Washington more properly awarded him with two pistols and a sword.

Karl Gottlieb Schweikart, Portrait of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, after 1802, oil on canvas, Collection of the National Museum of Warsaw, courtesy of Wikipedia images.

Kosciuszko was later well known in Poland for leading the Kosciuszko Uprising of 1794 against the foreign rule by Russia and Prussia. His training ground for that uprising, was, of course, his role in the America Revolutionary War. Kosciuszko was an abolitionist and not shy about sharing his feeling on that subject with his colleagues in America.

Kosciuszko took liberty so seriously that he was disappointed to see friends like  Jefferson and Washington own slaves. During the American and Polish revolutions, Kosciuszko had employed black men as his aides-de-camp: Agrippa Hull in America, Jean Lapierre in Poland. When he returned to Europe in May 1798, hoping to organize another war to liberate Poland, Kosciuszko scribbled out a will. It left his American assets – $18,912 in back pay and 500 acres of land in Ohio, his reward for his war service — for Jefferson to use to purchase the freedom and provide education for enslaved Africans. Jefferson, revising the draft into better legal English, also rewrote the will so that it would allow Jefferson to free some of his slaves with the bequest. The final draft, which Kosciuszko signed, called on “my friend Thomas Jefferson” to use Kosciuszko’s assets ‘in purchasing negroes from among his own as [well as] any others,’ ‘giving them liberty in my name,’ and ‘giving them an education in trades and otherwise.” [3]

Catharine Sedgwick mentions Kosciuszko in a letter she wrote later in life while telling a story about Agrippa Hull:

“Then came thronging recollections of my childhood, its joys and sorrows – distinctly the faces of the favorite servants, Grippy, Sampson, Derby, Sampson the cook, a runaway slave, ‘Lady Prime’ and various others who, to my mind’s eye, are still young, vigorous and alert! Not Agrippa, for him I saw through the various stages of manhood to decrepit old age. Grippy is one of the few who will be immortal in our village annals. He enlisted in the army of the Revolution and, being a very well trained and adroit servant, he was taken into the personal service of the noble Pole, Kosciusko. Unlike most heroes, he always remained a hero to his valet Grippy, who many a time has charmed our childhood with stories of his soldier muster. One I remember of which the catastrophe moved my childish indignation.

Kosciusko was absent from camp, and Agrippa, to amuse his fellow-servants, dressed in his master’s most showy uniform, and blacked with shining black-ball his legs and feet to resemble boots. Just as he was in full exhibition, his master returned, and, resolved to have his own fun out of the joke, he bade ‘Grip’ follow him, and took him to the tents of several officers, introducing him as an African prince. Poor Grippy, who had as mortal aversion practically as our preachers of temperance have theoretically to every species of spirituous liquor, was received at each new introduction by a soldier’s hospitality, and compelled, by a nod from his master, to taste each abhorrent cup, brandy, or wine, or ‘Hollands’ or whatever (to Grippy poisonous) potion in might chance to be, till, when his master was sated with the joke, he gave him a kick and sent him staggering away. I think Grippy was fully compensated by the joke for the ignominy of its termination. He had a fund of humor and mother wit, and was a sort of Sancho Panza [4] in the village, always trimming other men’s follies with a keen perception, and the biting wit of wisdom. Grippy was a capital subaltern, but a very poor officer. As a servant he was faultless, but in his own domain at home a tyrant”  [5]

Below we have one more story about Agrippa and his time with Kosciuszko:

“Great Barrington, Mass. Feb.26/32
Berkshire Evening Eagle
            I read with interest in last night’s EAGLE the announcement that the Stockbridge Library possesses a daguerreotype and a portrait in oil of Agrippa Hull, and was reminded of an anecdote of him told to me by the late Charles J. Taylor, historian of Great Barrington. Agrippa lived in a small house which stood on the south bank of the brook near the, so-called, Goodrich place, where it stood when I came to Great Barrington in 1887.
In Agrippa’s visits to Great Barrington he was in the habit of calling on Mr. Taylor and relating to him his experiences. On one of these visits he told this story about himself while he was a servant to General Kosciuszko. One day when the General was away, Agrippa dressed himself in the General’s uniform and paraded about the place. The general returned unexpectedly and when he saw Agrippa, he saluted him and treated him as though he really was General Kosciuszko.
When he finished his story, he said, “Mr. Taylor, I was so ashamed I did not know what to do.”
His chagrin was his only punishment.
Mr. Taylor related this story to me as we were passing the cabin where Agrippa had lived.
Yours sincerely,
Orville W. Lane
[Removed from the back of the daguerreotype of Agrippa Hull]” [6]

Next week we will share details about some of Agrippa’s early experiences during the Revolutionary War

1. The Polish Patriot Who Helped Americans Beat the British, Mark Trickey, March 8, 2017, Smithsonian Magazine
2. The Polish Patriot Who Helped Americans Beat the British, Mark Trickey, March 8, 2017, Smithsonian Magazine
3. The Polish Patriot Who Helped Americans Beat the British, Mark Trickey, March 8, 2017, Smithsonian Magazine
4. Sancho Panza is a fictional character in the novel Don Quixote, written by Spanish author Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra in 1605. Sancho acts as squire to Don Quixote and provides comments throughout the novel, known as sanchismos, that are a combination of broad humor, ironic Spanish proverbs, and earthy wit. Wikipedia
5.  Catharine Maria Sedgwick Life and Letters, edited by Mary E. Dewey, NY 1871, page 40. Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives, m73-2.4
6. Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives, Agrippa Hull collection.