A Statement on the Smithsonian Documentary about Pulaski’s Skeleton as Female or "Intersex" (hermaphrodite)
The Affair at Egg Harbor Historical Society April 17, 2019
When History becomes more about the Future than the Past...
What we know and why it matters
The AEHHS, a New Jersey historical society, assesses the recently released documentary by the Smithsonian Institution as a work that raises questions which it does not answer. While technically well produced with a good eye for history, the 50-minute film (and associated published material through Smithsonian Magazine) seem very premature in terms of the state of research on the skeletal remains of General Casimir Pulaski (our Polish Kazimierz Pulaski). In short, their work introduces a novel question of ‘sex ambiguity’ about the historical personage without a full statement of evidence. Those omissions create confusion.
Presented in this way, the Pulaski skeleton story churns a mystery. A 'mystery' that, in fact, did not exist in the General's lifetime. The new story also could create confusion. There may be a tendency to go looking for evidence in Pulaski's life of any quality or circumstance that would question his obvious gender, or a sign that something was concealed. There is no such evidence in Pulaski’s very exhaustively researched life story. The historical record is unambiguous: Pulaski the general, and Pulaski the political leader, was also Pulaski the man. That is not going to change. That cannot change, because there is nothing in the historical record to replace it with.
While the current surge in interest in Pulaski may be more indicative of a search for a champion figure in history by a group of good people who are biologically different, rather than a breakthrough in science research (which it most certainly is not), the fact is that Pulaski deserves recognition for other reasons. His deeds and service in, and for two nations define his legacy.
The researchers acknowledge that scientific inquiry is in its infancy into the affects of the Intersex condition on bone structure. Those connections are the sole basis for the new Pulaski skeleton story; in fact, positive identification of Pulaski's sex is not claimed by the researchers. Absent identification of the actual geno-type, the case of Pulaski's skeleton is generalized by the researchers to conclude an Intersex finding. In other words, they can't confirm by tests Pulaski's sex either way, but the bones could fit an Intersex classification. Inductive reasoning, where the premises provide some of the evidence for a conclusion, is useful where the evidence is thin. This leaves the recent tests as only an interesting personal story which had no historically recorded evidence in his lifetime.
The Smithsonian documentary and the Questions that remain
The Smithsonian Institution, and the scientific research team itself, are saying at least three things at the same time; however none of it definitively addresses exactly, in terms of all possible clinical criteria, why the Pulaski skeleton is not male. The team states the skeleton has indicators of female physiology, while also offering that 'we don’t know what intersex skeletons look like.” Nor are there concrete parameters to the definition of 'Intersex', according to the World Health Organization. That does not sound like proof-positive that the skeleton is not that of a man-- indeed, the magazine speaks of 'confusion' over Pulaski's remains. Moreover, the billing headline of 'Woman or Intersex' plainly indicates that the sex actually is not known through this work. The advanced DNA technology cited by the study appears to have nothing to do with the question of sex-identification, even though that question is the core message of the finding, and, even though DNA is vital in other respects. Finally, and crucially, there is no positive (definitive) statement of geno-type/sequence (sex chromosome-pair in the XX/XY system) of the skeleton. On what basis then is the finding actually made that it is not male?
A minimum requirement on the part of the research team that it issue a statement addressing that specific question, fully and completely in science, is not an unreasonable expectation.
The Affair at Egg Harbor Historical Society/AEHHS is a N.J. non-profit corporation. We maintain 2 sites directly associated with the October 1778 Defense of Little Egg Harbor campaign, both of which are found on the National Register of Historic Places maintained by the U.S. Department of the Interior – NPS: The Pulaski Monument site on Radio Road, and the associated 'Headquarters' site ¾ mile away on Hollybrook Drive, behind Ocean County-Atlantis golf course (Little Egg Harbor Tnsp., N.J.).
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Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski in History:
The Defense of Little Egg Harbor in the American Revolution
The war-fighting principles and techniques of General Pulaski, envisioned by him as a game changer for the American Continental Army, could have been just that. Indeed, had they been fully embraced, nothing short of a conceptually new art of war would have been introduced in North America. The idea of cavalry-attack European-shock-action tactics in highly mobile formation warfare, while common in East-Central Europe, was simply unknown in practice in America and only vaguely understood even by the British. Pulaski would lay a plan to transform American horse troopers into an offensive force.
After his arrival in America, Pulaski was soon (in 9 months) appointed by Washington to an independent command of his own creation, the Pulaski Legion. The Legion's combined arms makeup, including cavalry, infantry and artillery in a single formation, was a radical idea. The Legion almost included a marine component, but the Continental Congress drew the line on its exorbitant cost. But the ‘legionary’ concept was one that would be consistently embraced over time by the later United States Army, following the revolution. The other truly innovative quality of the unit was its mobility. Warfare at the time of the American Revolution was a plodding exercise whereby infantry could consume as much as 3 days-time to move 25 miles; Pulaski knew a mobile force would cut that by two-thirds with a rapid rate of march. By late Summer 1778 the Pulaski Legion was mobilized, and, in its first deployment would be suddenly called into action by Congress in the emergency of October 1778 (one that for a time threatened Philadelphia itself). The engagement is known in history as The Defense of Little Egg Harbor.
The campaign would pit the Legion, at about 180 men, against a British amphibious-borne landing force of three times that number (complete with 20 long boats and 3 galleys, each with 18-pound cannon), not counting the 12-vessel Royal Navy flotilla-complement. The enemy landed unopposed at South Jersey's port of Little Egg Harbor in the first week of October, commencing a destructive raid and foraging operation on the Mullica River that leveled a settlement and farms. Nearly just as suddenly as it began, the attack was broken off with the entire force abruptly withdrawing upon word of the approach of an as yet-unidentified American unit —but one the British knew, from Tory intelligence, possessed both horse and cannon. Critically, the British realized that reaching their distant objective of a warehouse and ship fitting complex (Batsto-at-The-Forks) might now be a ‘bridge too far.’ Batsto was only 35 miles from Philadelphia.
Based on two independent accounts, Pulaski's rapid march from Trenton to the Atlantic coast on October 6-7 was achieved in less than 30 hours, or at a rate of march of some 22 miles a day. The British were temporarily stunned. The two forces would not then engage directly, but each gained enough knowledge of its respective opponent to know this would be neither a short nor bloodless affair.
The action resumed, in almost a repeated fashion, a week later when the British landed a smaller 250-troop force (behind the protection of an island and salt marsh) on the upper bank of the Mullica River. A probing force managed to overrun an outpost on the upland, while the Legion's main camp was tactically positioned to the rear, so situated to block the enemy’s advance to a key road by either of two routes. That complex defensive scheme nonetheless proved useful even though the British clumsily attacked and butchered the outpost, thus betraying their carefully-laid plan, 5 hours in execution, of a secret advance. Pulaski's subsequent counter attack with his light dragoons, some 60 horse and a swarm of infantry, caused a second panicked withdrawal of British light infantry back to the island and on to their ships.
Following the battle of October 15, 1778, the sizable expedition finally gave up the effort to reach its 'Batsto' objective, returning, after 3 weeks out of New York, to that harbor. The collapse of the Little Egg Harbor expedition would shortly be a topic of ridicule by Thomas Paine in his famed American Crisis series. The battle was also briefly recounted in the Papers of the Continental Congress.
Pulaski thus validated his concept of combined arms, mobile warfare by leveraging a relatively small force to meet and defeat a superior attacking force, even one with the advantage of descending at will from the sea by virtue of the Royal Navy. The British had yet to experience such an opponent-- but knew well enough to withdraw because light infantry were no match for dragoons--something which contributed to the Pulaski Legion's reputation as an elite formation as recounted in the recent TV documentary. The British, for other reasons, had already decided to strategically re-direct the war to the Southern Colonies. The Defense of Little Egg Harbor proved to be not only a capstone to the end of the King's Northern campaigns, but also a precursor to the relief of American forces by Pulaski's Legion at Charleston (South Carolina) the following year.
For more information about the history, physical sites and our program in New Jersey, contact The Affair at Egg Harbor Historical Society/AEHHS at: Pulaskimonumentlehnj@gmail.com