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Polonia:
United States of America
Panna Maria, Texas

Many historians consider Panna Maria, Texas to be the oldest permanent Polish settlement in America. Many historians also point to Parisville, Michigan as first Polish pioneering settlement here. While neither group were the first Poles in America, they were the first to establish themselves as a lasting community. History records Polish glass blowers were at Jamestown, VA in 1608 working as glass blowers for the London Company of Britain, and there are many accounts of others (see History Time Line). However, no Polish colony existed before the time of Panna Maria and Parisville. Therefore, we honor both ancestral communities with a page for their pioneering efforts.

PANNA MARIA, TEXAS
Oak Tree"The enduring oak tree has seen the passing of many generations. Our search is a desire to know those who shared in a part of it's time."

Father Leopold Moczygemba:

Panna Maria (meaning Virgin Mary in Polish) was established in 1854 and is the oldest permanent Polish settlement in the USA.

Father Leopold Moczygemba founded the historic Polish community of Panna Maria. He came to Texas in 1852 to serve the religious needs of German communities that had already been established. In letters to his family in Silesia, he spoke of the possibilities of an improved life for them in Texas. News that was share by his family with friends.

In 1854, about one hundred families made the journey to Texas and a the new Polish community of Panna Maria was born from their courage, fortitude and desire to find a better live.

Father Leopold Moczygemba (1824-1891): The son of of Leopold and Ewa (Krawietz) Moczygemba, Father Leopold was born on October 18, 1824 in Pluznica, a small community in Upper Silesia area of Poland. In 1843, the young Leopold made the decision to take on the devoted life of a Catholic priest. His early service was in northern Italy and then Bovaria before his calling took him to Texas in 1852.

Today, Panna Maria's population has dewindled to less than the original numbers that settled here. In the year 2000, less than one hundred citizens were still living in Panna Maria. The symbolic "old oak tree" near which the they built their church remains standing as a historic living reminder of the first settlers. The church itself has been rebuilt.

Resources on Father Moczygemba:

The Moczygemba Families and Descendants
Fr. Leopold Moczygemba
Father Leopold Moczygemba memorial
Photo courtesy of Richard Lysiak

Joe Moczygemba and second wife Carolyn Szyg~da.
- Joe was the brother of Father Leopold. Joe was among the first group to leave Silesia on the ship Weser. Joe's first wife, Tekla Zaionc~ is presumed to have died on the voyage.


Joe Moczygemba Jr. and wife Elizabeth.
- Joe Jr. was drafted into the Confederate army but switched sides at a later point in the war. Their descendants settled in the village of Kosciuszko, Texas.


Photos are courtesy of Robert Pawelek, great-great-grandson of Joe Moczygemba Sr.


Articles

Panna Maria, Texas:
The First Polish Settlement in America
by Richard Lysiak, junior

Many know that the largest settling of Poles outside of Poland is in Chicago, Illinois. What few know is that the first Polish settlement in America was in Texas, south of San Antonio, in a place called Panna Maria.

There were Poles in Texas before Panna Maria. There were Poles in the failed French colony of Champ D'Asile, near present day Liberty, Texas. Polish veterans of the failed revolt of 1831, joined the Texan army during the Texas Revolution. Several Poles fought under Fannin at Goliad in 1836, suffering execution by the Mexicans, along with most of the rest of Texans who had surrendered. A survivor mentions the Texas artillery was commanded by "tall fine-looking Poles". There were Poles in Sam Houston's Army that defeated the Mexicans at San Jacinto, winning independence for Texas. Frederick Lemsky, was one of the musicians who played "Come to the Bower" as the Texas Army charged the Mexicans at San Jacinto. Felix Wardzinski, was present at the capture of General Santa Anna, the Mexican dictator. But these individuals, like those elsewhere in America were acting alone.

In 1852 a young Franciscan priest named Leopold Moczygemba, was assigned to serve the German community of New Braunfels in Texas. He was soon writing glowing letters to his friends and family in Silesia urging them to move to Texas. Born in 1824 at Wielka Pluznica, upper Silesia, Father Leopold, was received into the Franciscan Order in 1849 and volunteered for missionary service in Texas. By 1854, he had moved from New Braunfels to Castroville, and was soon to see the fruits of his letters home.

In early December 1854 a group of about 150 Poles from Upper Silesia arrived in Galveston, Texas. Among them were the father and brothers of Father Leopold ( a nephew Thomas Moczygemba, born in Panna Maria would be the first native Polish Texan to be ordained). They had traveled nine weeks on the sailing ship "Weser", they then walked the 200 miles to the place picked out for them by Father Leopold. They reached a site 60 miles south of San Antonio, a hill that overlooks the junction of the San Antonio River and Cibolo Creek. According to tradition they arrived Christmas Eve 1854, and beneath a large oak, the offered their first Mass, and named their new home Panna Maria.

During the next few years more immigrants from Poland would arrive in Texas, about 1500 in all. The first years were hard, they were subjected to heat, fever and Indian attacks. The unexpected conditions discouraged the settlers. Some even suggested hanging Father Moczygemba! One story told is that a group of new arrivals were invited to dinner by the good Father. After listening to their stories of hardship, he assured them that the worst was over, at that moment a rattlesnake fell out of the roof and onto the dinner table.

While some of the early settlers moved to San Antonio, and other sites, the rest began building their community. The first homes were of wood and mud with grass roofs. In February of 1855 Father Leopold recorded the first baptism and in early spring plans were started for the construction of their church. On September 29, 1856, Father Leopold said the first Mass in first Polish church in America.

The new settlement had its growing pains. By the late 1850's the bulk of Polish immigration was to San Antonio, new settlements arose in Bandera in 1855, and St. Hedwig in 1857. The Civil War was a terrible time in Texas, and the years immediately afterwards were worse. Although newly arrived and with little in common with the slave-owning southerners, the Poles formed the Panna Maria Greys. This cavalry unit was mustered into Confederate service and saw action in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. The different language, dress and customs of the Poles and suspected Union sympathies caused problems with Anglo Texans during these years. But still the community continued. In 1866, St. Joseph's the first Polish school in America was started in Panna Maria. The first classes were held in a shed adjoining the church, but within two years a two story schoolhouse and rectory had been built. Sisters from the Order of Divine Province from Castroville were to be the teachers. Their first task through was to learn Polish, as the parents insisted the children learn both English and Polish!

In reality the site at Panna Maria was a poor choice. The land was poor and plagued with drought fever, insects and as already noted rattlesnakes. Many of the early settlers moved on to new Polish communities. By 1880 Texas had 17 Polish Catholic parishes, more than any other state. In 1884 the railroad bypassed Panna Maria. Most of the business in Panna Maria, moved to Falls City or Karnes City with were situated on the Railroad.

Today Panna Maria, consists of little more than three buildings. The original church was hit by lightning and destroyed by fire was rebuilt in 1877. This plain white structure was remodeled in 1937 and is still in use today as the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. The school building remains but is now a museum. John Twohig,s barn, one of the first brick buildings in Panna Maria built 1855, and today is Snoga's Grocery and Post Office. Panna Maria, Texas is located about 50 miles southeast of San Antonio, Texas - 11 miles west on FM 81 off of Texas Highway 123. On the second Sunday of October every year, Panna Maria, hold a reunion and Turkey dinner. The proceeds of the dinner are used for the restoration of the Church.

Sources:

  • The Millennium History of Panna Maria, Texas "The Oldest Polish Settlement in America 1854-1966. By the Rev. Anthony J. Matula, 1966
  • The Polish Texans, By T. Lindsay Baker, The University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio, Texas, 1982
  • The Polish Texans, The University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio, Texas, 1972
  • Travel Notes, By Stefan Nesterowicz "a translation of Notatki z podrozy "1909, translated and Annotated by Marion Moore Coleman, Cherry Hill Books, Cheshire, Conn, 1970
  • My Name is Million, by W. S. Kuniczak, Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, NY, 1978
  • Pamphlets and postcards collected by the author while in Panna Maria.
  • Inside Church
    Inside view of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. (Photo courtesy of Richard Lysiak)




    Our thanks to Richard Lysiak Jr. for providing us with permission to share this article with viewers of ATPC.

    Resources on Poles in Texas:

    Articles:

  • The Handbook of Texas Online - Search "Polish"
  • A Quiet Time in the Old Town - by Bob St. John of Dallas Morning News
  • Panna Maria, Difficult First Years - by Jaga Urban-Klaehn
  • Small Community Cherishes Treasure of Polish Church - by John Chapman of Virtual Texan
  • Panna Maria and Difficult Neighbors from Helena - by Jaga Urban-Klaehn
  • Background of German settlement that preceded the Poles - by Bob Schulz
  • Beginnings of the Polish Colonization in America, Panna Maria - by Jaga Urban-Klaehn

    Sites:

  • Panna Maria Historical Society
  • Panna Maria, Texas USA
  • 1880 Census Karnes Co. (Lists Polish families)
  • Photos, Panna Maria Church Re-dedication
  • Polish Texans - PGSA of Texas
  • Logo ATPC