From Jamestown to Polish Hill: Carol Moessinger Highlights the Polish-American Legacy

Article excerpt

In grade school, most of us learned that Columbus discovered America, although now we know he was not the first European to see the Western Hemisphere. We remember studying about the English settlement in Jamestown, the Pilgrims and the Civil War. Tucked into a chapter between westward expansion and World War I, we read about the wave of immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century.

Between 1880 and 1920, millions of young men, and later their families, came from Poland to the United States to work in coal mines, steel mills and factories. Polish immigrants were among the largest groups to settle in Pennsylvania, and by 1900, 50,000 Poles lived and worked in Pittsburgh. They helped to build a great industrial economy.

Poles have a longer and more dynamic history in America than commonly known. Noteworthy contributions by Polish-Americans have become all but lost among the diverse ethnic groups that populate America. Because October is Polish-American Heritage Month, I'd like to tell a little more of the story.

We all know about the settlement of Jamestown in 1607. But the English colonists were not the only Europeans to disembark from the ships and step onto the shores of Virginia. Polish artisans were among the intrepid newcomers. The Poles included a glassblower and woodworker -- occupations necessary to the survival of a fledgling 17th-century colony.

More than 100 years later, Jakub Sadowski, an adventurer and fur- trader who lived in Ohio, spent some time in the Pittsburgh area in 1729. Sadowski and his sons were among the first Europeans to explore Kentucky. It is said that Sandusky, Ohio, is named for him.

Tadeusz Kosciuszko was a Polish-born army officer and military engineer who fought in the Revolutionary War. Not only was he a great leader and friend of George Washington, he designed and supervised the construction of West Point. His contemporary, Kazimierz Pulaski, recruited by Benjamin Franklin, served as a brigadier-general in the Continental Army. Killed at the Battle of Savannah in 1779, when he was 34, he is known as the "father of the American calvary."

In 1854, after a grueling nine-week journey by ship, rail, wagon and foot, 100 Polish families established the first long-term Polish settlement in the United States. …