A war hero of two countries, Poland and the United States, cavalry general Casimir Pulaski was. a woman, suffering from congenital adrenal hyperplasia. This is confirmed by researchers at Georgia Southern University in the documentary “The General Was Female?” which will air next week as part of the Smithsonian Channel’s “America’s Hidden Stories” series.
Kazimierz Pulaski, born in Warsaw in 1745, was one of the commanders of the Bar Confederacy. After its fall in 1772, he had to emigrate and ended up in the United States. There he became famous in the War of Independence against Great Britain. He was even called the father of the American cavalry. He died in 1779 during the siege of Savannah.
He was buried on a nearby plantation, from where his remains were moved in 1854 to a special memorial on one of the city’s squares. In 1996, a coffin with the inscription “Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski” was opened and examined. The problem was that the examination of the skeleton indicated that a woman had been buried in it. After many years of research, the mystery has only now been cleared up.
Examination of the skeleton indicated a female pelvis and skull bones, especially the mandible, so it was doubted whether the remains actually belonged to the general. To clarify this, Chatham County coroner Dr. James C. Metts Jr. visited Poland in 1998 to obtain DNA from someone related to Pulaski and make a comparison. The general’s great-great-great niece was exhumed to collect the sample. The samples were not tested for many years due to lack of funding. It was not until 2015 that they were revisited.
The truth of DNA
Researchers at Georgia Southern University received money for DNA testing from the Smithsonian Channel television; their analysis confirmed that the skeleton did indeed belong to Casimir Pulaski. Professor Virginia Hutton Estabrook, who received bone samples from the 1996 study after she began working at GSU, played a major role in the research. Working with her was her student Lisa Powell, daughter of historian Chuck Powell, who was a member of the original team of researchers 23 years ago.
Lisa Powell received a box with all the notes from her father. The ladies were also introduced to the skeleton analyses conducted by the late Dr. Karen Burns, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Georgia. The team also included Dr. Megan Moore, an anthropologist at Eastern Michigan University, who analyzed available data on signs of hermaphroditism that might be evident in the skeleton. Archaeologist Daniel Elliot, on the other hand, assisted in the study of cartridge shells donated by the great-grandson of an army doctor who claimed they wounded Pulaski.
Doubts about Pulaski’s gender were likely the result of congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which caused the female body to also produce large amounts of male hormones. One of the paper’s authors, Virginia Hutton Estabrook of GSU, told the Chicago Tribune that this is virtually the only explanation for the combination of features observed in the general’s remains.
More details will likely be known after “The General Was Female?” airs on the Smithsonian Channel and the results are published in the Journal of Forensic Anthropology.