Was Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski a woman?

A DNA test performed on the bones of Polish Revolutionary War hero General Casimir Pulaski reveal several characteristics that suggest he may have been a woman, or intersex.

The bones were confirmed to be Pulaski's when they were tested against a DNA sample from one of his descendants. But it's what researchers found when they performed a DNA profile on Pulaski that has raised some eyebrows.

NBCNews:

“One of the ways that male and female skeletons are different is the pelvis,” Virginia Hutton Estabrook, an assistant professor of anthropology at Georgia Southern University, told NBC News. “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.”

While the Pulaski skeleton showed tell-tale signs of extensive horseback riding and a battle wound on the right hand that the general is known to have suffered, the facial structure and jaw angle were decidedly female, Estabrook said.

Estabrook said her team is not the first to suspect that Pulaski might not have been a man. Others also noticed the delicate bone structure after the skeleton was extracted from the Pulaski monument in Savannah, Georgia. The general was only between 5-foot-2 and 5-foot-4 inches tall.

Since the average male at the time was only 5'6", that's not much of an indication that Pulaski was a woman trying to pass as a man. Indeed, the DNA test found plenty of male hormones:

Was Pulaski aware of being different from the men around him?

“Probably he was not completely aware,” Estabrook said. “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 Pulaski never married. And while Pulaski’s letters reveal “he had a close relationship with a woman who ended up marrying a Polish prince,” it’s not clear whether there were any other women in his life.

“A lot of biographies play up that lost love romance angle,” Estabrook said.

"Intersex" is a loaded definition. There are millions of people walking around, living perfectly normal lives, who carry both male and female hormones or possess other characteristics of the opposite sex. It really isn't that big of a deal. It's not "transgenderism," or homosexuality and the variance in what constitutes "intersex" is wide.

Pulaski lived his life as a man. And what a man he was. As a cavalry officer, he was fearless in battle. He was killed during the seige of Savannah 1779 and was buried there. 

This interesting academic exercise shouldn't color opinions of Pulaski as a hero of the Revolution or a Polish-American icon. Nothing in his DNA changes his deeds or his many accomplishments, perhaps most notably, being known as "The Father of the American Cavalry."

 

A DNA test performed on the bones of Polish Revolutionary War hero General Casimir Pulaski reveal several characteristics that suggest he may have been a woman, or intersex.

The bones were confirmed to be Pulaski's when they were tested against a DNA sample from one of his descendants. But it's what researchers found when they performed a DNA profile on Pulaski that has raised some eyebrows.

NBCNews:

“One of the ways that male and female skeletons are different is the pelvis,” Virginia Hutton Estabrook, an assistant professor of anthropology at Georgia Southern University, told NBC News. “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.”

While the Pulaski skeleton showed tell-tale signs of extensive horseback riding and a battle wound on the right hand that the general is known to have suffered, the facial structure and jaw angle were decidedly female, Estabrook said.

Estabrook said her team is not the first to suspect that Pulaski might not have been a man. Others also noticed the delicate bone structure after the skeleton was extracted from the Pulaski monument in Savannah, Georgia. The general was only between 5-foot-2 and 5-foot-4 inches tall.

Since the average male at the time was only 5'6", that's not much of an indication that Pulaski was a woman trying to pass as a man. Indeed, the DNA test found plenty of male hormones:

Was Pulaski aware of being different from the men around him?

“Probably he was not completely aware,” Estabrook said. “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 Pulaski never married. And while Pulaski’s letters reveal “he had a close relationship with a woman who ended up marrying a Polish prince,” it’s not clear whether there were any other women in his life.

“A lot of biographies play up that lost love romance angle,” Estabrook said.

"Intersex" is a loaded definition. There are millions of people walking around, living perfectly normal lives, who carry both male and female hormones or possess other characteristics of the opposite sex. It really isn't that big of a deal. It's not "transgenderism," or homosexuality and the variance in what constitutes "intersex" is wide.

Pulaski lived his life as a man. And what a man he was. As a cavalry officer, he was fearless in battle. He was killed during the seige of Savannah 1779 and was buried there. 

This interesting academic exercise shouldn't color opinions of Pulaski as a hero of the Revolution or a Polish-American icon. Nothing in his DNA changes his deeds or his many accomplishments, perhaps most notably, being known as "The Father of the American Cavalry."