Melchior Kowalik: An Original Silesian Immigrant to Texas
by Janet Dawson Ebrom
A man who left few clues about his life has become prominent through his legacy of determination. Melchior Kowalik was born about 1814 in Silesia where he grew up in the parish of Wniebowzięcia NMP (Assumption of the BVM) in present-day Zębowice, Poland. The records of the Kowaliks’ parish church were destroyed during World War II, so Melchior’s baptism and marriage cannot be documented precisely. He was a young groom of about 23 years when he married Anna around 1837. Without sacramental records, her maiden name cannot be confirmed. The couple resided in Kadłub Wolny where their eight children were likely born: Franz (ca. 1838), Catharina (ca.1840), Johann (ca.1842), Marianna (ca.1847), Johanna (ca.1849), Thomas (ca.1852), and twins, Joseph and Josepha (ca.1856).
Tragedy must have befallen this vibrant family after the twins were born. It is highly possible that Melchior’s beloved wife Anna died in childbirth or shortly thereafter. When a German transportation agent named Julius Heinrich Schüler was working in the Opole area of Silesia in 1856, Melchior stalwartly arranged with him to take his family to America. Their contract included a list of the family members with their ages, so the approximate years of birth above are based on these ages that Melchior must have recited to Mr. Schüler: “Malcher Kowolik” [Melchior Kowalik], age 42; Franz, age 18; Catharina, age 16; Johann, age 14; Marianna, age 9; Johanna, age 7; Thomas, age 4; Joseph and Josepha, infants whose names have not yet surfaced in any other records. Melchior’s farming occupation was noted in German as “freigärtner” which translates literally as “free gardener.” Some of the children’s names also reflected German spellings as written by Schüler. Melchior’s wife, the mother of his eight children, is noticeably absent from the agent’s list indicating a terrible hardship for this courageous family. They left Europe in April of 1856 destined for Galveston, Texas. Imagine the older children on board ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean helping to care for the younger ones who missed their mother. It was this resilience in the face of difficulties that the Kowalik family brought to Texas—a strength that would manifest itself in their new Texas home.
From a tiny Silesian village to a fresh beginning in Panna Maria, this family persevered. Finally, a cause for celebration came with the wedding of Melchior’s eldest daughter. Catalina [Catharina] Kowalik married Anton Jendruś [Jendrush] on November 22, 1859. Their Immaculate Conception of the BVM marriage record translated from Spanish gives the names of the bride’s parents as Melchior and “Ana” with her mother’s name very hard to read. It has sometimes been misinterpreted as “Eva” (entry #16). Next, John [Johann] Kowalik married Anna Dziuk on January 16, 1866 (entry #34). The following year, Melchior’s oldest son, Francis [Franz] Kowalik, married Eva Jarząbek [Jarzumbek] on October 18, 1867. The groom’s parents are clearly given as Melchior and Anna Kowalik with Latin endings on their names (entry #40). Maria [Marianna], who was only nine years old when she made the voyage, got married in Panna Maria to John Wiatrek on January 12, 1869 (entry #47). At the end of that year, Anna [Johanna], who was seven when she left Silesia, married John Moczygemba (son of Thomas) on November 16, 1869 (entry #51). Both of these 1869 marriage records in Latin confirm the names of the brides’ parents as Melchior and Anna Kowalik. The last wedding of Melchior’s children was celebrated on July 13, 1875, when Thomas Kowalik married Hedwig Czerner (p.1, 2nd entry).
It is uncertain how many of his children’s weddings Melchior attended since his name in Texas records has been limited to the marriage documents of his daughters and sons. If Melchior had been present for the last wedding in 1875, he would have been about 61 years old. He would have witnessed the newlyweds, Thomas and Hedwig Czerner Kowalik, moving in to the lovely little rock home that still stands as a testament to a family with endurance. The house and land where the youngest Kowalik couple settled has remained in family hands for over a century. It is now owned by Betty and George Kowalik, the great-great grandson of Melchior, the family patriarch.
- Melchior Kowalik’s family is listed in the “Ravaged by War” section (p. 239) of Silesian Profiles II: Polish Immigration to Texas 1850s-1870s.
- The in-law families of Melchior Kowalik who have been fully profiled in the Silesian Profiles books are: Czerner (Vol. I), Dziuk (Vol. II), Jarzumbek (Vol. II), Moczygemba (Vol. I), and Wiatrek (Vol. II).