Thomas Piegsa and Johanna Respondek from Prusków, Silesia
by Janet Dawson Ebrom
In the late 1840s, after serving in the first Danish-Prussian War, Thomas Piegsa, the son of John and Josephine Piegsa, was welcomed home to Silesia. Thomas married Johanna Respondek, and they were blessed with two sons, Joseph, born circa 1850, and Franz, born circa 1853. The family resided in the Silesian village of Prusków. Making a courageous decision to leave their homeland for America, they registered with an immigration travel agent, Julius Heinrich Schüler, who arranged their transportation. He recorded the family as: Thomas Piegsa, age 31, Johanna Respondek, age 28, Joseph, age 6, and Franz, age 3 (passengers 124-127). Johanna may have been expecting another son at the time because their baby Thomas was born after they had been listed to travel. Without baptism records, their exact birth dates cannot be confirmed. The sacramental volumes of their parish, Wniebowzięcia NMP [Assumption of the BVM], in Zębowice were destroyed during World War II, but thankfully, the Schüler Agency List provided their ages. Schüler also noted that Thomas Piegsa was a häusler which meant a farmworker who owned a cottage. Thomas, Johanna, and their sons set sail to the New World on April 1, 1856, and settled in Victoria, Texas, where they introduced the Piegsa surname; piegża is the Polish word for a “hedge sparrow,” a small, brownish European songbird (Hoffman, page 386).
Within two years of the Piegsa family’s arrival, a son named Stanislaus was born on September 24, 1858, and baptized at St. Mary Catholic Church in Victoria (page 99, entry #698). Becoming established in Texas, Thomas registered his cattle brand [see left] depicting his reversed initials on October 14, 1859 (Victoria Marks and Brands, page 184). Then Thomas purchased a town lot in Victoria (Victoria Deeds, Vol. 8, page 589) and was neighbors with about 25 other newcomers from Silesia. With immigrants from many other foreign countries, “Victoria County was notably cosmopolitan in the makeup of its population…” (Grimes, page 244).
The Piegsa family was comfortably settled by the time the census taker visited them in the summer of 1860 and recorded them with a misspelled surname “Peisgon.” He noted their first names and ages as follows: “Thos,” age 35, Anna, age 32, “Vash,” age 10, Frank, age 8, “Thom,” age 5, all born in “Poland Ger.” since Silesia was under Prussian rule at the time. Having already served in the Prussian army as a young man, Thomas may have had more experience than some of the other Silesian immigrants in Victoria when he was inducted into the Texas Militia. Private Thomas Piegsa appeared in an enrollment of men subject to military duty with Captain E. Teitz in Victoria Town Precinct on June 1, 1861 (muster roll 602).
By 1862, Thomas owned three lots in Victoria valued at $150 according to the tax records. He and Johanna welcomed another baby boy when Charles was born on October 31, 1864, and baptized the following day at St. Mary’s (page 24, 1st entry). In 1865, a Confirmation list included a child named George Peter “Pieksa” (#23); in 1867, “Franek Pieksa” was also confirmed at St. Mary’s. Sadly, two of the Piegsa sons died in infancy, and another died during the yellow fever epidemic in 1867 (Victoria Advocate, August 30, 1916, page 1).
Based on Victoria County tax records, Thomas and Johanna continued to prosper. In 1869, Thomas was taxed for two lots in Victoria appraised at $100, 19 acres of land valued at $300, four horses at $100, four head of cattle at $15, and miscellaneous property worth $50. He paid a combined state and county tax of $2.25. The 1870 census listed Thomas, a farmer, his wife Anna, age 42, and two of their sons: George, age 15, and Frank, age 14. Thomas not only successfully farmed his own land, but he was also one of the best known well contractors of Victoria County and “…bored the first wells on the Traylor and other large ranches in Southern Texas (Victoria Advocate, August 30, 1916, page 1).
The year of 1878 was especially joyous for Thomas and Johanna. On January 8, 1878, their son, Joseph Piegsa, married Fannie Miosga at St. Mary’s in Victoria (page 78, 2nd entry). Only five months later, Frank Piegsa and Anna Kutchka celebrated their wedding on June 11, 1878, also at St. Mary’s (page 80, 1st entry). So the family welcomed two Silesian daughters-in-law. The 1880 Victoria census included Thomas and Anna followed by their sons, Joseph, age 31, and Franklin, age 27. As an active citizen of his community, Thomas served as a member of the petit juries for the 1883 summer term in Victoria’s district court (Rose, page 88).
On August 17, 1898, the entire family mourned the loss of Johanna Respondek Piegsa whose funeral took place the following day at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church; she was laid to rest in the Victoria Catholic Cemetery (Church Burial Records, page 35, entry #144). Two years after the death of the family matriarch, her son, Joseph Piegsa, passed away on February 1, 1900. Five years later, his brother, Frank P. Piegsa, died on August 20, 1905. Both brothers’ funerals were at St. Mary’s with interment in the Victoria Catholic Cemetery (Church Burial Records, page 59, entry #286; page 84, entry #447).
With his wife and sons gone, Thomas Piegsa remained close to his grandchildren. The 1900 census of Victoria County showed Thomas living with his grandson, Joseph, age 9; ten years later, two grandsons were living with him, Joseph, age 21, and Thomas, age 27. The elder Thomas, who was actually about 85, was listed as a 90-year-old widower who farmed with the help of his older grandson also named Thomas while Joe worked as a cigar maker at the factory.
At 6 A.M. on August 29, 1916, Thomas Piegsa, died of old age (Texas State Death Certificate #20039) at the home of his granddaughter, Barbara Piegsa Jaeschke, in Victoria. His obituary notice worthy of front page news in the Victoria Advocate proclaimed, “The Oldest Citizen of Victoria County Died This Morning.” His funeral took place at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. The family patriarch who had been born near Rosenberg [now Olesno], Silesia, was buried close to his wife of half a century in the Victoria Catholic Cemetery (Victoria Advocate, August 30, 1916, page 1).
- Family of Thomas Piegsa is listed in the “Ravaged by War” section (page 240) of Silesian Profiles II: Polish Immigration to Texas 1850s-1870s.
- Grimes, Roy, ed. 300 Years in Victoria County. Victoria, Texas: Victoria Advocate Publishing Co., 1968.
- Hoffman, William F. Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings. Second Edition, Revised. Chicago, Illinois: Polish Genealogical Society of America, 1998.
- Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Victoria, Texas. Burial Records. LDS Microfilm 0025519.
- Rose, Victor M. Victor Rose’s History of Victoria. Ed. by J.W. Petty, Jr. Victoria, Texas: Book Mart, 1961.
- St. Mary Catholic Church, Victoria, Texas. Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, and Burial Records. LDS Microfilms 0025514 and 0025515.
- Texas State Archives. Civil War Muster Roll 602.
- U.S. Population Census of Victoria County, Texas: 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910.
- Victoria Advocate [Victoria, Texas]. 30 August 1916. Page 1.
- Victoria County, Texas. Deed Records, Marks and Brands, and Tax Rolls.