Teofil Bartnicki first came to the U.S. in 1891 at the age of 16, then returned to his home in the German-occupied area of east-central Poland, where he apparently served in the military. In 1900, he was back in America, this time settling for good in Salem. He was among the most energetic community leaders of the first generation, serving with Wladyslaw Sobocinski and others in the St. Joseph Society to build the St. Joseph Hall and establish a local Polish parish. He appears to have played many roles in the Society and elsewhere in the community, including carrying money from immigrants back to their families in Poland. On one of these trips, he seems to have become caught up in homeland politics and was detained during the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1920-21.
One of Teofil's projects at the St. Joseph Society was to form a drill team (sometimes known as "Hussars" in Polish organizations). This was active between 1907 and 1921; the uniforms and precision drill movements recall both the long military lineage of which many Poles were deeply proud and the Austrian and Prussian martial traditions in which many Polish men, including Teofil, had been trained. Like the Chopin Choir and other expressions of Polish "high culture," the drill team made a statement about the glories of Polish history and culture, countering American stereotypes of Poles as merely peasant laborers.
In later life, Teofil seems to have decided to chronicle the history of the St. Joseph Society. One of his granddaughters recalls him spending hours in the basement writing in a big book, seemingly the large leather-bound ledger that is now in the collection of Salem Maritime NHS. The handwritten pages are in a somewhat archaic form of Polish and have only been translated for the first decade of the Society's existence, providing much of the detail that was used in this study's description of the early decades of the organization. The remaining records, extending into the 1930s, undoubtedly contain a rich wealth of information about Polish Salem in the early twentieth century.
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For more information on this subject, please see these pages in In the Heart of Polish Salem:
Last updated: February 26, 2015