Old Homes of New Americans

The Poles in America
Chapter 7

Their Hereditary Rights in America -- Zabriskie, Sodowsky, and Pulaski -- Pioneers of Texas -- The Poles in the Connecticut Valley -- One Person in Every Twenty-two in America a Pole -- In Michigan Every Eighth Person a Pole -- A people to be reckoned with.

The Poles may be considered to have a hereditary right in America, since it is stated on credible authority that a Pole, John of Kolno, discovered the coast of Labrador in 1476, sixteen years before Columbus made his memorable voyage.

Not many years after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth and the Cavaliers in Virginia, a distinguished Pole settled in New Jersey, and founded the well-known and numerous Zabriskie family, whose descendants have shed lustre on American annals. One member of this family was a chancellor of New Jersey, another was Dean of Harvard College, while their blood, it is said, "also runs in the veins of such distinguished families as that of Gouverneur Morris, the Bayards, Jays, Astors, and others."

Other Poles were pioneers in Manhattan, in Kentucky, and on the Mississippi. It is even said that Jacob Sodowsky made a long voyage down the Ohio and Mississippi until he reached New Orleans, being one of the first white men to make this adventurous journey. Some claim that Sandusky, Ohio, is but a corruption from the name of Jacob Sodowsky.

The Poles sympathized with America in her revolutionary struggle and, as we have seen, sent their greatest hero, Kosciuszko, to fight our battles as a friend and aide of General Washington. Pulaski was another Polish revolutionary hero who has left his name on the map of America, and still another was Niemcewicz, who wrote a valuable biography of General Washington.

The Polish revolution of 1831 sent another contingent of exiled patriots to America, and Miss Balch quotes the reminiscence of a lady who lived in Troy, New York, in the early thirties, and who remembers seeing there "a group of Polish gentlemen, ragged, but obviously aristocrats, working at the cobbled pavement of the streets with bleeding fingers. A few days later, one of these men looked at his fingers, drew out a pistol, and shot himself."

The Poles, too, were among the pioneers of Texas, and they have hard tales to tell of the original Texans who "would take a man out and beat him just for the fun of it." "Several times," we are also told, "a Pole bought a horse, and in the night it was stolen from him by the man who had sold it." Yet in spite of these early tribulations, the immigrants flourished, and many colonies were established in the Lone Star State.

Many Poles reached the Connecticut Valley, also, in the comparatively early days of emigration, and were esteemed faithful, honest, and industrious laborers. The testimony of a New England farmer who employed many Poles and brought many others from New York to work for his neighbors is worth quoting: "They make good citizens. Almost without exception they are Roman Catholics, and faithful to their obligations. They are willing to pay the price to succeed. That price is to work hard and save."

In their Galician homes the vast majority of them are farmers or farm-laborers, and they do not lose their love of the soil when they reach America, though many of them, unfortunately, especially the Jews, congregate in the cities.

That the Polish contingent of American citizens is no mean factor is evident from the fact that in 1908 it was estimated that there were, as I have said, four millions of men, women, and children of Polish ancestry in the United States; that is, one person in every twenty-two whom you may meet on the street has Polish blood in his veins. Most of them are late arrivals, or the children of late arrivals, for the great exodus from Poland to America did not set in until about 1890.

In Pennsylvania one person in twelve is a Pole, in New York about one in fourteen, in Massachusetts about one in ten. In Wisconsin and Michigan every eighth person is a Pole. These facts are enough to convince us that they are "a people to be reckoned with," and should make Poland's history, her literature, and the habits and customs of her people of exceeding interest to every thoughtful American.

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