How Warsaw Got Its Name

From a letter to the editor:

I am often asked if I know how Warsaw got its name. No one knows for certain, but Arch Merrill once suggested that it was derived from an Indian word, perhaps Mohican or Delaware, "wawarsing" meaning a winding road, allegedly referring to Oatka Creek. There is another community in eastern New York State with that name. Another suggestion is that its name comes from an Indian phrase meaning "broad bottom lands."

My belief is that our town was named after Warsaw, Poland. In 1803, the official year of our founding, the Scottish novelist Jane Porter, who later authored The Scottish Chiefs, published Thaddeus of Warsaw based on the career of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Polish nobleman who fought on the side of the Thirteen Colonies in the American Revolution. Kosciuszko held the rank of colonel in Horatio Gates's army at Saratoga and later directed the fortification of West Point. After that war he returned to Poland to organize the Polish people in their struggle for independence against the King of Prussia and the Czar of Russia. Their last great battle was fought in Warsaw, Poland, where Kosciuszko successfully combined regular military forces with irregular militia, an idea he got from George Washington. Kosciuszko later was offered a command in Napoleon's army but rejected it without guarantees of Poland's independence after the conquest of Europe.

Naming American communities after foreign cities and countries is not at all unusual in New York State. In our own area we have Batavia, China (later Arcade), Castile, Java, Bergin, Chili, Caledonia (an old Roman name for Scotland), Syracuse, Rome, Troy, Utica, and a host of others. It makes sense that just as Batavia got its name from Holland's colonial capital of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), in recognition of the Holland Purchase, Warsaw got its name from the most famous international freedom fighter in the era of its founding.

While in exile after the struggle in Poland, Kosciuszko continued to remain in touch with Jefferson and other American leaders, returning to Washington, D.C. to visit with friends. He remained a hero with the American people like other foreigners who fought for American independence, the Marquis de Lafayette, Baron von Steuben, and Count Casimir Pulaski, Kosciuszko's countryman who fell at the Battle of Saratoga. Jane Porter's novel became a major best seller, going into many editions throughout the 19th Century. Sir Walter Scott credits Jane Porter with the invention of the historical novel. Her other best seller, The Scottish Chiefs, most recently appeared as the motion picture Brave Heart, which won several Academy Awards for Mel Gibson. It also reflects Jane Porter's sympathy for the freedom of all subject people, in Poland, in Scotland, and in America.

Harvey Granite
66 Park Street