Mon, Apr 08, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Washington’s Polish general may have been a woman

SMITHSONIAN DOCUMENTARY:Researchers believe Casimir Pulaski’s skeleton indicates the 18th-century cavalry officer might have been female or intersex

The Guardian

Researchers believe a famed Polish general who fought in the American Revolutionary war may have been a woman or possibly intersex.

A new Smithsonian Channel documentary examines the history of Casimir Pulaski, a Polish cavalryman who became a protege of George Washington.

Researchers began their work when a monument to the general in Savannah, Georgia, was set to be removed. Pulaski’s bones were contained in a metal box under the monument erected in 1854.

Charles Merbs, a forensic anthropologist at Arizona State University (ASU) who worked on the case, said that allowed researchers to exhume the skeleton for study.

“Basically I couldn’t say anything about what I found until the final report came out,” Merbs told ASU Now.

He worked with Karen Burns, a physical anthropologist at the University of Georgia, and other experts.

“Dr Burns said to me before I went in: ‘Go in and don’t come out screaming.’ She said study it very carefully and thoroughly and then let’s sit down and discuss it. I went in and immediately saw what she was talking about. The skeleton is about as female as can be,” Merbs said.

Another team member, Virginia Hutton Estabrook, a Georgia Southern University professor of anthropology, told NBC News: “One of the ways that male and female skeletons are different is the pelvis. In females, the pelvic cavity has a more oval shape. It’s less heart-shaped than in the male pelvis. Pulaski’s looked very female.”

The most immediate question was whether the skeleton was indeed Pulaski’s. Previous researchers had failed to identify the bones, lacking DNA for a match.

“It is remarkable that the will to persist in this project continued more than a decade after it was declared by a team of experts that this was as far as it could possibly go,” Estabrook said.

This time, researchers were able to confirm the skeleton through the mitochondrial DNA of Pulaski’s grandniece, known injuries and physical characteristics.

Pulaski was raised as a man in an aristocratic Polish Catholic family, learning to fight and ride. He put those skills to the test against the invading Russians before leaving Poland in 1772 and finding his way to Paris.

According to the documentary, the American delegation there sent him across the Atlantic with letters of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin.

Pulaski joined the American forces and on Sept. 11, 1777, fought the British at Brandywine, probably saving Washington from capture in a damaging defeat.

The Pole went on to formalize the American cavalry.

He was fatally wounded at the Siege of Savannah in October 1779, dying aboard ship days later.

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