Tadeusz Kościuszko’s visit to Bristol – Exhibition

Date: 08-06-2024 - 23-06-2024

Event place: Central Library, Bristol

From Saturday 8 June to Sunday 23 June, the Anglo Polish Society Bristol and the South West is organising an exhibition in the exhibition space on the first floor of Bristol Central Library, about Tadeusz Kościuszko’s visit to Bristol.

Photo: British Poles

Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko was born in February 1746 and died in October 1817.  Kościuszko was a Polish military architect, statesman, abolitionist and military commander who gained  fame on two continents. Kościuszko fought for his country in the battles against Russia and Prussia  and on the American side in the American War of Independence. During this time, he also designed  the state-of-the-art fortifications at West Point and achieved the rank of brigadier general. 

Seriously wounded after a failed uprising against Russian occupation, Kościuszko visited Bristol in  1797, staying at the White Lion Inn on Broad Street on his way back to America. His hero status as a  freedom fighter and abolitionist was such that local dignitaries gave him a „plate” worth 100 guineas,  and he donated his gold and diamond ring to the city (now in the Bristol Museums collections). 

Photo: British Poles

During his time in Bristol, he was celebrated by Dissenters, Quakers, Methodists, the Romantics and  Radical Doctors; all who wanted an end to the slave trade and greater rights for ordinary people.  Kościuszko was horrified to see that his American friends and Founding Fathers, such as Thomas  Jefferson and George Washington, owned slaves. 

During the American and Polish Revolutions, Kościuszko employed free black men as his aides-de camp: Agrippa Hull in America and Jean Lapierre in Poland. When he returned to Europe in May  1798, hoping to organize another uprising to liberate Poland, Kościuszko made a will in which he left  his American fortune to buy the freedom and provide education for Africans enslaved by Jefferson.  Unfortunately, this never happened, and he was never to see his homeland, Poland, again. 

Photo: British Poles

Bristol is a very specific city, with deep roots in the slave trade, but at the same time the cradle of  abolitionism. Recent events – such as the tearing down of the statue of Edward Colston – have led the  public in Bristol to reassess Bristol’s role in slavery. And after arriving in the city, Kościuszko was  highly praised by a large part of Bristol society, among other things, because of his strong stance  towards all enslaved people. 

Why Kościuszko was so warmly welcomed and honoured when he arrived in Bristol on his way to  America. Kościuszko is important as a general and statesman, especially in Poland and America;  however, in Bristol he was valued for his egalitarian values. At this time, Bristol merchants were still  involved in the triangular trade that made up the Atlantic slave trade.

Photo: British Poles

„In 1788 Bristol was the first city outside of London to set up a committee for the abolition of  transatlantic slavery. This was one of the first political campaigns in which women were allowed to be  involved. They played an active role – especially in the boycott of sugar. Hannah More became one of  the leading figures in the Abolition movement, and one of the few women involved in running the  national campaign. She used her writing talents to support the movement, inspired by her new-found  Evangelical Christian faith and friends such as William Wilberforce.” 

As a sign of friendship, Kościuszko left his ring to Bristol. This gold and  diamond ring is currently in the museum collection at Bristol Museum. The flat gold band with three lines of crude engraving around the outer  face. There is a circular setting with ten small diamonds around a centre  pear shaped diamond. Inside the ring is a faint inscription ‘A Pledge of Friendship from KOSCIUSZKO’. 

WHEN: 8 -23 June 2024. Opening hours:

Monday 9.30am to 5pm
Tuesday 9.30am to 7pm
Wednesday 9.30am to 5pm
Thursday 9.30am to 7pm
Friday 9.30am to 5pm
Saturday 10am to 5pm
Sunday 1pm to 5pm

WHERE: Central Library, 1st floor. College Green, Bristol, BS1 5TL

TICKETS: free of charge

From the editor: On Saturday, 15 June, at 3 p.m. at the Bristol M Shed museum, Dr. Stefan Cembrowicz will give a lecture about Tadeusz Kościuszko and his visit to Bristol. More info here.




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