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Sunday, July 13, 2003

Even on land, Waterman a mystery

Jerry Bowen

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This is the last of a five-part series of the continuing account of Captain Robert “Bully” Waterman’s journey to Solano County.

Once Waterman settled in California, much of his history seems to deviate from the official records of the county for a variety of reasons.

In the last column in this series, I stated, “On July 9, 1856, Waterman’s partner, A. A. Ritchie was killed in a buggy accident. By the end of the same month, Robert Waterman and Ritchie’s widow, Martha Ritchie, were appointed administrators of Ritchie’s estate. Ritchie’s widow gave power of attorney over the remaining portions of land on the Suisun Rancho that had not already been sold.”

Exploring public records, including census and probate records, deeds, tax assessments, court records, etc., often reveals a more objective account of an individual than published histories of them. Autobiographies, biographies, and oral histories are often tainted to some degree by selectivity and partiality.

For example, county tax records reveal a different picture of Waterman’s real estate holdings than portrayed by Weir. According to the assessor’s rolls, Waterman owned no property outright in Suisun Township until 1858. If you review Solano County Tax Assessment rolls for 1856 and 1857 you will find that Waterman owed no property taxes. In 1858, Waterman is reported as owning two acres and six lots in Fairfield.

In 1858, 9,722 acres of the Suisun Rancho grant remained and was still tied up under the names of “Ritchie and Bissell.”

On September 2, 1858, Fairfield won the right to become the county seat for Solano County. Waterman’s offer of 16 acres of land he called Union Park as well as “Four Blocks in said village each containing 12 lots adjoining said Union Park on the north, east and or south side, but that the said Union Park is to be kept and used for public buildings” and $10,000 played a big part in landing the county seat.

Waterman and Ritchie surveyed the land for Fairfield and the plat was filed for record May 16, 1859. On May 21, Waterman bought 21 lots on blocks surrounding the area for public buildings.

It is interesting to note that when the plat for the town of Fairfield was filed, the town site was still a part of the “Ritchie Estate” for which Waterman was only a co-administrator and a holder of a yet undivided third interest.

Between Sept. 1858 and August 1859, Waterman and Ritchie’s widow, as estate administrators, sold 1,982 acres of the estate. Sometime later, perhaps late 1859 or 1860, an auction sale of the residual portions of the Suisun Rancho was held.

By 1859, Waterman acquired 17 acres of land which contained improvements valued at $2,500 which can be attributed to the Tengate Waterman House as we know it today. The house, after a restoration and improvements, is still in use today at the end of Tengate Road.

Even with a new home in Solano County it remains a source of conjecture just how often he actually occupied it. From 1865 to 1875 Waterman was the “U.S. Inspector of hulls,” and during these years he was listed with various San Francisco residences. In 1869, he lived on the corner of Fillmore and Grove Streets and in 1875 he lived in the Occidental Hotel. In 1875, Waterman set up a separate business as a marine surveyor under the name of “R.H. Waterman and Co.”. Waterman continued to be listed in San Francisco as a marine surveyor until 1880.

By 1878, the official Thompson & West Map shows that Waterman had increased his ranch holding to 875 acres and a county directory of 1883 lists Waterman as owning a total of 1,201 acres. Apparently Waterman spent more of his time on the ranch by 1875. Census reports show that R.H. Waterman and his wife were living there together with Alex Rogers, a 33-year old, “farmer” from Ireland, who probably managed the farm, as Waterman was 72 years old at that time.

An interesting article appeared in the May 1991 issue of the Solano Historian entitled, “Hush-Hush Tales of Captain Waterman that Never Reached Publication.” In the article the author tells the following story: “My husband’s grandfather, Ambrose Newton, owned numerous acres of land, which took a chunk out of Waterman’s spread. All of a sudden Waterman decided that he wanted his land in a perfect square. So he bought a like acreage to Newton’s across the road and told him to move to it, that he wanted Newton’s land. Because the ever-handy shotgun was in full view and because of Waterman’s known meanness, Newton and his family moved.”

The author also tells a lurid story of Waterman’s cruelty to his wife, Cordelia.

But in the beginning of the article she opened with “. . . Captain Robert Waterman The cruelest man in the world from his hanging of seventeen crewmembers from the yardarm of his clipper ship on a voyage around Cape Horn.” Now if she was referring to the voyage of the Challenge, as we have already seen earlier in this series, he hung no one. With that said, is the rest of the article, which is mostly hearsay, fact or fiction. Someday, hopefully Cordelia Waterman’s diary will be published and reveal more of the facts.

Robert H. Waterman died August 8, 1884. Cordelia died in November of the following year. She had moved back to Stratford, Connecticut after Robert died. In 1886, Robert Waterman’s body was moved from Laurel Hill Cemetery in San Francisco and reburied next to his wife in Mountain Grove Cemetery in Stratford, Connecticut.

In the probate sale of Cordelia Waterman’s estate on September 7, 1889, Cordelia’s sister, Emma Kippen and a Frank Hamilton purchased the 871 acre “10 Gate Ranch for $37,000. Kippen and Hamilton both resided in Connecticut. In 1890, the county assessor lists O. P. Dobbins, the attorney for Kippen and Hamilton, as owners of the Waterman ranch property and the official county map of the same year lists Emma S. Kippen and Frank S. Hamilton as the owners of the property. By 1893, a Carlyle Smith Miller acquired the former Waterman ranch. He died sometime between 1893 and 1903. Many owners later, the property remains as a fine architectural example of Fairfield’s earlier day.

One last note before I close this series on Robert and Cordelia Waterman. There is much, much more to the story of them than I could possibly get into these five parts. Perhaps one day it will become the subject for an in depth thesis by one of our local citizens that will reveal more of the character of the man they once called “Bully” Waterman.