Dedication of Historical Marker to Honor Jamestown Poles of 1608

Marker Picture

The actual Commonwealth of Virginia historical marker dedicated to the Polish settlers at Jamestown in 1608

The marker has been placed and dedicated on July 20, 2012; thanks to the efforts of Jamestown Marker Committee Chairman Tom Payne, Peter Obst and the Polish American Arts Association of Washington, DC -- an ACPC Affiliate organization.

The marker text is as follows:

First Poles Arrive

Skilled craftsmen of Polish origin recruited by the Virginia Company began arriving in Jamestown aboard the
Mary and Margaret about 1 Oct. 1608. Poles contributed to the development of a glass factory and the production of potash, naval stores, and wood products. Soon samples of their work were shipped back to England. The workers were so highly prized that they were assigned apprentices so that their skill "shall not dye with them." Capt. John Smith praised their work ethic in his writings. Court records indicate that as a result of a dispute, Poles were granted full voting rights on 21 July 1619.

Department of Historical Resources 2011

by Peter J. Obst

The opening chapter of Polish-American history starts at the Jamestown settlement with the arrival of a handful of Polish craftsmen who, after rolling up their sleeves, set right to work. Since then, at every anniversary of their arrival, articles have appeared that claimed various accomplishments. This includes the assertion that Poles "saved" the colony, that they introduced a game which evolved into baseball, that they were Catholic and celebrated Christmas "Polish style" on the shores of the new world.

These and other fascinating details can be traced to Arthur Waldo, a publicist, who according to his own writings, had access to an unique book "A Merchant's Memoir" (Pamietnik Handlowca, Amsterdam 1624) supposedly written in "old Polish" by Zbigniew Stefanski, a glass maker and member of the original group of craftsmen. The book, found in war torn France, was offered for sale in 1947 to Mieczyslaw Haiman, director of the Polish Museum in Chicago. At that time Haiman was unable to raise the $5000 being asked. Before the book was returned and disappeared, Haiman dictated and Waldo copied out text for his "own information, not for publication." Yet in the 1970s all these fragments appeared in Arthur Waldo's book "True Heroes of Jamestown." It was from Stefanski's writings that Waldo obtained the names of the five individuals who constituted the Polish group. Later for the 350th anniversary of Jamestown's founding, with support from the Polish Falcons, he placed a bronze plaque listing the names of the "First Poles in Jamestown" on the side of the visitors center located near the historic settlement site. Currently the plaque is in a different location, near a flagpole in the center's parking lot.

Some prominent scholars have attempted to locate the elusive "Merchant's Memoir" but had no success. The absence of this primary source, which could clarify and solidify the Polish role at the settlement, has caused many serious historians to doubt Waldo's veracity. Further complicating the situation was an article by historian, and director of the Pulaski Museum at Warka, Olgiert Puciata in POLAND magazine of August 1967 where he listed names different from Waldo's as Jamestown's Polish settlers -- and gave no source at all.

The facts which can be verified on the basis of available sources may be summarized as follows:

The first Poles in America arrived in 1608 at the Jamestown Colony on the English ship "Mary and Margaret" under command of Captain Christopher Newport. These men were recruited by the Virginia Company of London to work in establishing some early manufacturing at the colony: wood shingles, turpentine, naval stores (tar and pitch), soapashes (potash) and glass. The industriousness and hospitality of the Poles were already well known to Capt. John Smith, the colony's commandant, whose travels through Europe took him into the lands of the old Reczpospolita. He commented favorably on the Poles' work ethic in his journals.

Later two Poles were credited with aiding Capt. Smith as he fought off an attack by a chief of the Paspahegh tribe. Unfortunately the names of these Polish settlers were not mentioned in the record.

More Poles arrived on subsequent ships. The fact that they contributed to the survival of the colony through their labor is indisputable. However, to obtain their rights (in 1619) as fully enfranchised members of the community they had to stage a "work stoppage" which was possibly the first labor strike in America. Their value to the colony was recognized and it was written in the record of the Virginia Company of London that these men shall be enfranchised and made as free as any inhabitant whatsoever. So that their skill in making pitch and tar and soapeashes should not die with them, it was agreed that some young men, shall be assigned to them to learn their skill and knowledge.

The historical marker dedicated by the American Council for Polish Culture on July 20th 2012 reflects these verifiable facts. Those wishing to learn more about the Poles at Jamestown and the Arthur L. Waldo controversy may do so from "The Polish Pioneers in Virginia" by Sigmund H. Uminski, Polish Publication Society of America, New York, 1974.

Dedication Ceremonies

New Historical Marker unveiled in Jamestown, VA during ACPC Convention

by Peter J. Obst

On the afternoon of July 20, 2012, a group of officers and members of the American Council for Polish Culture (ACPC), accompanied by government officials, dignitaries and guests gathered on the roadside of Virginia Route 31 near the entrance to the site of the historic Jamestown Settlement. It was here, in the vicinity of historical markers devoted to German and African settlers of Jamestown and the Indian Princess Pocahontas, that a new marker has been placed, to record the arrival of Polish craftsmen at the site in 1608. These men came on the second supply ship, the "Mary and Margaret," early in the history of the settlement when skilled hands and industrious individuals were needed to help the struggling English colony survive.

The dedication ceremonies began with Debbie Majka, president of the ACPC, welcoming the approximately 50 persons who assembled on the grassy area near the marker. At the same time a sporadic light summer shower started sprinkling the area necessitating the use of umbrellas. After her greeting, Father Philip Majka, not related to Debbie, offered up a prayer.

Then followed Mayor of Williamsburg Claude Haulman who underscored the importance of the occasion. Wendy Musumeci from the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Historic Resources spoke about the importance of recognizing the contributions of immigrants in the Commonwealth. At one point her voice shook with emotion as she mentioned her Polish husband Martin and her baby son Maks, who were also present at the event.

Tom Payne, chairman of the marker committee, explained how the marker came about, and that because of the rich Polish-American history in Virginia, future markers were being contemplated. A definite possibility is one for Union General Vladimir "Kryz" Krzyzanowski who distinguished himself as a colonel in several Civil War battles while leading regiments composed of immigrant Germans and Poles. Yet, whose promotion was stalled because members of congress were unable to pronounce his excellent Polish name.

Colonel Lafayette Jones, US Army Retired, mentioned some of the vital roles that Poles played in the development of United States military history, singling out Tadeusz Kosciuszko -- a military engineer and brigadier general in Washington's army -- who, among his several accomplishments during the Revolutionary War, prepared the defenses at Saratoga and laid plans for the fortifications at West Point, NY. This important bulwark, known as the Gibraltar of America, checked the British move south along the Hudson River and later became the site of America's main military academy.

The commentaries were rounded out by Piotr Konowrocki, Consul General of the Polish Republic, who made the trip from Washington DC. His arrival was not announced earlier and it was a surprise to many of the organizers and spectators to see a car with diplomatic plates pull up to the site. He was most welcome however, as he brought greetings and good wishes from the Polish government and diplomatic corps on the occasion of this important event.

Then, Edward Pinkowski, 95 years old, one of Polonia's most respected historians and a person who initiated the installation of several historical markers in Pennsylvania, was asked to come up. He pulled on the cover and as those present applauded, the marker was officially unveiled.

President Debbie Majka read out the words written in black letters on the silver surface of the marker. (text is listed above)

Fr. Thomas Machalski, Rector of the Polish Seminary at Orchard Lake Michigan delivered the closing prayer. Before returning to Williamsburg and continuing the annual convention of the ACPC many of the spectators stayed around to admire this latest addition to the set of historical markers, and had their pictures taken on site. Information about the American Council for Polish Culture is on:


[Jamestown picture]

(l. to r.) Thomas Payne, Debbie Majka, Fr. Philip Majka, Polish Consul Piotr Konowrocki, Fr. Thomas Machalski

[Jamestown picture]

The audience takes cover under umbrellas as a light summer rain begins to fall

[Jamestown picture]

(l. to r.) Williamsburg Mayor Claude Haulman, Thomas Payne, Debbie Majka, Fr. Philip Majka, Polish Consul Piotr Konowrocki

[Jamestown picture]

The audience takes cover under umbrellas as a light summer rain begins to fall

[Jamestown picture]

(l. to r.) Thomas Payne, Wendy Musumeci from the Dept. of Historic Resources Commonwealth of VA, Debbie Majka

[Jamestown picture]

(on left) photographer Beata Plawska, (center, in uniform) Janusz Romanski representing Polish Veterans

[Jamestown picture]

(l. to r.) Tom Payne, Colonel Lafayette Jones, US Army Retired, Debbie Majka, Consul Piotr Konowrocki

[Jamestown picture]

(l. to r.) historian Edward Pinkowski who just unveiled the historical marker and Tom Payne head of Marker Committee

[Jamestown picture]

(l. to r.) Fr. Thomas Machalski, Debbie Mjka, Edward Pinkowski, Marcel Pinkowski, Consul Piotr Konowrocki

[Jamestown picture]

(l. to r.) Carol Surma, Mary Ellen Tyszka, Debbie Mjka, Piotr Konowrocki

[Jamestown picture]

The Detroit delegation - (l. to r.) Carolyn and Matt Meleski, Carol Surma, Evelyn Bachorski-Bowman, Fr. Thomas Machalski, Henrietta Nowakowski, Anne Tyszka and her daughter Lydia Dyhdalo, Mary Ellen Tyszka, Jackie Kolowski; (in front) Halina Ujda

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  • [Jamestown picture]

    (l. to r.) Tom Payne, Colonel Lafayette Jones, US Army Retired

    ..... [Jamestown picture]

    (l. to. r.) Janusz Romanski, representing Polish Veterans; Edward Pinkowski

    [Jamestown picture]

    (l. to. r.) Edward Pinkowski, Peter J. Obst

    ..... [Jamestown picture]

    (l. to. r.) Henrietta Nowakowski, Beata Plawska, Debbie Majka, Edward Pinkowski

    [Jamestown picture]

    (l. to. r.) Mayor Claude Haulman, Tom Payne

    ..... [Jamestown picture]

    (l. to. r.) Wendy Musumeci, her child Maks and husband Martin Sekula

    [Jamestown picture]

    (l. to. r.) Fr. Philip Majka, Fr. Thomas Machalski, Marcel Pinkowski; (sitting) Edward Pinkowski

    ..... [Jamestown picture]

    (l. to. r.) Tom Payne, Wendy Musumeci

    [Jamestown picture]

    The audience listens to the dedication speeches

    Photographs by: Jackie Kolowski

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