The Brooklyn NY subway map shows a predilection for heroes of the American War of Independence: 13 subway stops in all. This total is to be contrasted with Manhattan’s paltry 2, Boston’s measly 2 and Philadelphia’s disgraceful 0. This expression of patriotism in Brooklyn has its roots in the way streets and avenues were named back before 1898 when the Brooklyn Eagle had writers like Walt Whitman and when Brooklyn was still a proud city with a big league baseball team of its own and not a mere “outer borough.”
In Brooklyn, two signers of the Declaration of Independence are so honored: Benjamin Franklin with 3 stops and Charles Carroll with 1 stop; in addition, three other founding fathers are also so honored: John Jay with 1 stop, George Washington with 2 stops, and Alexander Hamilton with 3 stops (as Fort Hamilton).
But then there are the idealistic European aristocrats from three different countries who fought valiantly along with the Americans – a Frenchman (Lafayette), a German (DeKalb) and a Pole (Kosciuszko ) – and who are also honored with eponymous subway stops; in fact, DeKalb has 2 stops in his own name and Kosciusko also has a bridge named for him.
The Marquis de Lafayette served as Washington’s aide-de-camp and later, as a field officer, he played a key role in blocking forces led by Cornwallis until American and French forces could position themselves for the war-ending siege at Yorktown, VA. In 1917, upon arriving in France, Gen. Pershing, the head of the American Expeditionary Force in France, famously said “Lafayette, we are here.”
But who are the other two heroes with subway stations in Brooklyn? Mystère.
The Baron Jean DeKalb hailed from Bavaria and had a long career in the Bavarian Regiment of the French Army; for an image click HERE . Before the French Revolution and the introduction of the citizens’ army, the kings and princes of Europe relied on mercenaries (e.g. the Hessians at Trenton) and foreign regiments to supplement their standing armies; so DeKalb’s career path was not all that unusual for the day. In 1763, he was ennobled with the rank of Baron for his valor on the field of battle, then married well in France and installed his family in a chateau that still stands not far from Paris at Milon-La-Chapelle.
DeKalb first came to the colonies in 1768 on a spying mission for Louis XV’s government and then came back again in 1777 to join Washington’s army with the rank of Major General. He served at Valley Forge and in 1780 he led his division south to the Carolinas to join the force under General Horatio Gates, a hero of the Battle of Saratoga. Gates faced Cornwallis at the Battle of Camden in South Carolina on Aug 16, 1780 and suffered a disastrous defeat. DeKalb died a few days later from multiple wounds received during the battle; his epitaph at the Bethesda Presbyterian Church graveyard in Camden reads “Here lie the remains of Baron DeKalb – A German by birth, but in principle, a citizen of the world.”
Tadeusz Kosciuszko was a Polish nobleman, born at a time when Poland was being partitioned by encroaching foreign powers; for an image, click HERE . He was a brilliant military engineer, a hero of the Battle of Saratoga who was responsible for some key decisions that led to victory. Subsequently, he was entrusted with the task of fortifying West Point. It was his plans for the fortifications that Benedict Arnold (yet another hero of the Battle of Saratoga) tried to sell to the British.
But Kosciuszko and Lafayette both survived the war, went back to Europe and lived well into the 19th century. Did they retire to their estates or did they carry the torch of liberty back with them? Mystère.
In truth, both men did play significant roles in revolutions to come – but revolutions that did not quite have the “happy ending” of the American Revolution. Both men were jailed for their activism but both men kept the faith to the end.
Upon returning to Poland, Kosciuszko became involved in the struggle with Russia to keep part of Poland independent. He led an uprising there in 1794 against the occupiers, only to be defeated and imprisoned by the army of Catherine the Great. At that point in time, Poland became completely partitioned among the Prussians, Austrians and Russians and would not re-emerge as an independent country until 1919, the 13th of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points.
Kosciuszko was freed by Catherine’s son and successor, the czar Paul I. He then came back to the United States and renewed a friendship with Thomas Jefferson. During the American Revolution, Kosciuszko had taken a stand for the abolition of slavery and back in Poland, he called for the liberation of the serfs. In America, in 1798 he put together a will which placed Jefferson in charge of the American estate he had from Congress as a war hero; Jefferson was to use the funds from the estate to buy freedom for slaves and to provide for their education. Kosciuszko eventually went back to Europe and lived in Switzerland until his death in 1817. Before his death, he wrote to Jefferson urging him to carry out the terms of his will. But, Jefferson delegated others to take this on and the will was never executed as planned though the struggle over it reached the U.S. Supreme Court three times. As with so many things Jeffersonian, there is a debate about his role in this matter: on the one hand, the historian Annette Gordon-Reed called the will “a litigation disaster waiting to happen”; on the other hand, the biographer Christopher Hitchens wrote that Jefferson “coldly declined to carry out his friend’s dying wish.”
After the American War of Independence, Lafayette went back to France and soon became involved in the events that led to the French Revolution of 1789. After the fall of the Bastille on July 14, he was put in command of the Revolution’s National Guard, its security force. Lafayette was a co-author (aided, in particular, by Jefferson ) of the seminal Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and it was he who presented it to the National Assembly in August of 1789. But, in short time he fell afoul of the radical revolutionaries and fled France in 1792, only to be captured and jailed by the Austrians. He was later liberated at Napoleon’s behest, came back to France, but would not participate in Napoleon’s imperial government. After the latter’s fall and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in the person of Charles X, he served as a liberal member of the Chamber of Deputies, the new parliament. Charles X became increasingly autocratic and when the king moved to dissolve the Chamber of Deputies in July 1830, the Parisians cried “aux barricades” and launched the July Revolution. Lafayette took a leadership role and was once again named head of the National Guard.
However, Lafayette used his influence not to create a new republic but to bring to the throne a liberal monarch in the person of Louis-Philippe, a man who had spent time in the USA and who Lafayette believed shared his democratic views. Lafayette and his fellow citizens were soon disillusioned. Things came to a head in June 1832; after Lafayette’s oration at the funeral of an opponent of Louis-Philippe, angry Parisians once again erected barricades. Despite Lafayette’s call for calm, what is known as the June Revolution led to armed and bloody confrontation with the forces of the king. It is this June Revolution that is the background for the Broadway show Les Miz. The musical is based on the novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo who was an actual witness to the events of this revolution.
Lafayette was outraged by the bloody suppression of the June Revolution of 1832 and other acts of brutality by the state; at his death in 1834, Lafayette was still struggling for the rights of man.
By the way, Louis-Philippe, the last King of France, was finally dethroned by the Revolution of 1848.