Jonathan Watson

Jonathan Watson (c.1718—1803), of Rendlesham in Suffolk was one of the gentleman members of the Royal Society, rather than a scientist. I really know little about his background. In 1747 he married Elizabeth Bullock, of the large and prominent local Bullock family – her brother John was to become Sheriff of Essex, as her grandfather had been before him, and their eldest son, Jonathan Josiah Christopher Watson later inherited the Bullock family manor of Faulkbourn in Essex and took the name Bullock.

In 1763, he was elected Fellow the Royal Society, his citation reading:

Jonathan Watson Esqr of Rendlesham in the County of Suffolk being a gentleman very studious of natural philosoph[y] and desirous of being made a Fellow of the Royal Society, We whose names are underwritten do certify of our personal knowledge, that we think him a fit person to be admitted to that honour

In 1764, he appeared as a subscriber to the second, enlarged, edition of John Kirby’s Suffolk Traveller, and it is presumably this link, together with the Suffolk connections, that induced him to support Joshua Kirby’s candidacy for fellow in 1767. Sometime shortly thereafter, he moved with his family to Virginia, where he apparently had inherited an estate of a couple of thousand acres from his father. A prominent landowner, he appears in the Vestry Book of Petsworth Parish as Major Jonathan Watson, and is appointed church warden and Vestry man. He was also a Justice of the Peace in Gloucester County. He evidently visited England at least once during his American period as he is recorded in the Virginia Gazette of 22 August 1771 arriving from London after a voyage of ‘nine weeks passage’.

The 1770s was a difficult time for prominent landowning loyalists and eventually he was forced to sell his holdings cheaply and return to England with his family, probably in 1775.

Another who got into difficulties at the same time was Rev. Samuel Henley, the professor of Moral Philosophy at the College of William and Mary. Henley had an eclectic background, being raised as a Dissenting Minister before veering to the Church of England just in time to be hired in England for the vacant professorship in 1770. To begin with his conservative outlook had the support of local worthies, but his eccentric theology and contentious nature finally lost him his job, apartments, books and papers in 1775. Henley was a great antiquarian, and Jonathan Watson managed to save a few prints of his; most of the rest were lost in a later fire at the college, although in the 1780s Thomas Jefferson wrote to Henley saying that he also had managed to save some papers.

Homeless and jobless, Henley sailed for England where he married Jonathan Watson’s daughter Mary Elizabeth in 1776. He was appointed as an assistant master at Harrow school and later presented as rector of Rendlesham, although he seems to have lived mostly at Harrrow.

Watson himself lived the life of a country squire, becoming a Justice of the Peace in Suffolk, Deputy Lieutenant of the county, and a Major in the East Suffolk Militia before dying at the age of 84 in 1803.

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One thought on “Jonathan Watson

  1. Pingback: Joshua Kirby, F.R.S. | Kirby and his world

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