Thomas Jefferson Papers

Will of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, 5 May 1798

Will of Tadeusz Kosciuszko

5th day of May 1798

I Thaddeus Kosciuszko being just in my departure from America do hereby declare and direct that should I make no other testamentory disposition of my property in the United States I hereby authorise my friend Thomas Jefferson to employ the whole thereof in purchasing Negroes from among his own or any others and giving them Liberty in my name, in giving them en education in trades or othervise and in having them instructed for their new condition in the duties of morality which may make them good neigh bours good fathers or moders, husbands or vives and in their duties as citisens teeching them to be defenders of their Liberty and Country and of the good order of Society and in whatsoever may Make them happy and useful, and I make the said Thomas Jefferson my executor of this

T. Kosciuszko

MS (Albemarle County Circuit Court, Charlottesville, on deposit ViU); entirely in Kosciuszko’s hand; subjoined in hand of John Carr and signed by him is a statement of 12 May 1819 that the will was produced in the Albemarle County Court, determined to be in the hand of Kosciuszko, ordered to be recorded, “and thereupon Thomas Jefferson the executor therein named, refused to take upon himself the burthen of the execution of the said Will”; endorsed in a clerk’s hand: “Kosciusko’s will 12th May 1819 proved & ordered to be recorded.” Tr (Albemarle County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office: Will Book No. 1, p. 42).

After Kosciuszko’s death in 1817 an aging TJ hoped to persuade John Hartwell Cocke to assume the executorship of this will. When Cocke declined, TJ sought the advice of William Wirt and had the will entered in the Orphan’s Court of the District of Columbia, which in 1821 appointed Benjamin L. Lear of Washington as administrator of the estate. Maryland law applied to the District in such matters, and Lear anticipated that it would be difficult, either there or in Virginia, to carry out the educational provisions of the will. He therefore planned the endowment of a school to be named for Kosciuszko and organized in New Jersey under the auspices of the African Education Society, which sought to educate freed slaves for colonization in Africa. However, in the end Kosciuszko’s American assets were not put to that purpose. Litigation among disputing claimants eventually came before the U.S. Supreme Court for the determination, among other questions, of which of four wills should govern the disposition of his estate. Kosciuszko evidently expected the terms of the will printed above to control the allocation of his financial holdings in the United States, no matter what other disposition might be made of his European assets. In a letter to TJ in 1817 about the management of his shares of stock, Kosciuszko alluded to the unchanged purpose to which the funds should be applied after his death: “du quel aprés ma mort vous savez la destination invariable.” Nevertheless, in a decision handed down in 1852 the Supreme Court held that the language of a will Kosciuszko made in 1816 revoked all earlier testaments, including his American will of 1798, and his assets in the United States were distributed among his heirs (Haiman, Kosciuszko description begins Miecislaus Haiman, Kosciuszko: Leader and Exile, New York, 1977 description ends , 125–8; Benjamin C. Howard, Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Supreme Court of the United States, December Term, 1852, 2d ed. [New York, 1885], 399–433; James S. Pula, “The American Will of Thaddeus Kosciuszko,” Polish American Studies, 34 [1977], 16–25; Marion Manola Thompson, The Education of Negroes in New Jersey [New York, 1941], 90–7; Kosciuszko to TJ, 15 Sep. 1817; Cocke to TJ, 3 May 1819; TJ to Wirt, 27 June 1819; Lear to TJ, 19 Sep. 1821).

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