Jacob Raphael De Cordova, Texas land agent and colonizer, was born in Spanish Town (near Kingston), Jamaica, on June 6, 1808, the youngest of three sons of Judith and Raphael De Cordova. Since his mother died at his birth, he was reared by an aunt in England. He was well educated and became proficient in English, French, Spanish, German, and Hebrew. His father, a Jewish Jamaican coffee grower and exporter, moved to Philadelphia, where he became president of Congregation Mikveh Israel in 1820. Jacob joined his father in Philadelphia, and there he married Rebecca Sterling about 1826 and learned the printing trade. His ancestors had supported themselves as printers for generations, beginning in the sixteenth century, when a De Cordova in Spain published Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's explorations in Texas. In 1834 Jacob moved back to Kingston, where he and his brother Joshua started a newspaper, the Kingston Daily Gleaner that still exists today as The Gleaner. In early 1836 Jacob went to New Orleans, where he shipped cargoes of staples to Texas during its struggle for independence. At this time he served a term as Grand Master of the Odd Fellows. After the battle of San Jacinto he visited the Republic of Texas to install members in the Odd Fellows lodges, the first established outside the United States.
He settled in Texas in 1839 and lived in Galveston and later Houston, where he was elected a state representative to the Second Texas Legislature in 1847. He served for one term but lost the election in 1849. De Cordova traveled extensively through Texas, including the frontier western areas. Through scrip and direct purchase he acquired large amounts of land to sell to settlers; at one time he had a million acres in scrip or title. To attract settlers to Texas, he made speeches on Texas in New York, Philadelphia, and other cities, and even to the cotton-spinners association in Manchester, England. His lectures were published on both sides of the Atlantic and were widely read. His land agency, which he owned with his half-brother Phineas De Cordova, became one of the largest such agencies that ever operated in the Southwest. De Cordova and two other men laid out the town of Waco in 1848–49. Town lots of an acre sold for five dollars, and nearby farmland brought two to three dollars an acre. At the urging of his wife, De Cordova reserved free sites for schools, churches, and commons.
De Cordova and Robert Creuzbaur compiled the Map of the State of Texas, first published in 1849. Much subsequent Texas cartography (see MAPS) was based on this map, which was praised by Sam Houston on the floor of the United States Senate. Books De Cordova wrote that were influential in attracting settlers included The Texas Immigrant and Traveller's Guide Book (1856), and Texas, Her Resources and Her Public Men (1858), the first attempt at an encyclopedia of Texas. Jacob and Phineas De Cordova published two early Texas newspapers, the Texas Herald (also known as De Cordova's Herald and Immigrant's Guide) out of Houston and the Southwestern American out of Austin. The latter was at the solicitation of Governor Peter H. Bell and helped to pass the Compromise of 1850, which resulted in a $10 million payment to Texas for adjusted boundaries after annexation. In the 1850s De Cordova moved from Austin to Seguin, where five miles from town he built for his wife and five children a fine country home, which he called Wanderer's Retreat. In the 1860s he tried to develop a power project on the Brazos River in Bosque County for textile mills to spin Texas cotton. The Civil War brought financial reverses to De Cordova. When he died on January 26, 1868, he was buried in Kimball, but in 1935 his body and that of his wife were moved to the State Cemetery. He was survived by five children. The De Cordova Bend in the Brazos River south of Fort Worth, and the De Cordova Bend Dam which impounds Lake Granbury, were both named for him.