Another Thanksgiving celebration is upon us, and, once again, it is important that we focus on the historical meaning of this important holiday and how it relates to our Polonian ancestors.
We must begin, of course, in the Autumn of 1621 when the pilgrims, after landing in Plymouth, Massachusetts, gave thanks for surviving their first winter in a new land. As tradition goes, this ıs the most widely publicized of Thanksgiving Days.
But what of the Polonians? Did they exist in America at the time? This answer is YES, most definitely! As a matter of fact, it is said that a Pole, John of Kolne, leading a fleet in the service of King Christian of Denmark, reached the coast of Labrador in 1476.
From the start of the thirteen original colonies in 1607, Captain John Smith, beset by hardships and difficulty in handling his men, said …. “They never did know what a days work was except the Dutchmen and the Poles and some dozen others.”
The first historical documents concerning Polish settlers in America cites October 1, 1608 as the date when five Poles landed from the “Mary and Margaret” under her Captain Christopher Newport. For Michael Nowicki from London, Zbigniew Stefanski from Wloclawek, Jan Mata from Cracow, Stanislaw Sadowski from Radom, and Jan Bogdan from Kolomyja this was the beginning of a chain that now numbers over 20 million Poles living in the United States.
Locally, in 1662, history tells us that Albert Zaborowski settled on the banks of the Hackensack River in New Jersey; probably the first recorded Polish settler in the New Jersey area. Poles were among the first settlers of New Jersey and among the early Quakers of Pennsylvania.
They penetrated the wild lands of the middle west as surveyors and missionaries, “Indian traders” and “long hunters.” The renowned Sanduski’s were among the first whites to penetrate into Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. They were the first among the white settlers of the English colonies to paddle a frail boat practically the entire length of the Mississippi down to New Orleans. Frederick Post, an immigrant from Poland, a hardy missionary of the Moravian sect, built the first house within the boundaries of the present State of Ohio. Waclaw Golkowski calculated the parcellation of the colonial Moravian settlements in Pennsylvania.
It was these Polish wanderers who started many things in America. They laid the foundations of American industry by building the first glass-blowing factory, the first pitch foundry, sawmill, soap factory, and potash industry. Even as early as 1619, these Polish settlers organized the first strike in America because they were refused the right to vote in elections of the Legislative assembly.
So, we have been here for many a year and we can be proud, as a God-fearing individual is to be thankful. Let us all give thanks, for we, as Polonians, have much to be thankful for: Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Casimir Pulaski, Polish champions of American Independence; Franciscan Father Moczygomba, who built the first Polish church in America; Julian Niemcewicz, a notable early emigrant who became an American citizen and then returned to Poland to help this country in its struggle for freedom; Henry Kalusowski, a leading spirit in the Polish American movement after 1834 and prominent in the U.S. purchase of Alaska; Leopold Julian Bolek, professor at the Sorbonne and founder of the Polytechnic Institute, the first of its kind in America.
And we must add Father Dabrowski, founder of the first Polish seminary in America and the Felician Order in 1882; Henry Sienkiewicz and Adam Mickiewicz, famous novelists; Helena Modjeska, a great American actress; and Ralph Modjeski, a world renowned bridge builder; Jan Tysnowski, Wlodzimierz Krzyzanowski, Joseph Karge and Albin Schoepf, brigadier generals in the Army of the United States; Ignacy Jan Paderewski, one of the world’s greatest pianists whose remains lie in a memorial chapel created in honor of sailors who perished on the battleship Maine. There are many, many more….
Alexander Curtius, professor from Poland, founded the first Latin school of the present City of New York; Wawrzyniec Goslicki, a Polish statesman, who published a political dissertation which exercised great influence on the Cromwellian period in England and, indirectly, also influenced the American Declaration of Independence; Peter Stadnicki, American banker and founder of the Holland Land Company, who was highly instrumental in the colonization of great tracts of wild- land in the States of New York and Pennsylvania; Adam Gurowski, fertile writer of the revolutionary period, wrote one of the best books on slavery; Stanley Hernisz in 1854 edited the first English-Chinese dictionary; Professor Leopold Julian Boeck who founded a polytechnical institute in New York, the first of its kind in America; Casimir Gzowski who became famous as an engineer in Canada; Frederic Szwatka who became a scientist in the study of the polar regions; Karol Radziminski who set the boundaries between the United States and Mexico (and to this day one of the hills in Oklahoma bears his name); and Dr. Felix Paul Wierzbicki, famous pioneer of California who published the first English book printed west of the Rocky Mountains! And there are still many, many more!!!
Today, we Poles have permeated every walk of life; we have recognition, we have a constantly growing unity, we have pride, and we have tradition. Sure we may have had hard times, but only through struggle, faith, and hope does one appreciate his reward. Again, let us give thanks.
HAVE A HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!!
… SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING …