NSW_25WashingtonBrazos3

The George Campbell Childress statue stands in front of a museum at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park.

George Campbell Childress died 180 years ago on Oct. 6, 1841. He wrote the following words that sealed the Republic of Texas’ fate 186 years ago: “Our political connection with the Mexican nation has forever ended.” Those words are the essence of the Texas Declaration of Independence that he alone wrote.

Within six years of writing the Declaration, 37-year-old Childress died while living alone in a Galveston boarding house. Then he became almost forgotten until 1939 when his granddaughter Harriet Dowe unveiled his statue at Washington-on-the-Brazos in front of a Texas Centennial crowd of 1,500 people. It was a perfect tribute: His statue was dedicated on Texas Independence Day (when Texas celebrates the Declaration of Independence he wrote) and at Washington-on-the-Brazos (where his Declaration was adopted). Following is a brief overview of Childress’ life — including his unmarked grave.

Childress was born Jan. 8, 1804, in Nashville, Tennessee; later he practiced law and edited a newspaper there. In 1835, however, his life changed radically: He became an ardent supporter of the Texas Revolution and gave speeches, raised funds and recruited volunteers for the cause; his wife, Margaret Vance, died on July 27; he resigned as Nashville Banner editor on Nov. 9; and he left for Texas in early December.

On Jan. 12, 1836, Childress and his 10-month-old son Charles arrived at Robertson’s Colony (renamed Milam Municipality in late 1835), which encompassed 20,000 square miles of present-day Texas that Mexico had awarded to Childress’ uncle, Sterling C. Robertson, to colonize. He took up residence at Nashville-on-the-Brazos in present-day Milam County, Texas.

Three weeks later, Childress and Robertson were elected to represent Milam Municipality at a Convention called by Texans to consider declaring independence from Mexico. The Convention started on March 1, 1836, at Washington-on-the-Brazos while the Mexican Army was attacking the Alamo. One day later, the delegates unanimously adopted the Texas Declaration of Independence.

After the Convention ended on March 16, Childress traveled to Washington, D.C., as an envoy to seek the United States’ recognition of the Republic of Texas, and then returned to Nashville, where in December 1836, he married his second wife, Rebecca Jennings (her brother James fought at the Texas Revolution’s final battle at San Jacinto). Although his family stayed in Tennessee, Childress returned to Texas frequently and struggled to develop a Houston law practice. In November 1840, he was back in Nashville with his son and two daughters.

Five months later, he was living alone in Galveston describing his financial situation as “cash means being small.” On Oct. 6, 1841, Childress committed suicide with a knife in his room at Mrs. Crittenden’s Boarding House in Galveston. When his friend Dr. Ashbel Smith, who had come to his aid, asked why he did this, Childress replied: “It is the effect of an oversensitive mind … I had neither money to bring my wife to this country or to enable me to visit her.” Childress was buried the next day in Galveston.

The exact location of Childress’ grave is unknown similar to the unmarked grave of another Signer of the Declaration, 24-year-old Dr. Junius William Mottley, who was killed at San Jacinto and buried on the battlefield. On Aug. 11, 1918, however, a report by a well-known journalist named Ben Stuart was published in The Galveston Daily News and included the following sentence: “[Childress’] body lies in Galveston within a few feet west of the Rosenberg School building.” Ben had found that note while reviewing personal papers of his deceased father, Hamilton Stuart. Hamilton has been called the “father of the Texas press”; he also served as Galveston’s mayor (1849-1852). More importantly, Hamilton arrived in Galveston during 1838 and knew Childress well. The credibility of Hamilton’s note has not been questioned for 103 years.

The Texas Society Daughters of the American Colonists used Hamilton’s note to determine that Childress was buried in Galveston’s Adoue Park, which lies just west of the Rosenberg Free School’s original site.

On the 100th anniversary of Childress’ death (Oct. 6, 1941), the Society placed a granite stone at Adoue Park bearing a bronze plaque engraved with the following words: “WITHIN THESE GROUNDS LIES BURIED GEORGE CAMPBELL CHILDRESS — AUTHOR OF THE TEXAS DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.”

CURTIS CHUBB has a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and is a retired associate professor in the Department of Cell Biology and director of the Cell Biology and Histology Course at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. He now resides in Milam County.

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