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article imageHero of the American Revolution may have been a woman or intersex

By Karen Graham     Apr 7, 2019 in Science
Revolutionary War hero, Casimir Pulaski, dubbed the "father of the American cavalry" may well have been female or even intersex - according to a new documentary airing on Monday.
The Smithsonian Channel is airing a new documentary titled “The General Was Female?,” which premieres Monday, April 8, and is part of the “America’s Hidden Stories” series.
In the documentary, not only will Pulaski's early days among the Polish nobility to meeting Ben Franklin in Paris to leading cavalry charges in the Revolutionary War be examined, but the film will also follow a team of anthropologists as they examine the bones found at Pulaski's monument in Savannah and run state-of-the-art DNA tests in order to determine if the officer was female or if someone else was buried in the tomb.
Pulaski was mortally wounded by grapeshot while attempting to rally fleeing French forces during a cavalry charge at the Battle of Savannah, Georgia. Pulaski was carried from the field of battle and taken aboard the South Carolina merchant brig privateer Wasp, where he died two days later, on October 11, 1779, without ever regaining consciousness.
Count Casimir Pulaski. Copy of engraving by H. B. Hall  published 1871.
Hall  H. B.  Artist (NARA re...
Count Casimir Pulaski. Copy of engraving by H. B. Hall, published 1871. Hall, H. B., Artist (NARA record: 3123749)
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
There have been conflicting accounts of what happened to Count Pulaski's remains. While some accounts say he was buried at sea, accounts from the Wasp claim his remains were removed and taken to Greenwich plantation in the town of Thunderbolt, near Savannah, where he was buried.
In 1853, construction of the Casimir Pulaski Monument in Monterrey Square in Savannah was started. The statue was dedicated on January 9, 1855. The monument is said to have been "considered at the time one of the most elegant memorials in America."
Pulaski's remains were brought from Greenwich Plantation and buried alongside the monument. And for possibly the first time in Georgia, a time capsule was also buried. It should be noted that shortly after Pulaski's death, the United States Congress on October 29, 1779, passed a resolution that a monument should be dedicated to him. It took over half a century, and the Savannah monument was the first to be erected in his honor.
An 1805 Image of the  monument to General Pulaski in Savannah  Georgia. From the Robert N. Dennis co...
An 1805 Image of the monument to General Pulaski in Savannah, Georgia. From the Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views
Scan by the New York Public Library
Was the General a woman?
The question of Pulaski's sex came about in 1996 when restoration work on the monument was getting started. The supposed remains of Casimir Pulaski were exhumed. Charles Merbs, a forensic anthropologist at Arizona State University who worked on the case, said this allowed researchers to study the skeleton.
“Basically I couldn’t say anything about what I found until the final report came out,” Merbs told ASU Now. He worked with Dr. 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.”
Statue of Casimir Pulaski (Kazimierz Pułaski) in Warka  Poland.
Statue of Casimir Pulaski (Kazimierz Pułaski) in Warka, Poland.
Jimlaneyjr/ Wikimedia
Another researcher, 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.”
As Estabrook, pointed out, 20 years ago, DNA testing was nothing like it is today. But persistence paid off and researchers were able to confirm the skeleton is that of Casimir Pulaski through the mitochondrial DNA of Pulaski’s grandniece, known injuries and physical characteristics. The Smithsonian Institute funded the research.
One question we might ask is this - Was Pulaski aware of being different from the men around him? The research team says, probably not. Estabrook says, “What we do know about Pulaski is that there were enough androgens (male hormones) happening in the body so that he had facial hair and male pattern baldness. Obviously, there was some genital development because we have his baptismal records and he was baptized as a son.”
But historical accounts of Pulaski make sense now, say some researchers. Pulaski was portrayed by his contemporaries as being private and deeply driven, a fierce fighter and skilled horseman. He never married or had children. “I don’t think, at any time in his life, did he think he was a woman,” Merbs said. “I think he just thought he was a man, and something was wrong.”
80th Pulaski Day Parade in New York. It took place on October 1  2017
80th Pulaski Day Parade in New York. It took place on October 1, 2017
W2k2 (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The unexpected findings make perfect sense
Generally, we think of human sexuality as two distinct categories of either male or female. But that isn't exactly right. Actually, from one to two percent of human beings exhibit biological sexual ambiguity so that physically they cannot be classified as exclusively male or exclusively female. This condition is known to modern science as Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH).
According to a survey of medical literature from Brown University, "children could be born with characteristics – genital, chromosomal or hormonal – that put them outside the platonic ideal that for each sex there is a single, universally correct developmental pathway and outcome”.
But does it really matter that Count Casimir Pulaski may have been intersex? Speaking to NBC, the New York Pulaski Day parade president, Richard Zawisny, said he was “a little shocked” by the news Pulaski may have been a woman or intersex, reports the Guardian.
Pulaski  Virginia is located in Pulaski County. The town is named for Count Casimir Pulaski  a Polis...
Pulaski, Virginia is located in Pulaski County. The town is named for Count Casimir Pulaski, a Polish-American hero of the War for Independence.
IxieVerns (CC BY-SA 4.0)
“But in this day and age,” he added, “I don’t think it will matter to most people.” Nothing about Pulaski's DNA can change the fact that he was as a valiant soldier and exceptional cavalryman. In America, his valor was singled out by George Washington and the Continental Congress. Because of Pulaski's skill in leading four cavalry regiments in Washington's armies, he is credited as the Father of the American Cavalry.
This journalist comes from Pulaski County, located in Southwest Virginia. When my husband and I moved back to Pulaski, one of the very first things I learned was the history behind the naming of the county. And yes, Count Pulaski Day is celebrated there every year, just as it is in other towns and counties in the United States. Casimir Pulaski is a truly unique American hero.
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