News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 23, 2012

GENEALOGY: Polish immigrants instigated first ever strike

Tamie Dehler
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — This week is a continuation of the discussion of when various nationalities first immigrated to North America and the early roles they played in American history.

Polish: The first Polish immigrants to the shores of North America arrived in 1608 at the Jamestown settlement in Virginia. Capt. John Smith brought crucial skilled workers and artisans to the colony which included a Polish soap maker, a pitch and tar maker, a glass blower, and a lumberman.

Even though these workers were essential to the success of the settlement, the Polish community in the new colony was discriminated against in 1619 when the House of Burgesses met, excluding the Polish and limiting their rights in the new colony. In response, the Polish workers instigated the first strike ever recorded in the New World. They won their case and the House extended to them the same rights enjoyed by Englishmen.

They went on to establish the first bi-lingual schools in the colonies.

By the Revolutionary War two notable Poles fought on the side of the Americans. Kazimierz Pulaski, who is regarded as “the father of the American Cavalry,” led mounted troops as a general in the American Revolution and died at the battle of Savannah on Oct. 11, 1779. Pulaski recruited his troops from several foreign groups: the French, Polish, Irish, and Germans, as well as Americans. His large number of German troops were mainly Hessian mercenaries who deserted the British side.

Tadeusz Kos’ciuszko served as a colonel in the Continental Army. For his service at war’s end he was commissioned to the rank of brigadier general by the Continental Congress, was awarded a land grant, and was made a naturalized American citizen. Kos’ciuszko entrusted Thomas Jefferson with his last will and testament. In it, his back pay was to be spent on freeing and educating slaves. Jefferson did not carry out the terms of the will and the money eventually was sent to Kos’ciuszko’s heirs in Poland.


• Frank Johnson, my grandfather, died in June of 1954 and his obituary listed a half brother named James Johnson, then residing in Terre Haute. Grandpa lived with us until he died and I don’t recall this relative. My research shows a half brother James born in 1859. These Johnsons came from North Carolina to Hamilton and Boone counties in Indiana before making it to Vigo County. Nathan Johnson, my great-grandfather, was first married to Hannah Freeman and then to Nancy Kennedy, who was my great-grandmother. I have found a James Johnson in Terre Haute obituaries in June 1959 who could possibly be him, but I can’t prove it. If there are any relatives of his still here I would like to hear from them to see if he was the missing relative. He ran a jewelry and sporting goods business on Lafayette Avenue according to his obituary. Please contact Mary Alice Murphy at email Any help will be appreciated. Thanks, Mary Alice.

• Trying to find the burial place for Tabitha, the wife of William Allen. She died in Parke County, Indiana, on June 30, 1879. Also seeking the burial place of her sons, Robert L. Allen, who died Sept.14, 1866, and William E. Allen, who died April 30, 1879, both also in Parke County. The rest of the family later moved on to Missouri. If you have any information on this family, please contact Marilyn Walker at email