History & Culture
History & Culture
A Polish Family in the South
Edmund L. Kowalczyk
It is a matter of general knowledge, that Poles have settled particularly on the east coast and in the middle west. This has sometimes tended to obscure the fact of Polish settlement in other parts of the United States. In recent years several books have appeared to call attention to the neglected subject of Polish settlement in the South.1
It is the hope of the author of this note that other studies will soon follow, because research in this field offers many rewards to the patient and enterprising scholar.2
The history of our Polish family in the South begins with Joseph Stanislaus Sosnowski, who was born in Lithuania, in 1806, of an old noble Polish family.3 Before the Revolution of 1830, he served with distinction in the Russian Army, in a Polish Corps commanded by Gen. T. Rosen. With the outbreak of the Polish revolt against Russia,4 Gen. Rosen and his men crossed over to join their countrymen. During this historic struggle, Sosnowski advanced to the rank of Captain and was decorated with the "Virtuti Militari" cross for bravery at Warsaw,5 where he was severely wounded.
After the failure of the uprising, Sosnowski and several other Poles escaped to Hungary and from there to Salzburg, Austria, where Sosnowski was temporarily imprisoned. From Austria, he went to Germany - first to Munich, in Bavaria, then to Wildbad, a health resort in Wurttemberg, and finally to Pforzheim, Baden, where he met Sophie Wentz, (b. 1809), the daughter of Dr. Christian Wentz, a prominent court physician. The youthful pair planned to wed in Karlsruhe, but German authorities forbade them. So, they went to Strasburg, France and were married there. After a short stay in Paris, they sailed for the United States in 1833.
The couple settled in Erie, Pa., where four children were born, Sophie,6 Kallie,7 Julius Christian,8 and John Tochman.9 With the death of her husband in 1845, Madame Sosnowski and her children moved to Troy, N.Y., where she was a teacher of Music, German and French in the "Emma Willard School." From Troy she next traveled to Charleston, S.C., where she taught in "Madame Dupree's School." Then she came to Macon, Georgia, in 1853, as a teacher in the "Montpellier Seminary" and in "Bishop Elliot's Seminary." She founded the "Brahamville Institute" for girls in Columbia, S.C. In it, some of the daughters of the best families of the South received their schooling. The teachers were her daughters and Capt. Thaddeus Strawinski, Sr.10 an ex-officer of the Polish Army of 1830-31, who had settled in Charleston, South Carolina11 and was married to one of the local belles, with whom he had a large family.
Madame Sosnowski kept in contact with the Poles of her time. Among her dearest friends were Major Gaspard Tochman12 and his wife Appolonia Jagiello.13 It was at their home, "Summer Hill Farm," in Spotsylvania, Virginia, that Madame Sosnowski's son, Julius C., spent his boyhood while attending school in Washington, D. C. Madame Sosnowski's friendship with Tochman dated from 1838. The Major was a frequent visitor at her home, and after the death of his wife in 1866, she offered him a home with her. Another guest was Ladislaus Wankowicz, an ex-staff officer of the Russian Army and a veteran of the Polish Revolution of 1830-31. During the Civil War, he offered his services to the Confederacy with Tochman and served as Lieutenant in one of the Louisiana Regiments. Besides the above, she must have known other Polish exiles, who espoused the Southern cause: Colonels Hypolite Oladowski,14 Ignatius S. Szymanski,15 and Valerian Sulakowski.16
During vacations, Madame Sosnowski and her daughters made frequent trips to Virginia hospitals to minister to wounded soldiers. Especially trying were the days when Sherman swept through Columbia, South Carolina;17 at that time Madame Sosnowski felt keenly the responsibility of protecting her charges and sending them home in safety.
After the fall of Columbia, Madame Sosnowski went to Athens, Georgia, where she took charge of the "Lucy Cobb Institute," later opening the "Home School." She ended her days in Athens, on July 18, 1899, at the age of ninety years and three months.
At that time, one of the prominent members of the town said: "I cannot speak of the educational history of Athens without mentioning the name of one whose life, from the day, that she linked her heart and for time with the Polish patriot, in the historic Cathedral at Strasburg, until she died recently among us, full of honors, it reads like a romance of old chivalry. I allude, of course, to Madame Sophie Sosnowski. During the many years she was a teacher in this state, she impressed upon thousands of young women those high ideals of womanly character and of virtue which leaves to us, who survive her, a priceless heritage."18 Her descendants are to be found today in Georgia and South Carolina.
"A Plea for Gen. W.H.C. Whiting," Southern Historical Papers, XXIV, 277.
Athens Banner, Athens, Ga., (July 18, 1899).
Athens Daily, Athens, Ga., (June 13, 1901).
Carroll, Lilla. "Recollections of A School Girl," Stories of the Confederacy.
Edited by U. R. Brooks. (Charleston, S.C., 1910), 22, 24.
Haiman, Mieczyslaw, "Gen. Kasper Tochman i Konfederacka Brygada Polska," Historia Udzialu Polaków w Amerykanskiej Wojnie Domowej. (Chicago, 1928), 121-122, 194.
Haiman, Miecislaus. Poland and the American Revolutionary War. (Chicago, 1932), 30, 69-74, 74-77.
Harring, Harro. Poland Under the Dominion of Russia. (Boston: Printed for I. S. Szymanski, 1834), vi, 187-188.
Jones, John B. A Rebel War Clerk's Diary at the Confederate States Capital. (New York, 1935), I, 60.
Lilly, Rev. Edward G. Letter to author, Oct. 9, 1946, Charleston, S.C.
Lonn, Ella. Foreigners in the Confederacy. (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1940), 252, 263 n.
Mercury, Charleston, S. C., (Jan. 28, 1861).
Report of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, C.S.A. (Richmond, 1863?), 11.
Rowland, Dunbar. Jefferson Davis, Constitutionalist, His Letters, Papers, and Speeches. (Jackson, Miss., 1923), V, 145, 152, VII, 89.
Schaller, Frank. The Labor Question of the South, An Essay with Special Reference to the Introduction of German Agriculturists and Laborers to the State of Georgia. (Athens, 1866).
Simkins, Francis B. and Patton, James W. The Woman of the Confederacy. (Richmond and New York, 1936), 52.
Sosnowski, Sophie. "The Burning of Columbia," Georgia Historical Quarterly, VIII, 195-214.
Sosnowski, Sophie. "The Burning of Columbia," written for her children; copy in possession of Mrs. James S. Seabrook, Wadmalaw Island, S.C.
Tochman, Major Gaspard. Letter to Madame Sosnowski written July 31, 1845 from New York City to Troy, N.Y. (Original in Mrs. Seabrook'e collection).
Vasvary, Edmund. Lincoln's Hungarian Heroes. The Participation of the Hungarians in the Civil War, 1861-65. (Washington, 1939), 93-94.
Worthington, C. J. The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures, and Travels of Madame Loreta Janeta Velazquez otherwise known as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, C.S.A. (Hartford, 1876), 35-36.
1 V.g.: Dworaczyk, Rev. Edward J. The First Polish Colonies of America in Texas. (San Antonio. 1936); Dworaczyk, Rev. Edward J. Church Records of Panna Maria, Texas. (Annals of the P.R.C.U. Archives and Museum, Vol. IX). (Chicago, 1945); Haiman, Miecislaus. The Poles In the Early History of Texas. (Annals of the P.R.C.U. Archives and Museum, Vol. I). (Chicago, 1936); Haiman, Miecislaus. Polish Pioneers of Virginia and Kentucky. (Annals of the P.R.C.U. Archives and Museum. Vol. II). (Chicago, 1937); Lonn, Ella. Foreigners in the Confederacy. (Chapel Hill, N.C.. 1940); Niklewicz, Franciszek. Dzieje Pierwszych Osadników w Ameryce. (History of the First Polish Settlers in America), (Milwaukee, 1927); Niklewicz, Franciszek. Historja Pierwszej Polskiej Parafji w Ameryce. (History at the First Polish Parish in America). (Chicago, 1938); also one with very good material in it. by Nesterowicz, S. Notatki z Podrozy. (Notes From A Journey). (Toledo. O., 1909).
2 The author is deeply indebted to Mrs. James S. Seabrook, Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina, daughter of Dr. Julius C. Sosnowski, for valuable data from family papers, which he received while stationed at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in 1945. It was through her, that he was able to obtain rare photographs of Major Gaspard Tochman, Madame Sophie Sosnowski, her daughters and son, and of Capt. Thaddeus Strawinski, C.S.A.
3 His grandfather of the same name was Marshal of Lithuania. According to family tradition, Louise Sosnowska, fiancée of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, was his aunt. The family crest is a pine tree on a red shield with three arms on top. Two of the branches are cut, while five roots extend below. The shield is surmounted by a visor and crown. Above these is an armed Knight half supporting his left hand on a sword and holding a pine tree in his right hand. (Found in the collection of Mrs. James S. Seabrook, Wadmalaw Island. S.C.)
4 The uprising of November 1830 began with the cadet officers in the Officers Training School in Warsaw and spread throughout the nation. It was assisted by Polish regiments in the army, some 30,000 very well drilled and equipped men; this number rose to 80,000, Against these forces Russia at first marshaled 114,000 men. The uprising was poorly led and badly managed and by October 1831 it was suppressed.
5 Now in the Possession of John F. Sosnowski. Charleston, S.C.
6 Sophie married Frank Schaller, (1836-1881), a German. He was Colonel of the Twenty-Second Mississippi Infantry, C.S.A. After the war he was a teacher in Athens, Ga. He died in St. Louis, Mo. Their daughter, Ida Schaller Peacock, has preserved all the documents pertaining to the family. They are now in the University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.
7 Kallie never married. She was a talented marine painter. Mrs. James S. Seabrook has two of her paintings.
8 Julius Christian served as a Colonel of the Medical Corps in the Confederate Army. He died on Edisto Island, S.C., in 1876, leaving five children.
9 John Tochman died in infancy.
10 His son, Capt. Thaddeus "Frisbie" Strawinski, C.S.A., an eighteen year old college student, was accidentally killed at Fort Moultrie, S.C.. on Jan. 27. 1861. A memorial tablet on the outer wall of the First Scotch Presbyterian Church. Charleston, S.C., has his name on it.
Two other Poles served in this first historic engagement of the War between the States: Colonel Arthur Grabowski, C.S.A. (1831-1930), a private in the First South Carolina Regiment, who took part in the assault on Fort Sumter and John Wisniewski, a Union artillerist, who saw service at Fort Sumter and later became Captain.
11 The history of the Poles in this city is an old one. Samuel Hrabowski (1747-1798) was a local merchant and a purveyor to the Revolutionary Navy. Felix Miklaszewicz, a privateer in the Revolutionary War, settled here in 1790. Brig. Gen. Casimir Pulaski and his "Legion" defeated the British General Prevost here in 1779. The Legionnaires from San Domingo came here in 1809. Later residents were: Herman Kaminski, who rose to the rank of Captain in the Confederate Army and Gustavus Poznanski (1804-1879), a rabbi, whose son, B. I. Poznanski (1840-1896), was a violinist of renown.
12 Gaspard Tochman (1795-1880), a Polish patriot, soldier, orator and lawyer. Little is known of his early life, except that he was related to Gen. John Skrzynecki, Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Army in the ill-fated insurrection of 1830-31 and later of the Belgian revolt against Holland. In the Uprising of 1830, Tochman served throughout the campaign and rose to the rank of Major of Infantry. He was decorated with "Virtuti Militari" cross. After the defeat of the Poles, he migrated to France and from there in 1837 to the United States. Here he delivered over five hundred addresses in behalf of Poland. In 1841, he was naturalized and admitted to the practice of law. In 1846 he helped to form the "Polish Slavonian Literary Association." He practiced law in Albany, New York, and in Washington, D.C. where he was an associate of the famous Reverdy Johnson. During the War, he followed his adopted state Virginia into secession, organizing and equipping with Colonel Valerian Sulakowski the "Polish Brigade," in New Orleans, Louisiana, afterwards the Fourteenth Louisiana Infantry. His efforts to obtain the rank of Brigadier-General failed. After the war, he served as Commissioner of Immigration for Virginia. He died in Spotsylvania, Virginia.
13 Appolonia Jagiello (1825-1866) was a most unusual woman. She fought disguised as a soldier in the Cracow Insurrection of 1846 and in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-49, rising to the rank of Lieutenant. Near the end of this struggle, she was Superintendent of the Military Hospital at the Komarom Fortress. In 1849 she came to the United States, where for a while she was the center of attraction. She married Tochman at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1851. During the war she was arrested, because of her husband's sentiments, but was soon released.
14 Hypolite Oladowski fought in the Revolution of 1830-31 and in the Mexican War. Prior to the Civil War, he was Ordnance Sergeant at the U. S. Arsenal, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He rose to the rank of Colonel, while serving as Chief of Ordnance to Gen. Braxton Bragg of the Army of Tennessee.
15 Ignatius S. Szymanski (1806-1874) served in the Uhlans under the command of Colonel (Prince) Adam Woroniecki during the Revolt of 1830-1831. Coming to the United States, he settled in New Orleans about 1835, where he amassed some wealth. He was the owner of a plantation, a cotton press, a racing stable and a yacht. During the Civil War he served as Colonel of the Chalmette Regiment and later as agent for the exchange of prisoners in the Trans-Mississippi Department.
16 Valerian Sulakowski (1827-1873) was a veteran of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-49. He settled in New Orleans in 1850. He served as Colonel of the (Polish Brigade) Fourteenth Louisiana Infantry and later as Chief Engineer to Major-General John Bankhead Magruder. In latter years he was a civil engineer.
17 She describes the incident in "The Burning of Columbia," Georgia Historical Quarterly, VIII, 195-214.
18 Athens Daily, Athens. Ga., (June 13, 1901).
This article is reprinted from Polish-American Studies, Vol. III. No. 3-4, July-December 1946, with permission from the Polish-American Historical Association.