Celebrity Estate Lessons - Tadeusz Kosciuszko

Revolutionary war reinactment

Wills are important documents for your family, but occasionally you can use a Will as a way to make a major change in the world. Such was the case of Tadeusz Kosciuszko. It’s okay; I’m Polish and can’t pronounce it either. We’ll just call him Tad.

Tad was a Polish-born citizen who came to the US to fight with the Americans in the Revolutionary War. He spent most of the war helping build fortifications, including those at West Point, but after the death of John Laurens (yep, the guy from Hamilton) he took over Laurens’ intelligence network near Charleston, South Carolina. Like many revolutionary soldiers, he was owed substantial backpay by the end of the war and so was unable to return home. He lived on borrowed money for about a year until he was finally paid the modern-day equivalent of $323,000 and the right to 500 acres of land if he stayed in the US.

While in the US, he made many friends among the founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson. This may seem like an odd friendship, since as a lifelong supporter of human rights, Tad was very opposed to slavery. Before finally leaving the US for home, Tad had a Will drafted naming Jefferson as the executor and stating that his estate was to be used toward the purchasing and freedom of slaves, specifically Jefferson’s.

His Will in full reads: “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 testamentary 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 an education in trades or otherwise and in having them instructed for their new condition in the duties of morality which may make them good neigh bours good fathers or mothers, husbands or vives and in their duties as citizens teaching 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.”

Needless to say, when Tad died in 1817 and his Will was to be executed, many people weren’t happy. Years after Tad’s death, Jefferson claimed he was too old to act as executor, and the man he recommended also turned down the offer. The court appointed Benjamin Lear to carry out the Will’s wishes. When Lear died before everything was sorted out, his executor became the executor of Tad’s Will also. Four Wills were eventually produced that were written by Tad after the 1798 document. The case of the Tad’s estate went to the Supreme Court 3 times, eventually ending in a 1852 ruling that the estate was to go to his heirs in Poland because an 1816 Will was discovered that revoked his prior Will.

None of Tad’s estate ever went to the freeing of slaves. Since then many people have criticized Jefferson for refusing to carry out his friend’s final wishes.

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