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The First Polish Settlements in America


General Casimir (Kazimierz) Pulaski

General Thaddeus (Tadeusz) Kosciuszko

General Wlodzimierz Krzyzanowski

  1. 1475: On behalf of King of Denmark, Polish sailor Jan of Kolno explored the Atlantic and reached the coast of Delaware.
  2. October 1st, 1608: The Poles – skilled craftsmen - settled with John Smith at Jamestown. In 1619 they declared a strike for voting rights against English House of Burgessess. This was considered the first war for democracy in America.
  3. 1659:In New Amsterdam Professor Dr. Alexander Kurcyusz (Curtius) founded an academy, the first institution of higher learning in what is New York today.
  4. Polish settlers were present in each of the 13 Colonies as early as 1650.
  5. American Revolutionary War: Poles in significant numbers supported the American fight. The most famous were Generals Kazimierz Pulaski and Thaddeus Kosciuszko. John A. Joyce, an American poet wrote:

    “Polish heroes in their might

    Fought in freedom 's holy fight,

    Brilliant as the stars of night,

    To maintain the pure and right!”

  6. 1831-33: A Polish Uprising brought an abiding number of Poles to America, mostly soldiers of the lower nobility. In 1835 “Polish National Committee in the United States" was registered. The Poles of the political immigration were people of culture and education and were well admitted into American Society.
  7. 1863: After an unsuccessful uprising numerous Poles emigrated to America.
  8. Civil War: 4000 Poles served in Union Army and 1000 in Confederate Army. The total Polish population in America was estimated to be 30,000. General Wlodzimierz Krzyzanowski was the most prominent Pole in the Civil War. He was appointed the first Governor of Alaska.
  9. 1851: “Panna Maria” in Texas was the first Polish parish in America; Rev. Leopold Moczygeba.
  10. 1855: The first Polish farming community in Wisconsin. By 1925 it was about 400,000 Polish farms - about 10% of all Polish population.
  11. From 1850 to 1914: Massive Polish emigration to America for economic independence and freedom. The first Poles emigrated from the German partition, followed by Russian and Austrian.
  12. 1863: First Polish paper published in America - “Echo Polskie” (Polish Echo). In 1870 “Orzel Polski” (Polish Eagle) was edited. By 1930 there were over 100 Polish periodicals
  13. In 1900 there were 2,000,000 Poles in 800 settlements, over 400 parishes, and 330 schools. By 1930 the number of Poles in America was estimated to be 4,000,000. There were an estimate 800 Polish parishes.

Polish emigrants were praised for the loyalty to America and patriotic spirit and served as the model to follow:

“...I was astonished to read recently that out of the first 100 000 volunteers who responded to the call of the President (Woodrow Wilson) for service in the world war ,40 000 were of Polish descent, and that the Polish people consistently supplied volunteer enlistments far out of proportion to the number of Poles living in this country...”

(Governor W. Kohler of Wisconsin).

Life Cycle: Customs and Traditions in Poland

Probably one of the best descriptions of the nature, rite and meaning of the Polish customs was made by Wladyslaw Reymont in his Nobel price awarded novel “Chlopi”( Peasants). The old Polish traditions ,tightly connected to the religion and nature, created an eternal returns of the events in the day to day life. Wladyslaw Reymont divided yearly returns into four seasons: Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer.

The Winter

The most joyful, colorful and family oriented time in Poland is Christmas time. The Christmas preparations will start early in December with the extensive and deep house cleaning, which is “a must”.

On December 6th Polish children are expecting a secret visit during the night of St. Nicholas (Swiety Mikolaj) with the gifts. The custom is very old and commemorating legacy of St Nicolaus of Myrna ( Greece).

The Christmas celebrations will begin on Christmas Eve with “Wigilia” . The sequence of the events during “Wigilia” is as follows:

  1. The Christmas Tree is set before Christmas Eve, adorned with the ornaments made from hand blow glass, fruits, nuts, chocolates and candies wrapped in colorful paper, decorative chains and small lights. In some homes the tree is decorated with the backed ornaments , made from gingerbread or shortbread.
  2. The table is set for odd number of the people with the empty plate for the unexpected guest. The table is set in formal and continental style often with the thin layer of hay under the white tablecloth, in memory of the Godchild in the manger.
  3. When the first star appears in the evening sky, the family breaks the “Oplatek”. It is a thin unleavened bread stamped with the figures of Jesus , Blessed Mary , angels. Before sitting down to the table for meal, each person present breaks off a small piece off of each others “Oplatek” and exchange good wishes for the coming year. The “Oplatek is very powerful symbol of love and is part of the social meetings of the Poles around the Christmas time. The “Oplatek is also send by mail to the absent family member(s) and friends, which are unable to attend “Wigilia”.
  4. The Christmas Eve dinner always is meatless and traditionally comprise of 12 courses: mushroom soup or borsch with”uszka”( dumplings), boiled potatoes, pickled herring, sweet- water fish (most often carp), potato and cheese pierogi, beans and sauerkraut, country style golabki (meatless), dried fruit compote, poppy seeds cake, honey cake, kutia, nuts and candies.
  5. Christmas carols follows the “Wigilia” meal, sung often with the piano, guitar, accordion or flute. At midnight all attend “Pasterka”(Shepherds Mass).
  6. Christmas season to opportunity to various meetings with “Oplatek”, carols and traditional winter food: bigos(hunter stew), salads, pork jelly(galaretka wieprzowa), sausages, hussar roast,tripe.
  7. “Szopki” - a old Polish tradition to build an artistic form of Nativity Scene. The most famous are “Szopki Krakowskie” and their annual competition.
  8. The epilog to the Christmas is carnival: the time of active socializing, parties, balls, masquerades and kuligs (sleigh -rides).Last Thursday of the carnival ,the so called “Fat Thursday” is famous for special Polish dessert: “paczki”(doughnuts).

The Spring

  1. In early Spring school children and scouts are making doll from grass and tree brunches and throw her into the river. The custom called “Topienie Marzanny”(Sinking of Marzanna) originated in prehistoric time when people try to “get rid of winter”.
  2. Each year in the Market Place of Krakow the Poles commemorate the Poland's victory over Tatars in 1241. The “Lajkonik” a Tatar warrior with a hobbyhorse fastened to the waist and mace in his hand, prances around with people in the Market Place. It is said that touching of the mace will bring good luck.
  3. Lent as “overture” to the Easter is still observed but not so strictly as in the past. The religious peoples have lent zur(soup), kasha, pierogi with cabbage, potatoes and fish- as main meal. Lent will end on Easter Saturday.
  4. The celebration of Easter will begin on Palm Sunday. The Poles are going to the church with palms, handmade from straw, pussy willow branch, herbs and dry flowers. Besides their spiritual and religious meaning, the Easter palms are true Polish ethnic art.
  5. ”Swieconka”- It is the blessing of the Easter Food. The blessing is taking place in the church on holy Saturday. The Poles are going to the church with the wicker baskets, linen with white crocheted or embroidered cloth, decorated with the greens. The basket is filled with food: Easter bread(babka), butter, cheese, horseradish, sausage,ham, salt, pepper, and 'Pisanki”(colored eggs).
  6. Colored eggs are Polish ethnic art treasure. They coming in three varieties:
    • - “Pisanki”: from Polish word 'pisac”(write) ,made with the use of treated wax
    • - “Kraszanki”: pained in one color eggs, with the use of natural dyes
    • - “Skrobanki”: have patterns etched with pointed instrument on top of the paint
    Colored eggs are decorated with the traditional Polish symbols of Easter: pussy willow, the Lamb with the Resurrection Banner, flowers.
  7. After festive Sunday Mass at day break, the Easter Breakfast is served and it will start with the “Sharing of the Eggs”. Right after this , the meal is set on the table, comprised of: meats, ham, sausages, pate, salads,”cwikla”(beet and horseradish relish). In some parts of Poland it is custom to serve the soup called “zur”(white borscht) as first course. The Easter Breakfast will end with the desserts: “babka”(Easter cake),”sernik”(cheese cake), “mazurek”(flat cake on pastry or wafer,covered with paste of nuts, raisins and decorated).
  8. On Easter Monday (it is holiday in Poland) the Poles are observing “Smigus Dyngus”: the boys and the girls try to drench each other with the water.

The Summer

  1. Just at the beginning of the Summer the Poles are celebrating feast of “Corpus Christi” called “Boze Cialo”,which takes place on one of Thursdays in June. It is national, public holiday in Poland. First time “Boze Cialo” procession took place in Krakow in 1320 and is celebrated ever since. The culmination of the celebration is the procession from church through the streets. The procession is lead by a priest holding the Host. The priest with the Host is covered by the canopy. The participants of the procession are dressed in their regional dresses. They are carrying religious and national symbols like figurines of the saints, Polish historical flags. The streets and buildings , especially in rural areas, are decorated in garlands, flowers, religious and national symbols. As the manifestation of the Polish ethnicity, the “Corpus Christi” feast attracts many visitors from other countries and international media.
  2. Historically, Poland was predominantly farmland with agricultural traditions and those traditions are still observed today. The harvest festival, called “Dozynki”, almost ritual , wraps up Summer harvesting each year. The custom of annual “Dozynki “ is part of Polish history from 16th century and initially was sponsored by the land owners, which organized the harvest festivities for the peasants( their laborers). The old custom changed. Today ,”Dozynki”are sponsored and organized by the whole communities and they are officiated by elected representatives. The celebrations will start with the harvest wreaths procession and contest, bread and salt presentation to the public by “Dozynki” hosts and after, entertainment: songs, dances, games, contests and food sale. The “Dozynki” are opportunity to present ethnic dresses. In some areas of Poland ,the entire community is dressed in old fashion regional attire.

The Autumn

The Autumn in Poland, rich in food harvested, is time for preparations for long Winter. Polish households were always self-sufficient and well -stocked pantry was main factor for survival during almost six months until next crops. The time changed: the stores are full of food year around, however ,the Poles are still making provisions of products, essential for surviving:

  • - Pickled pork, beef, salted fat
  • - Beans, peas, several kind of kashas
  • - Wheat and rye flour
  • - Pickled or dried mushrooms
  • - Smoked or pickled cheeses(popular in Podhale)
  • - Honey and home made fruit wine
  • - Fruit preserves and stored fresh apples
  • - Pickled cucumbers, carrots, sauerkraut
  • - Potatoes, garlic and onions
  • - Nuts

Making preserves become a culinary art in Poland: the housewives are exchanging receipts and competing with each other.

The long Autumn and Winter evenings are occasion for family and neighbors get together with delicious samples of fresh preserves, glass of home made fruit wine or “Sliwowica” in Podhale region, songs and music.

The skilled local artists have time to make:

  1. “Wycinanki” (Paper Cut-Outs) - they regarded as most beautiful in the world developed in Poland in 19th century and are cultivated in families from generation to generation ever since.
  2. Crocheted and embroidered linen, home décor or ethnic dresses

Polish Social Etiquette


  1. At social gatherings ,the host is introducing the guests in order: first women, next men.
  2. If you are invited by the Poles to their house:
    • - Dress conservatively; you may be asked to take off your shoes
    • - The table setting is formal, continental style
    • - Do not start eating until invited by the hostess
    • - Try a bit of everything, you can accept a second course
    • - The host offers the first toast; toasting through the meal is frequent
    • - Never ask for the tour of the house
    • - Bring wine or desserts for the hostess; you can bring also flowers: they must be odd in numbers; never give lilies, red or white carnations or yellow chrysanthemums; do not embarrass host with very expensive gifts
    • - If you invited to birthday party, name day party or Christmas, you should bring modest but stylish gift for celebrant
    • - Poles will open gifts when receiving
  3. At business meetings
    • - Business meetings with the government officials are more formal, other meetings are less formal
    • - At government level meetings follow diplomatic protocol
    • - All business meetings are open by the most senior Pole; he may offer an agenda to the meeting
    • - In business, decision-making process is hierarchical
    • - Use an academic and professional titles with honorific title in front (Pan Doktor Kowalski, Pani Docent Kwiatkowa)
    • - During the day you can address: “Panie Doktorze”, “Pani Docent”,
    • - Exchange business cards without special formality
    • - In Poland, earned academic titles are part of the name and always included on business cards


  • - They are courteous but reserved, especially on beginning
  • - When greeting, make firm handshake with smile and eye contact with everyone upon arriving and leaving
  • - Some men may kiss a woman's hand
  • - Always wait for a woman to extend her hand
  • - Say: ”Dzien dobry” (good morning/afternoon) until 5:00pm and “Dobry wieczor” (good evening) after
  • - Do not use first name until invited; using informal names will change relationship status and will include you in “inner circle”; it is common in Poland to be in business relation for years and not to be on a first name basis
  • - Honesty is highly valued
  • - Poles are direct communicators, however, they will withhold the sore truth to not hurt other's feelings
  • - Diplomacy in communication is valued

Nicolaus Copernicus Theory of the Universe and the Man Behind It.

It is the short story about the mathematical genius and the biggest revolutionary from Poland, who changed the peoples concept of the world and who changed the world 's history.

A. Nicolaus Copernicus road to discovery and development of the new concept of the universe.

Nicolaus Copernicus was born on February 19th, 1473 at 4:48 PM to wealthy Torun merchants: Barbara Watzelrode and Mikolaj Kopernik. He was the youngest one of the four children. Nicolaus and his eldest brother Andreas became canons, his sister Barbara was the mother superior of the Polish convent. The second sister , Catherine , married Polish merchant in Krakow. Most likely , Nicolaus Copernicus was initially educated at home and in parochial school.

Copernicus lost his father in 1484 and the mother in 1495( Andronic,2002). His legal, spiritual, mental guardian was his uncle , Lukasz Watzelrode, who, in 1484 was elected Bishop of Warmia. In 1491 Nicolaus Copernicus entered the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. The Archives of the Colegium Maius at the Jagiellonian University attests that “...Nicolaus Copernicus, age 18, paid his tuition fees in full for the fall of 1491....”( Sobel,2011). During next five years Copernicus studied logic, mathematical astronomy, natural philosophy, poetry and rhetoric. His academic supervisor was professor and dean of the Jagiellonian University , famous mathematician Albert Brudzewski. It is told ,that Prof. Brudzewski had crucial influence on shaping young Copernicus mathematical mind (Kesten,1945).

Nicolaus Copernicus continued his education at the University of Bologna,where in 1496 he began study of the canon law. As support of his education, Copernicus used his own inheritance and the contribution from his uncle, Bishop Lukasz Watzelorode. His financial situation stabilized and improved in 1497: Nicolaus Copernicus was appointed canon in Frombork and delegated by the Church Chapter to continue his study in Italy.(Kesten,1945).To be a canon , he would not have to be a priest. Copernicus obligations were: church administration and daily prayers. As a canon, he was not permitted to say the Mass.

Around 1500, Nicolaus Copernicus spent several months in Rome, where he gave the lectures on math ( Sobel,2011 ). On May 31st, 1503 , Nicolaus Copernicus received “ Doctor of Canon Law” degree at the University of Ferrara. From Ferrara , Nicolaus Copernicus went to Padua to study the medicine. At the age of thirty three, Nicolaus Copernicus returned home with the very universal and advanced education:

  • - a mathematician (educated at the Jagiellonian University and University of Bologna)
  • - a jurist (Dr. degree in canon law at the University of Ferrara)
  • - a physician( educated at the University of Padua)
  • - an astronomer (educated at the Jagiellonian University and the University of Bologna)
  • - a humanist
  • - a painter (he painted his self-portrait ,copy is on the clock of Strasbourg Cathedral )
  • - a poet ( in Latin)
  • - a linguist ( fluent in Polish, German, Latin, Greek, Italian)
  • - a very secret revolutionary ( according to Kesten,1945).

Nicolaus Copernicus was most educated and knowledgeable man in Poland at his time. At home ,”....Nicolaus Copernicus was only Bishop of Warmia nephew and the canon of Frombork” ( Kesten,1945,pg.115 ). Soon, he was appointed as personal secretary and physician to the Bishop of Warmia, Luksz Watzelrode. During next six years , Nicolaus Copernicus was involved in Poland's and Europe's politics and diplomacy.

On March 9th, 1497, Nicolaus Copernicus with Domenico Maria da Novaro observed occultation of the star Aldebaran by the moon. For Copernicus it was the first observation questioning Ptolemy concept. Over the time, Nicolaus Copernicus came to conclusion that motions of the planet did not reflect official almanac of the universe. Also, the Julian calendar based on ancient theories, was dysfunctional. Around 1508 ,Copernicus conceived in his mind the idea about earth “ moving” and begun work on his heliocentric model.( Sobel, 2011). He confessed:

“.... it is unbelievable pleasure of mind... derived from contemplating things established in the finest order and directed by divine ruling...”( Kesten,1945,pg.7).

B. A new theory of the universe.

Nicolaus Copernicus concluded his discoveries in a twenty pages manuscript “Commentariolus”, completed 1510-1514 . He distributed it to friends and former teachers. The manuscript was recorded in private library of Maciej of Miechow in May 2014 with the comment: “ ...the author asserts that Sun stands still and Earth moves...” (Sobel, 2011).Mathematical analyzes of the Alfonsine Tables generated concept that:

  1. One center of all celestial circles or spheres is not existing.
  2. The center of the Earth is not the center of the universe. The center of the Earth is only the center of the gravity and the Lunar sphere.
  3. All celestial spheres revolve around the Sun as their mid-point. The Sun is the center of the universe.
  4. The height of the firmament is irrelevant to the distance from the Earth to the Sun.
  5. The motion on the firmament arises from the motion of the Earth. The Earth with its elements performs a complete rotation on its axis in a daily motion.
  6. The Earth revolves around the Sun as any other planet. The Earth has more than one motion.
  7. The concept of the motion of the Earth is sufficient to explain many apparent inequalities in the Ptolemaic concept of the universe.

What was new in Copernicus's theory?

  • - The idea of the motion of the Earth, its daily and yearly rotation.
  • - The idea that the Earth is one of the planets.
  • - The idea of the Sun as the center of the universe.

The “Commentariolus “ was received with the reserve and sullen silence. Why?

  • - At first, it was a shock.
  • - Next, the fear, because it was against official teaching and against Church doctrine.
  • - It was unintelligible, not so many were educated to understand it.
  • - Some ignorance.
  • - Some mental stagnancy and prejudice.
  • - Some conflict of interest.

In 1513 , Nicolaus Copernicus purchased bricks and lime for the new observatory in Frombork. He started regular astronomical observations in 1514-15 and continued them during next 10 years. His biggest challenge was the weather: in Poland there is not so many clear nights to make the observations. The other problem was the lack of the instruments . His friend Tiedemann Giese, Bishop of Chelmno, brought for Copernicus ingenious sundial from England. Besides, he had:

  • - An astrolabe , the tool used by the sailors for navigation,
  • - He made own triquetrum from pine,
  • - A quadrant,
  • - The grid drawn on the wall of the Olsztyn castle ( only original tool that survived and is part of the Copernican exhibit ).

No telescope , only eyes, excellent until end of his life.

After return from Italy, Nicolaus Copernicus days were very busy. He earned the living as: personal secretary, physician, administrator, chancellor, economist, cartographer, military strategist , diplomat, and translator. He was praised for being very well organized, skilled and fair. Below are listed some of his posts:

  • - From 1506 until 1512 Nicolaus Copernicus was appointed as the secretary and personal physician to Lukasz Watzelrode, Bishop of Warmia. He became involved in Poland's politics and diplomacy.
  • - In 1516 Nicolaus Copernicus began his 3 yrs assignment as the Administrator of the Church properties. The experience from the duties resulted in “ Treatise on the Method of Minting Money ", edited in 1522.
  • - From January 30th 1523 until October 1523, Nicolaus Copernicus was delegated as the Chancellor of the Chapter , after Bishop Fabian Luzjenski of Warmia died.
  • - Nicolaus Copernicus served as the personal physician to four bishops of Warmia, Grand Duke of Prussia, consultant to the personal physician of the Polish King and the physician of the ordinary peoples of Warmia. The poor people worshiped Copernicus as “ godlike being”(Kesten, 1945) .
  • - Nicolaus Copernicus was skilled cartographer: his map of Warmia was the best .
  • - In 1520 Nicolaus Copernicus attained significant military triumph: successful defense of the Olsztyn castle.
  • - Nicolaus Copernicus acted as diplomat on behalf of Poland in negotiation with the Teutonic Knights.
  • - Nicolaus Copernicus translated love letters of Theophylachi Simocatt from Greek into Latin and edited the translation as the book in Krakow in 1509.

Regardless of all daily professional obligations , Nicolaus Copernicus managed to have regular observations of the universe. He devoted to astronomy his nights. It was his passion, personal mission and destiny.

The educated Europe waited:

  • - In 1533 Pope Clement VIII was briefed on Copernicus theory.
  • - In 1535 Bernard Wapowski visited Copernicus : he tried to publish his almanac of the planetary positions
  • - In 1536 Cardinal of Capua, Nicholas Schonberg, in letter to Copernicus asked him to release his theory.
  • - Tiedemann Giese, Bishop of Chelmno, pushed for publication.
  • - In 1539, young mathematician from Wittenberg, Georg Joachim Rheticus , a Protestant, visited Copernicus for short time but stayed in Frombork two years . He was the first Nicolaus Copernicus disciple, the one, that convinced Great Astronomer that is time to publish the book.

De revolutionibus orbium coelestium was published in Nuremberg by Johannes Petrejus . The printing concluded in April 1543. In the introduction to the book Nicolaus Copernicus stated that he waited thirty six years to release his theory to the world. Copernicus dedicated the book to the Pope. On May 24, 1543 , Nicolaus Copernicus died.

C. The Legacy:

  • - Most uttered supporter of the Copernicus theory was Giordano Bruno. He introduced Copernican system to the British court: part of “ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium “was translated into English as early as in 1576.
  • - Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 1563 proved accuracy of Copernicus' Tables.
  • - In 1610 Galileo Galilei discovered Jupiter's four moons with his first telescope . The discovery conformed that Copernicus was right. Using the telescope ,Galilei attested also that the Venus would have to go trough phases as the moon, that predicted Copernicus ( Kesten, 1945,pg.369).
  • - In 1616 “ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” was placed on the Index. In 1520 the Index listed the corrections that must be made to comply with the Church doctrine .
  • - Johannes Kepler, famous German Astronomer, admitted : “ I base all my astronomy on Copernicus's hypotheses...”(Kesten,1945,pg.354)
  • - In 1549, Hilarius Wislicza, professor of the astronomy in Krakow, computed his yearbook of 1549 based on Coprnicus's Tables.
  • - Sir Isaac Newton generated the gravity principles from the Copernicus's concept of the universe.

Listing of the “ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium “ on the Index made big publicity for the book and Nicolaus Copernicus theory. In 1721 , Cotton Mather, a leading Puritan minister in America wrote that “... Copernicus hypothesis is generally preferred...and ...there is no objection against the motion of the earth...”( Andronik, 2002,pg 84).

After two hundred years , in 1835, “ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium “ was dropped from the Index.

19th century greatest German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the “History of the theory of the colors “ declared:”.... Of all discoveries and opinions , none may have exerted a greater effect on the human spirit than the doctrine of Copernicus . The world had scarcely become known as round and complete in itself when it was asked to waive the tremendous privilege of being the center of the universe. Never, perhaps , was a greater demand made on mankind:....Think of everything that went up in smoke because of this admission.....”( Kesten,1945,pg.240)

In 1473 in the city of Torun the genius was born. An extraordinary mind, excellent in advanced mathematical computations , able to extract significant information from a very little data. Nicolaus Copernicus , man of exceptional personality, who managed to be educated at the best universities at his time. He possessed skills in a very different areas and used them with easy, making difference everywhere he appeared.

Gifted to impossible, skilled to the perfection , Nicolaus Copernicus was the humble man in the service of humanity.


  • - Catherine M. Andronik,”Copernicus ”[Founder of Modern Astronomy],Enslow Publishers ,Inc.,2002.
  • - Encyklopedia Popularna PWN,Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, Warszawa,1997.
  • - Hermann Kesten” Copernicus and his World”, Roy Publishers, NewYork,1945
  • - Dava Sobel”A more Perfect Heaven” [ How Copernicus revolutionized the Cosmos], New York,2011.


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