Elias R. Wightman, one of the founders of Matagorda and a Stephen F. Austin Old Three Hundred colonist, was born early in 1792 in Herkimer County, New York, one of eleven children of Esther (Randall) and Baptist minister Benjamin Wightman. Wightman taught school in New York, eventually marrying one of his students, Mary Sherwood (see HELM, MARY S.W.), whose book, Scraps of Early Texas History (1884), includes gleanings from her husband's surveying field notes. Wightman was in Texas as early as 1824, and by July 1825 he had been appointed by Stephen F. Austin as one of the appraisers of goods damaged on the schooner, Lady of the Lake. In August 1826 Wightman and several other persons petitioned Austin for the establishment of the town of Matagorda, and Wightman himself petitioned for a league of land on the east side of the Colorado River. As one of the Old Three Hundred colonists, he received title to a sitio of land in the area of present Matagorda County on May 25, 1827. In 1828 Austin sent Wightman and David G. Burnet to the United States to help recruit settlers for his colony. Wightman went to New York, beginning his return journey south in November 1828 with approximately fifty to sixty colonists, including his parents, whose 1830 burials, the first in the Matagorda Cemetery, are commemorated by a Texas Historical Commission historic marker. Traveling by wagon train, river, and finally from New Orleans on the schooner Little Zoe, they reached the mouth of the Colorado and the small fort built there for the protection of the incoming settlers in late January 1829.
Wightman may have been at an 1829 meeting in San Felipe de Austin to discuss the founding of a Masonic lodge there, and by August 1829 he had been elected surveyor for Matagorda, where he had built his home. By that October he had surveyed the town of Marion on the Brazos River. Around that time he was also corresponding with Austin about operating a salt works and had agreed to teach school at Matagorda for a year. Wightman was working for Austin as a surveyor in 1830, and the Austin Papers contain voluminous correspondence between the empresario and the surveyor. The Wightman family participated in the Runaway Scrape in 1836. In 1837 Wightman was among the first justices of the peace elected in newly organized Matagorda County and the following year was involved with the Caney Navigation Company, a group organized to improve transportation on Caney Creek by clearing its channel and adding connecting canals. In October 1840 Wightman and other citizens of Matagorda signed a letter to Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar recommending John Delap as successor to Silas Dinsmore as county judge. Wightman died on October 26, 1841, shortly after he had sold his Matagorda County land and moved to his new property in Covington, Kentucky. In the 1980s some of Wightman's field notes were housed at the Matagorda county clerk's office and in the Matagorda County Museum in Bay City.