Franke: Immigrant Namesakes
by Mark Franke
This column is about immigration. And about the American War for Independence. And about Indiana counties. What do these three topics have to do with each other? Quite a bit, in fact, and it isn’t a stretch to see the linkages.
Leo Morris, my colleague at the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, recently wrote on op-ed piece on how the idea of legal immigration is lost in in all the excessive rhetoric in our fevered political discourse these days. His column prompted me to run a very unscientific poll at the touchstone of community political opinion — the barbershop.
My barber has three customers who are naturalized U.S. citizens: one from western Europe, another from eastern Europe and the third from the Middle East. Each is outspoken with pride in his new status and immensely grateful to this nation for accepting him and his family. None will stand for being classified as a hyphenated American; they all are simply “Americans” and citizens of the greatest nation on earth where liberty is the watchword. Their characterization, but one I endorse.
Now rewind to our War for Independence. Most of us who learned U.S. history back when they used to teach it honestly in our schools can recall that several foreign military officers came to America to cast their lot with our rebellion, and at a time when the outcome was in doubt and with odds long against the rebels. The most famous of these is the Marquis de la Fayette but there were others less well known.
Just drive around the state of Indiana and note the county names. I submit the following in illustration.
A few minutes north of my home in Fort Wayne is DeKalb County, named for Baron Johann de Kalb. De Kalb was a decorated German officer who left a fortune behind to come with his protégé Lafayette to serve in the American army. He was killed at the battle of Camden while leading a division of American troops.
Continuing into the northeast corner of the state is Steuben County, named for Friedrich Steuben. Although he had a solid military background in the Prussian army, his resume was exaggerated by Benjamin Franklin to get him noticed by George Washington. Thankfully, he got that attention. He was appointed inspector general of the Continental army and used the winter at Valley Forge to turn an armed rabble into a trained military force. After Washington I hold that he was the most important military contributor to our eventual victory. He remained in the United States and died virtually penniless.
Just west of Fort Wayne is Kosciusko County, named for Polish military engineer Thaddeus Kosciusko. He served throughout the colonies building fortifications including those at West Point. He fought for Polish freedom from Russian domination both before and after his service in America. He was captured by the Russians and eventually pardoned, and then emigrated back to the United States. He was heavily influenced by Thomas Jefferson’s writing on liberty.
Pulaski County in northwest Indiana is named for Polish nobleman, Kazimir Pulaski. On the losing side in one of the numerous Polish-Russian wars, he was stripped of title and property, and served time in a French debtors’ prison before finding enough funds to come to America at Benjamin Franklin’s instigation. He was appointed by Washington as the Continental army’s first commander of cavalry. He was killed outside Charleston in American service.
Finally, I come back to Lafayette. Fayette County in southeastern Indiana is named for him and LaGrange County in northeast Indiana is called after his ancestral estate in France. His contribution to our victory is well known, but his efforts to moderate the bloody excesses of the French Revolution are equally noteworthy. At least he died peacefully, honored here and in France.
Some may dismiss these men as soldiers of fortune, glory-seekers and outright hucksters in their promotion of fraudulent resumes. So what? Regardless of their motivation for coming here, they were all legal immigrants who pitched themselves into an unknown environment in support of what certainly looked like a losing cause. Losing cause or not, the principle of liberty was worth their risking all for.
Those who fight for liberty deserve to be honored. But I wonder how many residents of these six counties know whom they honor and why?
Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review, is formerly an associate vice chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.