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John G. Johnson

WATERS, JONATHAN DAWSON (1808–1871). Jonathan Dawson Waters, planter, was born in Newberry District, South Carolina, on December 1, 1808, the youngest child of Ruth (Llewellyn) and Philemon Waters, Jr. Both his father and grandfather fought in the American Revolution. Waters arrived in Texas from Alabama on March 1, 1840, and purchased a large plantation that he named Arcola. He continued buying land, including the plantation of his brother, Robert G. Waters, after being released from Perote prison, where he had been sent as a member of the Mier expedition. Family tradition holds that Jonathan Waters traveled to Mexico City and bribed officials there to secure the release of his brother Robert. By 1860 Waters had one of the largest plantations in Texas and was considered the wealthiest person in Fort Bend County. Another relative, J. P. Waters, may have managed Arcola by 1860. Waters grew sugar cane and cotton; he also built a sugar mill and a brickyard in 1849, and he had a cotton gin on the plantation. He later was a major stockholder and president of the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway, which was incorporated in 1850 and operational by 1855. Waters had a reputation for overworking his slaves and of feeding them nothing but cornmeal mush. The claim that he owned more than 500 slaves is surely exaggerated; the 1860 census gives him 216, and that figure made him the third largest slaveholder in Texas. In 1847 Waters was involved in a dispute over property with Collin Cox (Cock). With several friends Waters went to Cox's home and shot him, unarmed, in front of Mrs. Cox. Waters evidently was never brought to trial for the murder. Waters was first married in 1828 to Sarah Elizabeth Grigsby, who died in January 1848. Three months later Waters married twenty-one-year-old Clara Byne. This wife died in Galveston in May 1860 and was buried at Arcola. Sometime before the end of 1860 Waters married Clara's sister Martha Byne McGowen, a widow. As Waters had no children by any marriage he adopted Martha's three children. In 1863 he purchased a colonial mansion later known as the Waters-Moody house and pictured in Historic Galveston Homes. The house was used as a hospital during the Civil War. The war cost Waters his fortune, because he donated $100,000 in gold to the Confederate government. He died in Houston on July 3, 1871, and was buried near his plantation home on the Brazos River. His will, made on November 2, 1866, was recorded in Galveston on February 12, 1872.


Roberta Christensen, Historic, Romantic Richmond, 1822–1982 (Burnet, Texas, 1982). Dallas Weekly Herald, July 8, 1871. Earl W. Fornell, "Texans and Filibusters in the 1850s," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 59 (April 1956). Llerena B. Friend, "Sidelights and Supplements on the Perote Prisoners," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 68–69 (January 1965-April 1966). Telegraph and Texas Register, March 15, 1847.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, John G. Johnson, "WATERS, JONATHAN DAWSON," accessed May 24, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwa86.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on October 24, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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