Władysław Franciszek Jabłonowski was a high-ranking Black military general during the 18th century in Poland. He headed troops across Europe and the Caribbean under the highly grotesque French warlord and former schoolmate Napoleon Bonaparte. Jablonowski is the first known Polish general of African descent.
Wladyslaw Franciszek Jablonowski was born on the 25th of October 1769, Gdansk, Poland. Originally from a mixed ancestry, Wladyslaw was the product of an unlawful affair in Paris between British- born Princess Maria F. Dealire and an unnamed black butler of African descent. Dealire’s husband, a Polish nobleman and army colonel Konstanty Jablonowski, accepted the boy as his son regardless of shame and gave him the family name. As a result, Wladyslaw was considered Polish. Growing up as a child, Wladyslaw acquired the nickname “Murzynek” meaning a black person. Wladyslaw Jablonowski’s involvement with the military was due to the influence of his would-be stepfather.
In 1783, at the age of 14, Jablonowski enrolled in the elite French military school, Académie Militaire de Brienne, a branch of the Ecole Militaire de Paris. Well, that would have been a bad idea for Jablonowski. At this school, he first encountered Napoleon Bonaparte, the future emperor of France. Napoleon treated him with so much contempt and teased him for his darker skin. He was placed in the presence of constant bullying and racist taunts. Upon graduating at age 17, was commissioned a lieutenant in the largely foreign-born, German-speaking Royal Allemand Régiment of the French Army.
In 1794, hoping to free his homeland, Jablonowski was in Poland to fight in support of Kościuszko’s Uprising against the armies of Prussia and Russia. As a lieutenant colonel, he led Polish détachements in key engagements, most significantly the battles of Szczekociny, Maciejowice, Warsaw, and Praga and gained a reputation as a “good tactician and effective organizer.” He fought in the battles of Szcekociny, Warsaw, Maciejowice, and Praga. In 1799, he was made General of the Brigade of the Polish legions. During the French Revolution, he allied himself with forces opposing the Old Régime and avoided prison or exile.
When the conquest for independence was not feasible, Jablonowski escaped to Austria where he and his countrymen conspired to restore the independence of their homeland. He traversed some parts of Eastern Europe and the Ottoman Empire intending to garner support from other runaways to foster an offensive military incursion into Russian territory. He was unsuccessful. He returned to France and reenrolled in the French army. Under the command of his former nemesis, Napoleon, Wladyslaw headed both cavalry and infantry units fighting in Austria and Italy, most notably in the battles of Santa Maria di Falari, Magnano, and Cassano. When the rancors subsided, Jablonowski was briefly put in charge of the Polish Danube Legion comprised of several thousand troops, but his command was terminated when the legion was disbanded.
Wladyslaw’s loyalty and military prowess went unrewarded and ill-revered by Napoleon. Napoleon’s brother-in-law even made a personal appeal to him for promotion in May 1802. Unfortunately, Gen. Joachim Murat’s remonstrations were ignored. Finally, the intercession of Polish Gen. Jan Henryk Dabrowski (former commander of the Polish legionnaires) persuaded Napoleon to promote Jablonowski to brigadier general, but with the condition that he deploys to Saint-Domingue (Haiti). He was accompanied by his wife Anna Barbara Pênot de Loney.
Wladyslaw was tasked with the responsibility of leading Polish and French soldiers in suppressing the independence campaign of formerly enslaved Black Haitians led by Toussaint L’Overture. Eventually, his first month of combat was interrupted when he contracted yellow fever. He later died in the town of Jérémie on September 29, 1802, at the age of 33.