With the end of the Civil War in 1865, all slaves were freed and manual labor was in short supply throughout the south. On September 19, 1866 a group of Walker County cotton planters met in a general store at Old Waverly, Texas, to discuss their problems in securing workers for their plantations. The store where the men met was owned by Meyer Levy, a Polish Jew who had lived for many years in the South and who had various holdings in the state
The minutes of the meeting record the foundations laid for the arrival of the first organized group of Poles in east Texas six months later. The 12 planters gathered there for the purpose of considering the propicity of sending to Europe for foreign laborers. C.T. Traylor was elected as chairman of the meeting, and H.M. Ellmore was appointed secretary. The members established themselves as the Waverly Emigration Society and commissioned Meyer Levy to travel to Europe to recruit 150 "foreign laborers" to work on their lands. Each planter requested a certain number of workers, some of them asking for specific types of skills, such as cooks, house servant, "man about the Yard," blacksmith, carpenter, gardener, "one Woman to cook, Wash, Iron & Husk." The planters agreed to pay for passage of the immigrants to Texas and to pay the men $90, $100, and $110 for their work in their first, second, and third years in America respectively, with women receiving $20 less for their labors each year. In addition, the planters obligated themselves to provide themselves with a "comfortable cabin" and food. The immigrants, in return, were expected to do faithful labors and all that may be required as workers on a Cotton Plantation, in Walker County, in the State of Texas, . . . for a period of three years, from the date of landing in Texas. In addition, the immigrants were expected to repay the planters from their salaries, in three installments, the cost of their passage to America.
As the agent of the Waverly Emigration Society Levy sailed to Europe to recruit the "foreign laborers" for the Walker County plantations. Finding that Polish peasants in the years after the unsuccessful Polish Insurrection of 1863 were eager to emigrate to America, he recruited a party of them and sailed to New York. According to one source, he allowed the emigrants to leave the ship at New York "to see the city" while the vessel was being stocked with the provisions for the remaining trip to Texas, and when the time came to sail none of them reappeared. He, thus, was forced to return to Europe for another group of migrants, which he did, arriving with them on the Texas coast sometime in April 1867. The group of peasant farmers passed through Houston in the fourth week of April and then made their way to Walker County, about 60 miles to the north. Thus, in May 1867 the first Polish immigrants to east Texas arrived at their new homes.
The Poles settled in and around what became the town of New Waverly. They soon were joined by other Polish immigrants who had come to Texas on their own and had heard that there already were Poles living in the New Waverly area.
During their initial years in the state the east Texas Poles worked as agricultural laborers for the land owners, but within a decade some of them already were buying their own land and erecting their own homes. As years passed and the lumbering industry grew in Walker County area, many young men from the Polish settlement worked in the sawmills. This type of employment, as was the case with agricultural labor, gave them the cash money they needed to buy their own farms. By 1900 the New Waverly Poles had bought almost all the farmland near the community and had purchased or were buying considerable amounts of land outside the immediate area.
New Waverly served as the mother colony for most of the Polish colonies later established in east Texas. Although it was located in the Trinity River Basin, the other colonies were in the Brazos River valley, most of them in the rich bottomland, which was ideal for growing cotton. Large numbers of Poles passed through New Waverly on the way to such communities as Anderson, Brenham, and Chappell Hill.
Joseph Bartula was a Cartwright from the village of Brzostek, located in Pilzno County in Austrian Poland. He and his wife and five children emigrated to Texas in 1873. They landed at Galveston and journeyed to New Waverly, where they heard that that would find other Poles. They spent a few months at New Waverly, and then Bartula decided to move on to Bremond. Living there well into the 20th century, Bartula was well known in his older years as the founder of what became the center of Polish population in Robertson County.
In east Texas the Polish Catholic parishes indicate the location of Polish settlements. As early as 1867, for example, the Reverend Felix Orzechowski, a priest serving as a missionary in Texas from the Congregation of the Resurrection, began visiting New Waverly to minister to the religious needs of the Poles living there, After spending several months working under primitive conditions in the Walker County area, he established Saint Joseph's Church at New Waverly in 1869. This was the first Polish church founded in east Texas, and it served as a base of operations for other Polish missionaries in surrounding towns.
From the first years of Polish settlement New Waverly served as a funnel for immigrants to other areas, such as the nearby towns of Plantersville and Anderson. In these two latter locations the Poles followed economic pursuits more or less the same as New Waverly: they farmed first on rented land and then, after they had saved enough money, bought their own property. From Saint Joseph's parish at New Waverly, Father Orzechowski visited both of these newer colonies, offering Masses in the homes of the immigrants. Six years after the founding of the church at New Waverly, the Poles opened a new church at Anderson, with Plantersville as its mission. Although the original church at Anderson has been replaced, there remains a Polish parish in the town with beautiful stained glass windows portraying Polish saints. Today the Polish parish for the Plantersville community is located in nearby Stoneham.