Born to a noble Polish family in what is now Belarus, Tadeusz Kościuszko received an excellent military education at a military academy in Warsaw and a Parisian academy where he studied military and civil architecture. Following his education, he became a mathematics tutor for the daughters of a Polish general and after a failed elopement with one of the daughters he fled to the American colonies in 1776 to give his service to the American colonists in rebellion. He first worked as an engineer planning fortification around the residences of the Continental Congress. In the spring of 1777, Kościuszko became attached to General Horatio Gates' army in Fort Ticonderoga. The fortifications he built contributed to the surrender of John Burgoyne at Saratoga. For the next two years Kościuszko strengthened the fortifications at West Point, which Washington called the “key to America.” In March 1780 the Continental Congress appointed him chief of the engineering corps. Following this promotion, Kościuszko was sent to the southern theater where he served for the rest of the war. As a signal of their gratitude towards Kościuszko the United States granted him citizenship and promoted him to Brigadier General in the U.S. Army.
In 1784, Kościuszko returned to his native Poland but for political reasons could not secure a position in the Polish Army and for the next five years lived on the cusp of poverty in the Polish countryside. In 1789, Kościuszko gained the support of local nobility which was enough to gain him the rank of general major in the Polish army. Ever the proponent of liberty, Kościuszko authorized Thomas Jefferson that upon his death, his own funds would be set aside for the purchase of slaves in order to grant their freedom and provide them with an education. While serving in the Polish army, Kościuszko led a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful uprising against the nation's partition by Russia and other foreign powers. After several years of imprisonment in Russia, Kosciuszko returned to the United States, where he was welcomed as a hero. With Poland still under foreign control throughout the rest of his life, Kosciuszko never returned to his native land, and died in exile in Switzerland in 1817.