by Debbie Majka, President, American Council for Polish Culture
February 2007Dear Members,
This year we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the first permanent colony in America, and I hope that as proud Americans with Polish roots, we will participate in the ceremonies taking place in Jamestown, Virginia.
In 2008, we will commemorate the arrival of the first Poles, who came at the invitation of Captain John Smith because their skills as craftsmen and experienced soldiers, were desperately needed for the survival of the colony. The late Wieslaw Kuniczak, in his book "My Name is Million", writes the following: "Yet only a year after the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1608, a contingent of Polish glassblowers, pitchmakers, and potash workers (and some Pomeranian Germans who had worked along with the Poles) came to the new colony on the Mary and Margaret, the first supply ship to make the voyage. This was no coincidence. Captain John Smith, one of the early governors, had spent some years in Poland, had fought beside the Poles against the Turks in Hungary, and had had the opportunity to observe the work of these artisans, whose craftsmanship had given Poland a near monopoly in the glass and naval suppy trades." Kuniczak further notes that Captain Smith was delighted with his Polish workmen and gave them full credit in published accounts.
In addition to the fact that the Jamestown glasshouses and the pitch and potash burners set up by the Poles were the first export industries on the American continent outside Spanish hands, Poles successfully staged the first strike for civil liberties in America. In 1619, when Governor Yeardley issued the call for an assembly meeting to organize the first representative legislative assembly in America and the beginning of our present legislative government, all native-born Englishmen wer eallowed to vote; all foreign-born Virginians were excluded. The Polish settlers and their families felt they had contributed quite enough to the survival of the colony, and when refused the right to vote said, "no vote, no work". Such was their value to Virginia's economy that the company in London immediately ordered their enfranchisement.
As this important anniversary in America's history approaches, I am deeply concerned that the Poles' significant contributions to the life of the Jamestown colony will go unrecognized. The Jamestown and Yorktown Foundation fails to admit and agree to the role played by our Polish pioneers. A recent article in "U.S. News and Word Report" made no mention of the Polish presence in its article about the Jamestown anniversary. I urge all to members to marshal all possible resources at your disposal to set the record straight. As Polish American Congress President, Frank Spula, has urged all PAC divisions, I also urge all our member affiliates and supporting organizations to sponsor events and programs that will highlight the accomplishments of those first Poles and the beginning of American Polonia.
An excellent resource is the Jamestown Lesson Plan, suitable for middle and high school level social studies classes, now available on our website: www.polishcultureacpc.org. We can all take a page from the book of our own Barbara Lemecha and Henrietta Nowakowska, co-chairs of ACPC's presence at the NCSS, who by establishing a close working relationship with representatives of two significant entities responsible for writing the curriculum on Jamestown, succeeded in getting the Polish aspects of the Jamestown story included into the lesson plan. Please bring the availability of this Jamestown lesson plan to the attention of educators in public and private middle and high schools in your respective areas.
In August, 2008, we will convene in Jamestown to honor the memory of those first Polish settlers; the Polish American Congress will celebrate the arrival of the Jamestown Poles in October, 2008. But, before any of these events can take place, we must bring the Polish presence in Jamestown to the fore. Please make this a priority for your organization in 2007-2008.
Deborah M. Majka