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New research questions the final burial place of Pulaski's remains and examines the physical evidence to determine whether his anatomy was that of a woman

Mysteries Surrounding Casimir Pulaski

by Jack Pinkowski Ph.D ("Bialy Orzel," April 18, 2008, p. 26-27)

[Pulaski Portrait ]

Since Casimir Pulaski fell, mortally wounded, in the Siege of Savannah. October 9th, 1779, erroneous stories about his final resting place have been perpetuated. Due to deterioration of the Pulaski Monument in Savannah and its restoration, we had the opportunity to confirm that the human remains under the monument were Casimir Pulaski.

My personal observations and opinions have been kept secret for more than ten years by a required pledge to the Pulaski Identification Committee in Savannah who only released their conclusions in 2007 that ''the collected evidence is consistent in remarkable detail with the physical appearance, life history, and cavalry lifestyle of Casimir Pulaski.''

Pulaski's Birth

Many controversies concern Pulaski's story. His birth date and place had been misreported for centuries. In the 1990s two searchers, Wladyslaw Rudzinski and Rev. Stanislaw Makarewicz, each independent of the other, found church baptismal records and correctly reported for the first time the true date as March 6, 1745 in Warsaw (see birth record on http://www.poles.org).

The baptismal records of Kazimierz Pulaski's birth from 1745 survived the World War II bombings and are in the archives of the Holy Cross Catholic Church. Until the human remains under the Pulaski Monument in Savannah were examined by forensic anthropologists more than two centuries later, the priest's notation in the baptismal record books that the infant suffered from some debility (ob debilitatis causam) would have little practical meaning.

Confirming the Final Resting Place for Pulaski

From beginning to end, documenting accurate facts about the life of Casimir Pulaski is challenging. Another greatly erroneous fact was the detail concerning Pulaski's last days by Paul Bentalou, a French officer in the Pulaski Legion. His story led to the belief that Pulaski was buried at sea. It turns out that it was not a true account of what happened.

Previously Unknown Facts Come to Light

Accounts of Pulaski's whereabouts immediately after his wounds at the Siege of Savannah lead to eventually his being placed on board the privateer Wasp for transport to Charleston. From that point the accounts relied on hearsay until the identity of the captain of the vessel led to a collection of his personal letters now in the archives of Harvard University.

The captain of the Wasp was Samuel Bulfinch. Bulfinch was never referred to by previous historians until Edward Pinkowski discovered the captain's name in French archives. The death and burial ashore were confirmed by Bulfinch in a letter he wrote to Major General Benjamin Lincoln, commander of the American Army in the South, on October 15, 1779, that stated "likewise took on board the Americans that was (sic) sent down, one of which died this day and I have brought him ashore and buried him..." Thus begins the circumstantial evidence of what happened to Pulaski and marks October 15, 1779, as his date of death and the actual place of burial as ashore where the Wasp was tied up.

Evidence of Coffin Burial

During the time of the American Revolution, especially during battlefield fatalities, coffin burial was not the norm. Verification of a coffin burial would contribute to circumstantial identification of questionable remains if there was evidence that an individual was buried in a coffin where it might not be typical.

Eleazar Phillips was the purser and steward of the Wasp. In his widow's sworn application for a government pension she alleged that her husband had stated that he made a coffin for the soldier who died on board the Wasp in Savannah, before they sailed for Charleston.

The Wasp was tied to a finger pier at Bonaventure Plantation, which borders Greenwich Plantation on the banks of the Thunderbolt River near Savannah. The owner of Bonaventure was a lumber merchant who was loyal to Britain. When General Lincoln tried to end the British occupation of Savannah, the landowner and loyalist fled to the Bahamas. But he left behind a stockpile of timber on his plantation. It was here that Phillips got the yellow pine lo make the coffin. When Pulaski's remains were removed from an iron box in a crypt underneath the Pulaski Monument in 1996, part of the coffin, a corner, with hand-made nails were also found in the box indicating that these remains had originally been interred in a wooden coffin.

Forensic examination of the bones found corrosion on the pointy processes of the vertebrae and the back of the elbows, as well as the heel and back of the skull, which they described as evidence of coffin wear. According to the forensic anthropologist. Dr. Karen Burns. the decomposition of a human body in a coffin is most evident where the acidic environment and microbial activity rests on a flat surface such as at the bottom of a coffin. This is consistent with Phillips' contention that he had made a coffin for the American who died before they sailed from Thunderbolt and who was buried ashore in the coffin.

[Pulaski Skull ]

Oral History of the Burial

Jane Bowen lived with servants at Greenwich Plantation. Her slaves, who took care of the planting lived in cabins around the mansion. This family knew the real story about Pulaski's final resting place but whether they were intent on keeping it secret or if no one believed the slaves is unknown. Mrs. Bowen's slaves buried Pulaski's body by torch light in the garden between the mansion and the Thunderbolt River, what is now the Wilmington River. Jane Bowen died before William P. Bowen, her grandson was born. But Mrs. Bowen's daughter, Elizabeth, who was an eye-witness to the burial as a young girl, took care of the grave and showed her nephew, Major William P. Bowen where the grave was. Major Bowen would become secretary of a lottery commission to raise funds for building of a monument to the revolutionary war generals, Nathaniel Greene and Casimir Pulaski. Later the Pulaski Monument was built and the Greene-Pulaski monument became only the Greene Monument.

In December 1852, Major Bowen engaged grave diggers to remove Pulaski's remains for examination and re-interment. Bowen took the remains to the medical college in Savannah for analysis until they raised enough money for the Pulaski Monument. It would be Savannah's tribute to the Polish hero of the American Revolution.

The remains were held for eight months at the medical college and doctors there concluded that the remains from the grave at Greenwich Plantation "conformed, in the opinion of the physicians, to a man of Pulaski's age and stature" and were re-interred beneath the Pulaski Monument in a brick vault in October, 1853. Water seeping into the monument base for over 1OO years did much to destroy the metal box holding the bones which was embellished with an engraved nameplate that read "Brigadier General Cassimer (sic) Pulaski."

[Pulaski Face ]

The Physical Evidence from the Human Remains

The doctors in 1852 as well as 1996 determined that skeletal age of the remains once at Greenwich is consistent with early thirties. Pulaski was 34 years old when he died. The height was approximately 5' 3'' and gracile, or gracefully slender. This fits the general description and known portraits of Pulaski. "The facial characteristics of the skull are consistent with different portraits of Pulaski."

Among other criteria, determining ethnic origin from the features of the cranium would be useful to rule out the identity of the remains as that of a slave or Native American. From Dr. Charles Merbs' (another forensic anthropologist who examined the remains) analysis: "The sharp nasal sill indicates the skull to be from a European (Caucasian). The failure of the two halves of the frontal bone to fuse is a normal variant but is more common in Europeans."

But other features of the skull also strongly indicate positive identification consistent with Pulaski. When looking at the front of the skull, an out of the ordinary discoloration in the bone was noted below the left eye. This could be evidence of a tumor or bone defect. Burns' report referred to it as a small benign tumor.

Comparing several different portraits of Pulaski, they also depict a dark spot under the left eye. This could reflect the appearance of the tumor on the skin below the eye. At least one of the artists is known to have relied on sketches of Pulaski, or engravings, made in Paris.

[Pulaski Skull ]

Known Injuries

A healed injury to the high forehead was noted on the skull ("There is a depression involving the metopic suture that may represent an old injury to the forehead"). "This is consistent with trauma Pulaski incurred in the Polish campaign against the Russians."

Another unusual feature of the skull was noted by the radiologist and confirmed by the doctors. The area on the base of the skull where the pituitary gland is located was substantially larger than normal. This is significant because the pituitary gland secretes hormones including hormones that stimulate other endocrine glands. More on the significance of this finding will be presented later.

The skull indicates what may be a broken nose. The tumor below the eye and the other conditions of the face are typical of wounds incurred in hand-to-hand combat.

The appearance of the right hand of the skeletal remains was particularly revealing. On January 13, 1770, when Pulaski was in a guerilla war, he was injured in a battle with Russian forces near Grab. He dictated letters at the time, he reported that due his broken right hand, he was unable to personally write a letter for weeks. The examination of the skeleton and X-rays of the bones revealed that two fingers on the right hand were broken during life and healed long before death. Burns noted: "the fifth metacarpal healed with a pronounced palmar curve." In other words, the skeletal remains indicated a deformed right hand due to injury from broken bones that would have been painful during life but healed. This is consistent with this unique characteristic reported concerning Pulaski's right hand.

The wear pattern on thigh bone according to Merbs: "indicates habitual flexion consistent with horseback riding.'' Pelvic stress was also noted in that the tailbone was fused to the sacrum (large bone at the base of the spine that forms the back of the pelvic cavity). These and other points indicated friction or unusual stress and would be accounted for by someone who spent a lot of timed in the saddle on horseback.

Both shoulder blades show well-developed arthritis. According to Merbs: "These features indicate a habitual raised-arm position seen in horseback riders." Taken together, the observations regarding the thigh bones, the tailbone, and the shoulder blades are consistent with someone who had spent a lifetime on horseback as depicted in paintings of Pulaski. In addition, there are numerous accounts of his prowess as a horseman.

To summarize the findings regarding skeletal features that are consistent with identification as Casimir Pulaski:

So why did it fake ten years for the Savannah Identification Committee to issue a report of their findings? The answer follows.

Search for DNA

The quest for positive identification through DNA analysis presented great challenges. The genetic material necessary to type ancient remains Is mitochondrial DNA (mDNA), which is only inherited from the mother, not the father, and is passed along the female line, from mother to daughter, with little change over time. Pulaski would have inherited his mother's mDNA as would his siblings. But only his sisters could pass it on to their children and their daughters to their children, etc. Casimir Pulaski never married and had no children.

The challenge was to find remains of Pulaski's mother, Marianna, or one of his sisters. There were seven sisters: Wiktoria, who died young and was laid to rest in the vaults under Holy Cross Church in Warsaw; Anna, who was a canoness (nun) in Warsaw; Malgorzata was the wife of Adam Skilski, a Polish army general; Monika-Justyna married Stanislaw Rohozinski; Jozefa was the wife of Marcin Slawoszewski; Paulina, who married Antoni Suffczynski; and Joanna, who became a nun but resigned to marry Anastazy Walewski.

The grave of Teresa Witkowska, Casimir Pulaski's maternal great grandniece and granddaughter of Joanna Pulaska was located in Promna, Poland by Dr. Andrzej Sikorski, a genealogist from the University of Warsaw, who documented the grave and the Pulaski lineage. Unfortunately the age and degraded state of her remains resulted in failure to secure a reliable DNA sequence. Another maternal Pulaski relative living in Kraków was identified by Sikorski, Anna Morowska was the niece of Teresa Witkowska. She agreed to provide a sample and the sequence of the Pulaski matrilineal mDNA was finally secured.

But obtaining usable mDNA from the remains removed from the monument proved difficult. They had been buried in sandy, acidic soil for 74 years and then reinterred in a metal box for 143 years. Many of the teeth, apparently present at the first burial, were lost or taken by the time of the opening of the metal box containing the remains in 1996. Unfortunately, no reliable DNA sequence could be obtained from the remains.

Unexpected Findings

The committee in Savannah was intent on finding DNA proof because of the concern with sex-specific characteristics observed. These included indicators typically used to classify the remains as female. Both Burns and Merbs related their finding of a wide pelvis and associated physical attributes that are typically conclusive female indicators. When the pelvic bones are used as the basis for establishing biological sex, this configuration would be seen in only one in twenty male skeletons. The anthropologists and medical doctors all agreed that these are typically identifying characteristics for a female skeleton. Yet the probability is not absolute as indicated by the one in twenty probability that this would be found in a male. However, this was not the sole anatomical characteristic leading to identifying the remains as female.

On the skull, according to Merbs, the lack of ridges above the eyes on the forehead at the eyebrow and the size and shape of the bony features behind the ears are typical female characteristics and Burns agreed.

Accounting for the Unexpected Findings

Human sexuality is often perceived of as two distinct categories of either male or female. But many people do not conform to this dichotomy. From one to two percent of human beings exhibit biological sexual ambiguity so that physically they cannot be classified as exclusively male or exclusively female. This phenomenon has been known for a very long time. The contemporary idea of choosing between one of two gender roles dates from the Middle Ages in Europe when society established male hereditary rights. Over the years the issue of a continuum concerning a range of maleness to femaleness has been suppressed and forgotten as common knowledge. Professor Karol Sliwka and Professor Tomasz Grzyb, DNA specialists conducting research for Nicolaus Copernicus University in Bydgoszcz, Poland commented on my conclusions with the opinion that me thesis was "highly probable."

In Casimir Pulaski's case, we know that he was baptized at home because of some debilitatis causam that was not specified in any more detail by the recording priest in the church records found at the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw. Based on the examination of the skull in Savannah, we have new evidence that can account for these findings and determination of sexuality concerning the adult Pulaski.

Recall that the observation was made concerning X-ray examination of the skull that the area that houses the pituitary gland was substantially enlarged. The pituitary gland is the body's master regulatory gland controlling the release of hormones. Disorders of steroid hormone production in the adrenal glands lead to a deficiency of the stress fighting hormone. The master hormonal regulatory gland, the pituitary, sensing the deficiency, secretes massive amounts of stimulating hormones to bring the stress fighting hormone levels up to normal. This hormone in turn causes the adrenal glands to overproduce certain intermediary hormones which have maleness-inducing effects on the fetus and child, leading to so-called male attributes in sexual females to the extent that the sex of the child is questioned or mistaken. People with this condition do not produce enough of some of the sex steroids, and produce too much of male sex hormones that causes early or inappropriate appearance of male characteristics.

This condition is known to modern science as Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) and it may be more common than realized because of the private nature of the symptoms and characteristics. About 1 in 10,000 to 18,000 children are born each year with CAH. There are data that indicate that the number of people whose bodies differ in some way from typical definitions of male or female anatomy is 1 in 100 births.

In the case of Pulaski's identification it is only the happenstance that hundreds of years after his lifetime, persistent researchers discovered the original church records that dispelled historically inaccurate information. And the deterioration of a monument erected to his honor made possible forensic analysis of his human remains and revealed facts about his life never before.


Casimir Pulaski was a great warrior hero who led troops in battle in the cause of freedom in his native Poland and then in America during the American Revolution. He fought against the Russian occupying forces in his homeland. He was as a valiant soldier and exceptional cavalryman. In America, his valor was singled out by George Washington and the Continental Congress. Because he commanded four cavalry regiments in Washington's armies, Pulaski is credited as the Father of the American Cavalry.

Only after examining the physical evidence related to his human remains, can we suggest that he was perhaps driven by his hormones to be a warrior even though stature was slight. He may have been by birth female but at the same time he was for all intents and purposes male; the multiplicity resulting from a condition at birth that did not deter his military development or accomplishments throughout life on the battlefield.

The physical characteristics of the skeleton in height, stature, age and ethnicity are all consistent in every component with the 5' 3" tall, slender, 34 year old Polish nobleman, including even the shape of the face and forehead. The healed wounds on the face and skull, healed injury on the forehead, broken nose and cheek bone are true to form with an experienced military man occasionally engaged in hand-to-hand combat. The broken fingers on the right hand of the skeleton match the description in Pulaski's own letters about the debilitating injury that he received to his right hand. The extension of cartilage and the wear of cartilage surrounding hip and shoulder bones are to be expected from persons who spent their life in the saddle bearing a sword in combat. The fusion of the tail bone adds to the physiological evidence that reflect the effects of a life as a horseman.

Even the apparent tumor under his left eye that is represented on the skull by a damaged area of bone and its discoloration is also clearly reflected in an 18th century portrait as a birth mark on the painting in the same position relative to the left eye.

The sum of the physical evidence is overwhelming and consistent in every way with the appearance, life, lifestyle, and physiology of Casimir Pulaski, the unique hero of Poland and America.