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For more than two hundred years; Polish Americans have shared their culture, customs and strong devotion to American democracy with fellow citizens. From Revolutionary War Generals Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Casimir Pulaski to international men of goodwill such as His Holiness Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa, we have come to know and respect the culture, customs and spirit of Polish Americans.
In Texas, Poles have been a part of the history and growth of our state since 1836 when Felix Wardzinski, Michael Dembinski and Frederick Lemsky fought for Texas' independence with Sam Houston and James Fannin. The contributions continue today with Dr. Mieczyslaw Bekker, who designed the Moon Rover vehicle for NASA in Houston.
The history of our ancestors immigration to the Lone Star State of Texas must never be forgotten. There were two waves of Polish immigration to Texas: Panna Maria, Karnes County, 1854 and Waverly, Walker County, 1867. These immigrants brought their beautiful culture and the Catholic faith from Poland to Texas where they built churches and homes.
Panna Maria, Karnes County, 1854
The first organized settlement of Polish immigrants in America was founded at Panna Maria in Karnes County, Texas, in 1854; then other organized groups followed. It was a time of the wild wild west with six shooters and Indians. The Catholic Poles who founded Panna Maria came from Silesia (Opole district) which was then under German (Prussian) rule. After the failure of the revolution in 1848, the Poles found their situation more and more hopeless. A Franciscan monk, Father Leopold Moczygemba, born in the little Silesian village of Pluznica, had been working in Texas among German Colonists since the 1850s'. He decided to help his countrymen to come over and settle in Texas.
In the fall of 1854, as a result of Father Leopold's efforts, about a hundred families from his home village and from nearby villages (among them four Moczygemba brothers) left their homeland forever. Having sold their farms and packed their belongings, including bedding and farm equipment, they arrived by train at the German seaport of Bremen in late September 1854. After nine weeks of sailing on the ship "Weser", they landed in Galveston, Texas. Thereupon, they rented Mexican carts to transport their belongings, walked through Indianola, a small town on the Texas Gulf Coast, and onward to the place chosen for them by Father Moczygemba. According to tradition, they reached the site at a hill overlooking the junction of the San Antonio River and Cibolo Creek on Christmas Eve 1854.
Here beneath a large oak, they offered their first midnight Mass and named the place Panna Maria (Virgin Mary). Their new community was named after the famous, beautiful St. Mary's Church (Kosciol Mariacki) in the capital of the Polish Kings in Krakow, Poland. This first group was followed by other immigrants in 1855, 1856, and 1857. The Texas heat, a fourteen month drought and a rugged terrain caused the Polish migration to Texas to stop within a few years. Those who came suffered many hardships here in Texas; some even left and migrated to the Midwest, in hopes of a better life.
What did the settlers find at this site in the 1850s'? They found open prairies which were to be plowed. For the first time, the early settlers were exposed to new dangers from nature and the elements, i.e. hot summers, drought, snakes, and insects. Because their language, customs, and culture were strange to the other people living in the area, they were not completely accepted. But the Polish pioneers survived and made a living.
In 1856 the first church was built. It was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and Saint Leopold. This church was destroyed by lightning in 1877. A new church was built in 1877-78 and this church is still standing. Having been remodeled in 1937, it was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Remodeling has also been done in the 1990s'. From 1858 the children were taught reading and writing and in 1868, St. Joseph's School - the first Polish School in America - was established in Panna Maria. Today this building is used as the Museum of the Panna Maria Historical Association.
Descendants of these Polish pioneers, many of whom still speak Polish, may be found in the surrounding townships of Karnes, DeWitt, Wilson, Bexar and Bandera counties, e.g. in settlements established by the Poles such as: Czestochowa, Pawelekville, Kosciuszko, St. Hedwig, and Bandera.
In 1966, Panna Maria celebrated with the whole Polish nation the Millennium of Poland's Christianity. On May 3, 1966, the 175th anniversary of the Polish Constitution of 1791, the late Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States, invited to the White House prominent Americans of Polish Descent and special guests to celebrate Poland's Christian Millennium and the anniversary of nationhood. To this historical ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House were invited three representatives of Panna Maria. The President of the United States honored our Polish community by a special gift - a mosaic of the Black Madonna - a copy of the famous Madonna of Czestochowa in Poland, made by Jan E. Krantz. This mosaic was a gift of the American Polonia from President Johnson.
The colony of Panna Maria, Texas has never sought worldly greatness. Its people were tillers of the soil, preferring to lead simple lives close to nature and the God of nature.
The Second Wave:  Waverly, Walker County, 1867
Poles settled in East Texas in the antebellum period. Let us set the stage for the time frame when the Polish immigrants came to Southeast Texas. The Civil War started on April 12, 1861; Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865; and Andrew Johnson became the President of the United States. When the Civil War ended in May of 1865, the Governor of Texas was James S. Hogg.
In the 1860s' the Texas Land, Labor and Immigration Company was formed under an Executive committee with Thomas Affleck from Washington County as the General chairman. Agents operated south of France very successfully; others in Scotland and England. Offers were made in Poland, Holland and Belgium. Mr. Affleck crossed the ocean in December, 1865, to see how matters stood in Europe and on his way through the North, published letters calling attention to Texas.
After the Civil War, the plantation owners needed a labor force because of the emancipation of the African American slaves. Some cotton planters met on September 19, 1866, and organized the Waverly Emigration Society. C. T. Traylor was elected President and Colonel H. M. Elmore was elected secretary of this society. They met in a general store in Old Waverly, Walker County, Texas, owned by James Meyer Levy, a Polish Jew.
Mr. Levy voyaged to his homeland in 1867 and recruited laborers from his home village of Exin (today known as Kcynia), Slupy, Smogulec, Szubin and the surrounding areas in Poland. Correspondence reviewed in the John Hill Papers at the American History Center in Austin, Texas indicated that Mr. Levy arrived in New York in April of 1867. We have located the passenger records and have confirmed their arrival in New York, on April 9, 1867, aboard the SS City of Antwerp vessel. On April 13, 1867, Mr. Levy notified W. W. McGar in Galveston, that he needed funds to complete his journey to Texas.
Ten days later, twenty-nine families arrived in Galveston on April 23, 1867, aboard the Steamship, C. W Lord with Mr. Ward as their captain. The C. W. Lord was a coastal steamer from New York. The Galveston Daily News reported that 110 immigrants arrived. Passengers lists for Galveston are not available since Galveston was not their port of entry.
A document in the John Hill papers shows that a telegram was sent on April 23, 1867, from Galveston and funds were remitted to the teamsters in Houston. On Apri1 24, 1867 the amount of $169.00 was paid for the passage of the immigrants to Houston. It is believed that they then journeyed to Waverly (Walker County), the cradle of Polish immigration for Southeast Texas.
We have located four contracts which were executed for three years on August 14, 1867 in Waverly. Men were paid $90, the first year; $100 the second year, and $110, the third year. The women were paid $70, the first year; $80, the second year; and $90, the third year. Contracts were signed by Anton Kazmierowski, Rozalia Kaminski, widow of Andreas Kaminski; Carl Scibinski and Michael Wrypkowski with Col. John Hill.
The original belief was that all families lived on plantations in Waverly for their contract period. However, research efforts have revealed that the following families were in Austin County in the 1870s': Abrahamczik, Bilski, Dutkiewicz, Kazmierowski, Pawlak, Scibinski, Wegner, Wedell and Wesolek. Their baptism, marriage and death records in those early years can be found at St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Frelsburg and Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Industry. The Immigration and naturalization records in Bellville (Austin County) confirm their presence. They are primarily residing in the towns of Industry, Welcome, and Wesley. It is not known why they did not all stay in Walker County.
Correspondence to Poland brought more Polish immigrants to the Lone Star State of Texas. Polish communities later established were: Anderson, Brenham, Bremond, Bryan, Chappell Hill, Marlin, Plantersville, and Stoneham. In later years, the Poles moved to Bellville, Richmond and Rosenberg. T. Lindsay Baker, author of The Polish Texans, believes about 200 Polish families were in Houston at the turn of the century. After World War I and II, more Poles moved from the rural areas to the large cities for economic reasons.
These immigrants made many sacrifices and suffered hardships in a new and strange land. Today their descendants are reaping the benefits of this beautiful land we call home "America". It is hard for us to visualize their sacrifices in our mobile society of today. Let us step back for a minute and imagine how it would feel to leave America, our beloved homeland, to never return. Many left parents, brothers and sisters, never to see them again. Could we leave our family behind today and move to a foreign country and suffer all of the prejudices these immigrants endured?
The goal of the Polish Genealogical Society of Texas is to preserve this history for future generations so that our heritage will not be forgotten.
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Page Updated:  2018.09.01
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