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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Memorials to William Gammell

In 1936, the State of Texas erected individual monuments at Founders Memorial Park (formerly City Cemetery) in Houston, commemorating the service of twenty-six veterans of the Texas Revolution.  One of those monuments honored William Gammell for having fought at the Battle of San Jacinto.  Since the actual gravesites of many of the veterans were unknown, the monuments were placed in random positions throughout the park.

Years later, possibly as late as 2008, further research showed that William was actually buried in Washington Cemetery, and that his original stone still existed.  It turns out that he was never buried in Founders Park, but the cenotaph(1) remains there to this day.  The small plaque beside it gives the explanation:

Later research shows William Gammell (Oct. 18, 1812 – Apr. 10, 1869) was buried in the Masonic Cemetery (now Sam Houston Park) on Apr. 11, 1869, and reinterred in the German Society Cemetery (now Washington Cemetery) on Jan. 22, 1900.  His wife, Jane McDaniel Gammell (Mar. 28, 1825 – Nov. 12, 1908), was interred in the German Society Cemetery on Nov. 13, 1908. Texas Historical Commision 2009

Monument to William Gammell
Founders Memorial Park, Houston
J. Edward Stark, photographer

William and his wife, Jane McDaniel, are both buried in Washington Cemetery in Houston.(2)  Grouped together are two headstones and a plaque.  The small stone bearing the Masonic symbol is William’s original gravestone.  The large stone likely marks Jane’s burial plot. The plaque, which was placed there in 2009 by the State of Texas Historical Commission, gives quite a detailed account of William’s life:

William Gammell was born in Ayshire [sic], Scotland.  He and his parents immigrated to the United States, settling in Lowell, Massachusetts.  Gammell arrived in Texas during the spring of 1836, where he enlisted in the Texian(3) army on April 5.  He served in the army under Captain Alfred Henderson Wyly and fought at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.  Gammell also served as a gunsmith for the new Republic of Texas, rebuilding firearms for the army in the summer of 1836.  In the summer of 1837 he served under Captain John Bowyer in the “Mounted Gun Men”, a volunteer group established by the Republic of Texas for the protection of the northern frontier from the Indians.

Gammell married Jane McDaniel, a native of New York, on July 19, 1839 in Houston.  The couple had no children.  In 1842 Gammell was again called to defend his new homeland and enlisted in Captain James Gillespie’s company in the spring of that year to defend San Antonio against an invasion by the Mexican army.  Gammell again took up arms in September of 1842 and fought under Captain Jesse Billingsley against the Mexican army at the Battle of Salado Creek.

Gammell traveled to California during the Gold Rush, but returned to Texas to settle on 390 acres just outside the city limits, now situated under Highway 59 at Lyons Avenue in Houston’s Fifth Ward.  Gammell opened a gunsmith shop on Congress Avenue in Houston circa 1851 and operated the business until his retirement in 1866.  Gammell died unexpectedly from pneumonia in 1869 and was buried in Houston’s Masonic Cemetery.  In 1900 he was reinterred in the Deutsche Gesellschaft (German Society) Cemetery, which is now Washington Cemetery. (2009) Marker is property of the State of Texas.

Gravesite of William and Jane Gammell
Washington Cemetery, Houston
J. Edward Stark, photographer
(Used by permission)

William Gammell's original gravestone
Washington Cemetery, Houston
J. Edward Stark, photographer
(Used by permission)
After the Texas Revolution, William was qualified to receive several large plots of land.  He was granted 640 acres as compensation for his service at the Battle of San Jacinto, and another 640 acres for serving in the army (March to September 1836).  In 1841, William received a Headright Certificate for one-third of a league (1,476 acres) of land.(4)  Headright land grants were awarded to “encourage immigration and reward native citizens.”  To qualify for a first-class Headright certificate, the applicant was required to take the following oath:

I do solemnly swear, that I was a resident citizen of Texas at the date of the declaration of independence [March 2, 1836], that I did not leave the country during the campaigns of the spring of 1836, to avoid a participation in the struggle, that I did not refuse to participate in the war, and that I did not aid or assist the enemy, that I have not previously received a title to any quantum of land, and that I conceive myself justly entitled, under the Constitution and Laws to the quantity of land for which I now apply.(5)

After William married Jane McDaniel in Houston on June 18, 1839, they made their home at Chapmonville (now a part of Houston) on the north side of Buffalo Bayou.(6)  The plaque at his gravesite states that William operated a gunsmith shop on Congress Avenue in Houston from 1851 to 1866.  Two of William’s rifles survive today as part of a Texas gun collection. (Click on the link in the footnote below to see photos of the two rifles.)(7)

By the time of his death in 1869, William had become a wealthy landowner and slaveholder.  (In 1860 his personal estate was valued at $10,000.)  Two of his slaves, Squire Gammell and his wife, Martha Gammell, actually took his name.(8)  It is interesting to note that William also used his influence to try to emancipate a slave woman named Lyle.  In 1847 he and two other men purchased Lyle for $400.  They filed the deed in the county clerk’s office at Austin, and then petitioned the Legislature for authorization to allow “said negro Lyle to go hence free and to use her time as her own on condition of her proper behaviour.”  The petition was denied.(9)
  1. A tomb or a monument erected in honor of a person whose remains are elsewhere.
  2. William’s cenotaph indicates that his wife, Jane, is buried in Glenwood Cemetery, which is adjoining Washington Cemetery (formerly German Society Cemetery.)
  3. Texian refers to the inhabitants of the Texas portion of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas.
  4. This biographical sketch was written by Louis W. Kemp, between 1930 and 1952. Much of the information is obviously incorrect, but until further research, we assume that William received all three of these land grants: February 4, 1848, Donation Certificate No. 95 for 640 acres for his service at San Jacinto; Bounty Certificate No. 8010 for another 640 acres for service in the army; and the Headright certificate on February 4, 1841. (The Headright certificate states that William came to Texas in 1835.)
  5. Pat Riddell Lococo found these land records online: William Gammell received land grants for service performed in the War of Texas Independence, on October 10, 1845, a patent for 1,476.13 acres in Austin County, Texas, and on October 17, 1846, a patent for 640 acres in Houston County, Texas.
  8. 1860 U. S. Census, Precinct 5, Harris, Texas (Roll: M653-1296, page 353); 1870 U.S. Census, subdivision 35, Houston, Harris County, Texas, page 503.  In 1860 William’s real estate was valued at $7,000 and his personal property (slaves, money in the bank, etc.) at $10,000.  Using what historical economists call the “consumer bundle” to compare historic and current values, William’s total estate ($17,000) has an equivalent value of about $1,173,000 in 2010.
  9. Muir, Andrew Forest, “The Free Negro in Harris County, Texas”

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