The Poles who Discovered America

America of Old

America of Old

The name “America” comes from Amerigo Vespucci, the famous Italian discoverer who flew the flag of the then king of Portugal. Vespucci, as captain and seafaring navigator, journeyed to the west using hitherto unknown routes. During his first journey in 1497 he came across a new, unknown and unfamiliar land which he explored during later expeditions. It was South America. At roughly the same time (around 1492), another sailor and searcher of new trade routes to India, Christopher Columbus, made his way west to unknown lands, the central America islands. Thanks to numerous publications and descriptions which made Captain Amerigo Vespucci incredibly famous and popular, geographers named the newly discovered territories “America” after the great explorer (Vespucci was also known as “Americus”). Soon after, many European countries such as Holland, England, Denmark, France and even Russia began the active colonisation and occupation of some of these areas. International arguments, incidents and even battles ensued between and amongst the colonisers and the natives. Poland did not take part in that process as it had to deal with its own problems and wars against the Tartars, Mongols and Turkish assailants. Nevertheless, a few daredevils joined the colonisation and trade expeditions of Holland, England and France. They wanted to reach America so that they could live freely, get rich, discover new lands and create a new life for themselves. Some historians claim that one of the first to dare to leave Poland and reach American soil (probably with the Vikings in 1476) was the traveller John of Kolno. The main reason why many Poles (Protestants, Hussites, atheists) decided to leave Poland was to avoid religious persecution. Daniel Lischo from Koszalin was one of the first citizens of the Dutch colony called New Amsterdam (today’s New York). He started a tavern there. The business went so well that he soon became a wealthy and revered person in the colony. He also took part in the defence and military activities of the colony and was highly valued for his loyal service to the colony and its governor Peter Stuyvesant. Stuyvesant showed his high appreciation for Lischo’s skills and diligence by asking the Spanish king to invite more Polish settlers. Well-educated Polish settlers established many academic outposts and profitable businesses. One of the most prominent characters of the colony was Captain Marcin Krygier (Creiger). He acquired a huge fortune and was deputy mayor of New Amsterdam from 1653 to 1661.

Old America

Old America

Another example was the Vilnius scholar Alexander Kurcjusz (Curtius). He reached American soil in 1659 and was founder and headmaster of the first Latin School of New Amsterdam. However he was not the only Polish professor in what was to become New York. There were many others like John Rutkowsky or Kazimierz Butkiewicz. Wojciech Adamkiewicz was the great architect of New Amsterdam in the 17th century building many structures both for housing and for business (sometimes even whole streets). Unfortunately there is no trace of them now because they were made of wood. The wealthy and well-educated nobleman and forefather of a famous family Albert (Olbracht) Zaborowski also settled in the vicinity of New Amsterdam. He became rich trading in real estate and buying large tracts of land near the colony of New Jersey. He was linguistically gifted and learnt the language of the local Indians and worked as a New Amsterdam translator. Zaborowski was also nominated a magistrate in Bergen County, New Jersey. What is more, thanks to his marriage to the local chief’s daughter, he become the owner of many large pieces of real estate. Another rich and influential ‘American’ Pole was Piotr Stadnicki (1735-1810), a surveyor who created plans for entire districts. He designed the initial plans for Buffalo City (the steel industry metropolis). Stadnicki was also one of the few great financiers and bankers of North America who received substantial loans from President Thomas Jefferson for both himself and for the development of the region. Jan Antoni Sadowski (1669-1736) was a Polish nobleman who settled in Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. He was a diligent polyglot who befriended and traded with the Lenape Indians. Sadowski was able to negotiate peace treaties and Patrick Gordon, the Deputy Governor of Pennsylvania, confided in him to go on missions for him. Sadowski travelled west to Ohio province, even as far as Kentucky, to explore and discover new territories and founded the Sandusky settlement in Ohio. Zygmunt Leszczyński (a relative of King Stanisław Leszczyński) was another important early settler. Poles such as J.W. Golkowski, Karol Blaszkiewicz and Casimir T. Goeredk also contributed to the development of Pennsylvania in the 17th and 18th centuries. Casimir T. Goeredk, became the main surveyor of New York but his premature death interrupted his work on the city map. He married into the wealthy and famous family of President Roosevelt when he married Cornelius Roosevelt’s sister. Poles were key to the settlement and development of Pennsylvania. What is more, they played a key role in the birth of the United States.

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