Poles In Philadelphia

Research History Poles In Philadelphia

History & Culture

The Poles in Philadelphia to 1914

Sister M. Theodosetta, C. S. F. N.


Progressive Philadelphia of today gives no indication of the slow beginnings which marked both its American and its Polish American past, especially when it is compared with less outstanding areas whose settlements were established at much later dates.1


It is supposed that William Penn converted some Poles to the Quaker faith twenty years prior to the founding of his colony in 1681. In his history of The Religious Society of Friends, Samuel Jammey writes that William Ames founded a small Quaker community at Danzig in 1680; elsewhere in Poland, however, Ames was not successful in gaining adherents to this new faith.2 While in Holland, Penn communicated with the Polish King, John III (Sobieski), in behalf of his persecuted brethren, pleading with John to improve conditions for the Quakers in Danzig. After Penn's settlement in Philadelphia, however, there was no trace of the Quakers in Danzig.3 This leads to the belief that they probably helped William Penn to set up his "Holy Experiment". It is impossible to verify this statement, owing to incomplete records.


Over one hundred years prior to the Panna Maria settlement, Penn's Woods was the home of a Pole, Anthony Sadowski, who acted as an Indian trader and interpreter in 1734. Later, he migrated westward, becoming a pioneer settler in Sandusky, Ohio.4


The eighteenth century records of St. Joseph's Church, Old Swede's Church (Gloria Dei), and St. Michael's Church contain some Polish names. Unfortunately, the earliest volume containing the records of St. Joseph's Church from 1732-1758 was lost; the earliest records now extant begin with a baptism on August 29, 1758. The records for 1761 contain seemingly Polish names like John Babin and Pelagia Galerm.5 Among the marriage records of Old Swede's Church the names of Joseph Adamofski (Adamowski)6 and those of Daniel Janicky7 (most probably Janicki) and George Wosky8 are found.


Among the Polish patriots of Revolutionary fame who came to Philadelphia were Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Casimir Pulaski. The former was the first Pole to take up arms in the service of the United States. He arrived at Philadelphia in August 1776. Stronger fortifications for the city were acutely necessary, and Kosciuszko employed the time between his application to Congress for a commission and the acceptance of his offer of service in drawing up plans for fortifications on the eastern bank of the Delaware, just below the city.9 His service coupled with a fine personality won him the esteem and the friendship of such men as Thomas Jefferson, Albert Gallatin, Governor Thomas Mifflin, and particularly General Horatio Gates. In October, 1783, Kosciuszko was discharged from the American Army, and Congress gave him the brevet commission of brigadier-general, after which he set sail for Europe from Philadelphia.10 During the next thirteen years, Kosciuszko endeavored in vain to lead his oppressed homeland to freedom. Once again an exile, Kosciuszko sought his "other country", America.11 He was accompanied by his close companion, Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz. They arrived at the port of Philadelphia on August 18, 1797, and were drawn by carriage to a boarding house on Second Street.


In the Spring of 1798, Kosciuszko received a secret summons to France where Napoleon was enlisting Polish legions with the promise of independence for Poland if his campaign were successful. The exiled leader heeded the call and left in May, never to return to the country he loved second only to his fatherland, Poland. The will which he wrote just before leaving Philadelphia was prophetic of America's Civil War; in it Kosciuszko directed his friend, Jefferson, to employ his property in the United States to liberate Negro slaves and educate them for citizenship.12


Equally renowned for his services in the Revolution was Count Casimir Pulaski, who departed from Poland for political reasons and fled to France, where he wrote to Benjamin Franklin in Paris, offering to serve in the American Army. His distinguished record made him immediately acceptable; he received not only an enthusiastic letter of recommendation, but also money for his voyage to America.13


Pulaski arrived in Boston in July, 1777. He proceeded to Philadelphia where he was placed in command of the newly formed cavalry, the famous "Pulaski Legion" whose excellent work in the battles of Brandy wine and of Germantown made history in the Philadelphia campaign.14 This gallant leader was mortally wounded while charging with his men against the enemy in the battle at Savannah in October, 1779. Upon the disbanding of the corps at the death of Pulaski, two of Pulaski's legionnaires settled in Philadelphia for a time. One, a kinsman, Count Maurice Beniowski, who after a short stay in the city, sailed to Madagascar where he tried to overthrow the French authorities but was killed in an encounter with the French troops, May 23, 1786.15


The other legionnaire, who resided in Philadelphia, Joseph Baldeski. was commissioned a Captain on May 10, 1778. He served as a paymaster of the Pulaski Legion and figured prominently in the settlement of the accounts of the Pulaski Legion by Congress. After his resignation in December 1799. he settled in Germantown, Philadelphia, where he was known among his neighbors as "Count Baldeski".16 The first census of the United States taken in 1790 lists Baldeski as head of a family of a household consisting of six persons.17

Of special interest also is the name of Samuel Kokogai, a musician of the Fourth Regiment of Continental Artillery, who died in Philadelphia in 1828. The name Kokogai is probably an anglicised variant of the common Polish name Kolodziej.18


Quite different from the officers of the war immigration was another young Pole who visited Philadelphia immediately after the Revolution. Thomas Cajetan Wengierski had won a name for himself in the fashionable world of Warsaw with his brilliant but malicious satires against the Russian regime. He arrived at Philadelphia in September, 1783, and soon became acquainted with the important people in the city. His diary containing his keen observations on men and events is a welcome addition to American historical data.


The tragic failure of the Polish November Uprising against Russia in 1830 caused another exodus of Polish leaders to France and from there to America.19 They found friends in Marquis de Lafayette and James Fenimore Cooper who helped to organize a Polish American Committee in Paris,20 the purpose of which was to solicit financial aid for Poland's cause and to appeal on behalf of the Polish exiles to president Jackson for refuge in the United States.


Great sympathy for the Polish cause was displayed in Philadelphia. Sermons were preached in behalf of the exiles in both Catholic and Protestant Churches.21 Matthew Carey, the publisher, organized a committee to care for a group of Poles who were sent to Philadelphia soon after their arrival in New York in 1834. Among them was Marcin Rosienkiewicz, who had been a professor in the Lyceum of Krzemieniec.22 The United States Gazette of 1834 states that there were at this time thirty-three Poles in Philadelphia.23


It was at this time, with the financial aid of the Carey Committee, that Marcin Rosienkiewicz wrote the first book using the Polish language in America. This small pocket-size handbook entitled, Dialogues to Facilitate the Acquisition of the English Language by the Polish Emigrants was printed by John Young in Philadelphia.24 Rosienkiewicz also opened the first Polish school in the United States in 1834, in which he taught the English language. Because the funds raised by the Carey Committee lasted but a short three months, the school soon had to terminate its existence.25


Another literary man who sojourned in Philadelphia was Paul Sobolewski. . He acquired such fluency in the use of the English language that he was a frequent contributor to various publications in the city.26


There were also some Polish priests in Philadelphia at this time. The first Polish resident of Philadelphia in the nineteenth century was a priest - Father Thomas Praniewicz, who came to America in 1819. He was followed by Father Boniface Krukowski, S. J., who came in 1822 and was associated with the Jesuit Mission at Goshenhoppen. The Woodstock Letters of Father Bally mention the pious practices of Father Krukowski.27 The records of St. John Evangelist Church for the year 1835 tell of occasional visits from Father Alexander Niewiadrowski, an exiled Polish priest. The notebook of Bishop J. P. Neuman mentions Father Lipowski, who was a pastor of the Church of St. John the Baptist at Haycock in Bucks County in 1858.28


Although occasional Polish names appear in the history of Philadelphia in the early nineteenth century, there is no evidence of any integration; no permanent Polish settlement was organized.


The Civil War gave the Polish inhabitants of Philadelphia another opportunity to serve their adopted country. Among the first to answer the call was Captain Stanislaus Mlotkowski who was stationed at Fort Delaware, the most important defense for the port of Philadelphia.29 Besides Polish Officers (Captain Frank B. M. Bonsal,30 Lieutenants Julian Kzywoszynski, William Gracanowski and Jerzy Hynicki)31 there were non-commissioned Poles who served in various companies.


As a result of the mass immigration which began in 1870, the Polish community in Philadelphia became a fact. In 1871 the Polish residents of Philadelphia founded their earliest patriotic club, The Kosciuszko Club, which antedated the founding of the first Polish Catholic Church in Philadelphia by more than a decade.


This club gave an impetus to other organizations, the most important of which was the Polish National Alliance, the largest Polish American organization in the United States today.32 Its foundation in the city in 1880 was largely the result of the untiring efforts of Julius Andrzejkowicz, Julius Lipinski, Julius Szajnert and John Szoner.33


Two other organizations founded subsequently in Philadelphia were the Halka Choral Society, which was organized about 1890, and the Polish Beneficial Association under the patronage of St. John Cantius founded in 1899 by Francis Jaskowiak, Julian Wessel, and Francis Chwieroth of St. John Cantius Parish.34


Finally, societies closely affiliated with the parish, like the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Rosary Society, the League of the Sacred Heart, came into existence to aid parochial churches materially and religiously.


The most important social unit founded in the second half of the nineteenth century was the parish. On January 29, 1882, a small group of Poles from Camden, Chester, Wilmington and various sections of Philadelphia petitioned Archbishop J. F. Wood for the establishment of a parish. He was in sympathy with their needs and arranged for Rev. Julian Dutkiewicz from Brooklyn, New York, to minister to them. Father Dutkiewicz was succeeded by Rev. Emil Kattein as the first pastor of St. Laurentius Parish.35 Father Kattein's successor, Rev. Adalbert Malusecki, realized the completion of the Church, rectory, and the first Polish parochial school in Philadelphia. This first school was founded in 1888, six years after the organization of the parish. Its first teacher Casimir Chwalkowski, remained for two years, at which time four Felician Sisters came from Michigan to take care of the constantly increasing enrollment.36


In 1890 the second Polish Parish was organized in Philadelphia. St. Stanislaus, like its mother parish, was begun on the initiative of the people. Father Michael Baranski, the first pastor, purchased a Protestant church and prepared it for the use of the faithful within a few months. The school was established in 1892 and placed under the direction of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.


A shift in Polish immigration toward the extreme northern section of the city is seen in organization of St. John Cantius parish in 1892.37 The following year, the first pastor, Rev. Marian Kopytkiewicz and the pioneers of Bridesburg, realized their dream of church, school and rectory, which were dedicated by Archbishop J. Ryan. The Felician Sisters conducted the school until 1911, when they were succeeded by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.38


Another increase in Polish population in Philadelphia was reflected in the industrial northwestern section. Because of inconvenience in distance and transportation to St. Laurentius' Church, a movement to organize St. Josaphat's Parish was initiated.39


Rev. Miecislaus Kopytkiewicz, the first pastor, was succeeded by Rev. Henry Chajencki who purchased the Old Dutch Reformed Church in the spring of 1898 for the use of the Polish Catholics. A parochial school was established and, after a time, was put in charge of the Bernardine Sisters.


Rev. Miecislaus Monkiewicz, appointed by Archbishop J. Ryan to organize a Polish parish in Port Richmond, founded St. Adalbert's Parish with the help of Mr. Andrew Bogielczyk .40 By 1905 Mass was being celebrated in St. Adalbert's Church, and four years later a new free-stone granite structure was dedicated. The former church became a school which was placed under the direction of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.41


The sixth Polish parish, St. Ladislaus', was established at Nicetown, Philadelphia. The first services were held beyond the woods, where the Atwater Kent Radio Company now stands; in 1916 the present beautiful Gothic Church was completed.42 The parochial school, opened in 1909, was placed under the direction of the Bernardine Sisters.


The Vincentian Fathers from Kraków undertook the foundation of St. Hedwig's parish in 1907. The crypt of St. Hedwig's Church and the rectory were built simultaneously and both were dedicated on March 25 1908 by Archbishop J. Ryan. St. Hedwig's school, a reconverted Presbyterian Church at 22nd and Parkway, is under the direction of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.43


There was only one secondary school founded by Polish Americans in Philadelphia within the period of this study - St. John's College established by Father John Godrycz in 1911. It existed only for a short time.

Besides the parish and the society, a third factor, the press, influenced the general progress of the Polish immigrants in America in the years before 1914.44


To satisfy the needs of the Polish immigrant in Philadelphia, each decade witnessed the rise of a new Polish publication. The first Polish weekly newspaper, Patryota, was established July 18, 1890, by Sigismund Slupski, the editor and proprietor.45 The second was Gwiazda, established August 14, 1902, by Stephen Nowaczyk, also both editor and proprietor.46 Both weeklies are still in existence.


Polish weekly newspapers, in the United States generally aimed to serve three general purposes; first, to establish unity and understanding among the immigrants cast on a new shore; secondly, to inform them of the advantages and responsibilities which citizenship in their adopted country brought to them; finally, to provide information regarding the activities of their fellow Poles in Europe and throughout the world.47


The first issues of both Philadelphia newspapers expressed these purposes. The following translation taken from the editorial page of both Philadelphia papers well expresses their attitude of brotherly love:

To serve the public we will be non-partisan. We will only print news of general importance. To us there is neither Russian nor Prussian - but Polish; nor is there nobility, bourgeoisie, or peasant, but man; there are neither doctors nor lawyers; neither rich nor poor, but citizens - always respected when righteous.48

To one who knows the Polish Americans in Philadelphia today, their well-ordered lives offer a dramatic answer to the foreboding prophecies uttered a little more than a century ago about the dangers of an alien and inassimilable addition to our population. The Poles of Philadelphia have proved themselves a valuable element in the city's life.


1 From the view of American history Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) was twelfth in order of settlement. In Polish American origines, it is listed as the twenty-third permanent Polish settlement. X. Waclaw Kruszka, Historja Polska w Ameryce, (Milwaukee: Kuryer Publishing Co., 1937), Vol. I, p. 353.
2 Mieczyslaw Haiman, Polacy Wsród Pionierow Ameryki, (Polish R. C. Union of America, Chicago: 1930), p. 13.
3 Haiman, Ibid., p. 42.
4 Haiman, op. cit., pp. 59-63.

5 Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, Vol. I, p. 260.
6 Pennsylvania Archives Second Series, (Lane S. Hart, State Printer, Harrisburg: 1878), Vol. VIII, p. 289.
7 Ibid., p. 428.
8 Ibid., p. 559.
9 Miecislaus Haiman, Kosciuszko in the American Revolution, (New York: Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences, 1943), pp. 10-11.
10 Haiman, op. cit., pp. 1-7.
11 A Visit to Mt. Vernon a Century Ago, (extracts from the unpublished diary of Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz), translated and edited by W. M. Kozlowski, Century Magazine, Vol. XLI, pp. 510-515.
12 Encylopedia Britannica, (14th Edition) Vol. XIII. p, 493.
13 Jared Sparks, Library of American Biography, (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1845), Vol. IV, p. 415.
14 Martin I. J. Griffin, Catholics and the American Revolutionary War, Vol. III, pp. 6-9; also Haiman, op. cit., p. 29.
15 Haiman, Ibid., p. 41.

16 Haiman, Ibid., pp. 36-38; Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. VI, p. 267.
17 Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of Census "Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States.", (Washington, D. C.: 1907), p. 196. 
18 Mieczyslaw Haiman, Polacy w Walce o Niepodleglosc Ameryki, (Chicago: Dziennik Zjednoczenia, 1931) pp. 223-272.
19 Oscar Halecki, A History of Poland, (New York: Roy Publishers, 1943), p. 234.
20 Haiman, op. cit., pp. 192-201.
21 "Appeal in behalf of the Expatriated Poles". Leaflets of the Carey Committee - May 5, 1834; June 5, 1834; June 11, 1834; July 9, 1834 and July 11, 1834.
22 Ibid., May 5, 1834.
23 Martin I. J. Griffin, The American Catholic Historical Researches, Philadelphia: 1896, Vol. XIII, p. 141.
24 Sister M. Liguori Pakowska, "The First Polish Book Printed in the United States," Polish American Studies, Vol. V, No. 1-2, (January-June, 1948), Vol. V, No. 1-2, p. 4.
25 The Carey Committee Leaflet of June 11, 1834, gave the following as one its few objectives: "...to have them (expatriated Poles) instructed in rudiments of the English language for two or three months."
26 Manuscript, "The Exiles of 1831", Pennsylvania Historical Commission, Harrisburg, 1930.

27 Hitorja Polskich Rzymsko-Katolickich Parafji w Archidiecezji Filadelfijskiej, (Philadelphia: Group VIII of the The Union of Polish Clergy in America, 1940), p. 231.
28 Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia Vol. XX, pp. 212, 371; Vol. XXXVI, pp. 24, 348; and Vol. XLIII, pp, 74, 193. 
29 Frank H. Taylor, Philadelphia in the Civil War, (Philadelphia: Dunlap Printing Company, 1913), pp. 196-197.
30 Samuel P. Bates, History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers 1861-1865, (Harrisburg: Singerley State Printer, 1869), Vol. I, p. 463.
31 X. Waclaw Kruszka, op. cit., pp. 353 and 424-425.
32 Stanislaw Osada, Historja Zwiazku Narodowego Polskiego, (Chicago; Polish National Alliance Press, 1905), p. 112.
33 Stanislaw Osada, Ibid., pp. 120-124.

34 Pamietnik Zlotego Jubileuszu Parafji sw. Jana Kantego 1892-1942, p. 21.
35 Historja Polskich Rzymsko-Katolickich Parafji w Arehdiecezji Filadelfijskiej, p. 36.
36 Pamietnik Zlotego Jubileuszu Szkoly sw. Wawrzynca, (Philadelphia: 1938, p. 7.

37 Reminiscences from Organization to the Golden Jubilee, (Jubilee Album of St. John Cantius Parish, 1942), p. 10.
38 Historja Polskich Rzymsko-Katolickich Parafji w Archidiecezji Filadelfijskiej, p. 51.
39 Ibid., p. 61.
40 Silver Jubilee Album of St. Adalbert's Parish, (Philadelphia, 1929), p. 2.
41 Ibid., p. 16.

42 Pamietnik Czterdziesto-letniego Jubileuszu 1906-1946 Parafji sw. Wladyslawa w Nicetown, Philadelphia, (1946), p. 8.
43 Fortieth Anniversary Album of St. Hedwig's Parish, Philadelphia, 1907-1947, p. 11.
44 Stanislaw Osada, Prasa i Publicystyka Polska w Ameryce, (Pittsburgh: Pittsburczanin Press, 1930), p. 5.
45 Patryota, (The Patriot), July 18, 1890, Editorial Page. 
46 Gwiazda, (The Star), August 14, 1902, Editorial Page.

47 Edmund G. Olszyk, The Polish Press in America, (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1940), p. 13.
48 Patryota, July 18, 1890; Gwiazda, August 14, 1902.


This article is reprinted from Polish American Studies, Vol. VIII. No. 1-2, January-June 1951, with permission from the Polish-American Historical Association.