Children laugh and play on the grounds of Adoue Park, unaware that beneath their feet lie the crumbling remains of the young man who wrote the Texas Declaration of Independence. Someone they may have read about in history class lies just outside the classroom windows of the Rosenberg School.
George Campbell Childress, an accomplished lawyer and journalist from Tennessee, not only wrote the declaration in 1836, he was sent to Washington, D.C. with the document to gain recognition of the new Republic of Texas. Despite his family's friendship with President Andrew Jackson, Childress' efforts in Washington failed, and he moved back to Nashville where he practiced law for a short time.
While In Tennessee, he married Rebecca Stuart Jennings and had two daughters. He also had a son from a previous marriage.
Childress returned to Texas, planning to earn enough money to send for his family. After his office in Houston failed, his friend Dr. Ashbel Smith invited him to try again in Galveston. Unfortunately the law trade was in a slump throughout the republic, and Childress failed three times to establish a successful practice.
In June 1841 he wrote to Texas President Mirabeau Lamar requesting a government job in Austin. “My cash being small,” he wrote, “I would gladly accept any situation in which I could be of service.” No answer was received.
By the fall of 1841, 37-year-old Childress was desperate, living in poverty in a Galveston boarding house owned by Mrs. Crittenden, wife of county surveyor A. J. Crittenden. On October 4, he wrote letters to family members in Nashville and friends explaining the reasons for what he was about to do, and his wishes for the future care of his children.
Two days later at 6 a.m. in the morning, Childress knocked at Mrs. Crittenden’s door begging her to save him from himself. As she opened her door he stabbed himself six times in the stomach with a bowie knife, splattering her with blood.
Dr. Smith was sent for and arrived quickly, but Childress’ wounds were fatal. In the three hours it took him to die, he entrusted the doctor with the letters for delivery. Smith asked the reason for his actions and was told, "It is the effect of an oversensitive mind. I had neither money to bring my wife to this country (Texas) or to enable me to visit her."
His dying wish was to be baptized before he died, but a clergyman could not be found. Living penniless, alone and far from his wife and children, this last uncompleted request seems enough to cause his spirit to be restless.
Smith recorded in his journal that Childress “was buried the following morning, 26 hours after his death, at 11 a.m.” His grave was never marked. A letter found later in his room stated that his brother had gambled away the remainder of his money, and he saw no other way to end his misery.
Years later, Childress’ friend Hamilton Stuart, founder of the Galveston Civilian newspaper, wrote, “His grave lies a few feet west of the Rosenberg school building.” This was a reference to the original Rosenberg school building, which was on the west side of the two-block area from 1889-1939. The present Rosenberg school was built in 1965. This would mean that his grave would be where the playground is today.
In a belated tribute to the Childress, the state of Texas erected a memorial in the Episcopal Cemetery in 1934. The beautiful granite shaft stands in the area between 40th and 41st Streets and avenues K and L. No one lies beneath it.
On October 6, 1941, 100 years after his death, the Texas Society of the Daughters of the American Colonists unveiled a plaque marking the general area of the Childress’ Adoue Park gravesite at 11th and Avenue H. Sadly, less than nine years later, the marker was stolen and never replaced.
George Campbell Childress, writer of the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico, lies alone in a pauper’s grave lost to time.
Galveston had no official burial ground prior to 1840, when the first mentions are found of authorities setting aside land for the purpose of a city cemetery. Burials, especially those of the poor, were made on public land.
Many early interments were made in what is now the eastern part of the city, on the low grounds east of where the original Sealy Hospital was built in 1890. It was referred to as the Pauper’s Field.
Being placed in shallow, sandy graves so close to the water and exposed to weather, neglected remains, caskets and artifacts littered the area. Newspaper accounts and witnesses describe this horrifying sight as late as the 1850s. Childress may well have been lucky to be buried on solid ground.
So the next time your children enjoy a day at the Adoue playground or walk into the halls of Rosenberg School, take a moment to remember that one of the most brilliant men of the Texas revolution is resting nearby. Perhaps he watches over the children, since he was unable to return to his own.