The Rev. Joseph R.S. Waters
Joseph Robert Smith Waters, one of 10 children of the Rev. Samuel Griffin and Henrietta Fontaine Waters, was born May 8, 1856 in Fairmount, Md.
Educated in local Somerset County schools available at the time, Waters answered the call to ministry, a legacy that flowed like a river through his veins.
Waters’ father was among 10 men to be admitted into "the first Conference for Colored Preachers, under the rule of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church." The new Delaware Conference’s inaugural session was July 29, 1864.
Joseph Waters joined the Delaware Conference in 1879 and was followed by two of his brothers, Samuel Wesley Waters and Wilmore Elzey Waters, in 1891 and 1896 respectively. Between 1864 and 1913, 10 members of Waters’ extended family were admitted to the Delaware Conference, serving in various assignments along the east coast.
The Rev. Daniel Lyman Ridout (Princess Anne Academy class of 1918) described Waters as “a man of great personable magnetism and charm, possessing a rich speaking and singing voice, and being a preacher of power and persuasion.”
While Waters’ ministerial career spanned some 67 years, his most notable accomplishment was his leadership in founding an institution of higher learning for children of slaves and freedmen on his native Eastern Shore.
Waters and the Rev. John A.B. Wilson, a white Methodist, worked together to establish a school where African-American children, otherwise denied access to a formal education, could learn and move forward in society.
The Delaware Conference Academy in Princess Anne, Md., opened its doors on Sept. 13, 1886. Six days later, on Sept. 19, 1886, the members of the local Methodist Episcopal denomination laid a cornerstone for a new church -- Metropolitan -- not far from the Academy. Waters was its first pastor.
Ten years earlier, Waters married Effie Jane Rounds of Snow Hill, Md., the daughter of local lay preacher Ebenezer Rounds. They had four children: Mary Lily, Grace Selane, Joseph and Paul Caldwell Waters. After the death of his first wife, Waters married Sarah Gaskins of Philadelphia, Pa. in 1927.
Waters served in various appointments throughout his long career in the Delaware Conference, including in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware.
According to his obituary, Bennett College in Raleigh, N.C., conferred upon Waters a doctor of divinity degree “in recognition of his significant contributions to his Conference, church and Christianity at large.”
Waters died July 29, 1946, at age 90, having lived long enough to see the Academy in Princess Anne he helped found graduate its first four-year college class.
-- KIMBERLY CONWAY DUMPSON