153 And Counting ...

Feb. 2, 1998

What do the names Milam, San Jacinto and Tryon have in common? They were almost the names of Baylor University. As a matter of fact, Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor, the man for whom the university is named, recommended to name the school Tryon, in honor of William Tryon, the man who originated the idea.

These columns are the only remainsof Baylor at Independence, Texas.

Tryon, Baylor and other Baptists said the state needed an institution to support Baptist efforts to advance the gospel and provide education to the people of the Texas frontier. Tryon served as one of the first missionaries to Texas while Baylor, also an ordained minister, served the state as a district judge. Ironically, Baylor once held agnostic views before converting to Christianity. Thomas Chilton, Baylor's cousin and a politician who accepted the call to ministry, led Baylor to faith in Christ in 1839.

Baylor maintained an active political career before his role in founding the university. In 1829, he won a seat in the U. S. House of Representatives for Alabama after losing house races in 1825 and 1827. He then ran unsuccessfully in 1835 and 1837. Historians note that Baylor's close relationships with Henry Clay and Davy Crockett, opponents of then President Andrew Jackson, cost Baylor his re-election bids.

Baylor held ties to the founding of America, as well as to the the oldest university in Texas. His father, Walker, and uncle George fought in the Revolutionary War and were close friends of George Washington. Baylor followed his father to the military and fought in the War of 1812. After the military, Baylor studied law under his uncle Jesse Bledsoe, the son of Joseph Bledsoe, a Baptist minister who was arrested for preaching the gospel. The legendary Patrick Henry successfully defended Joseph in court.

In 1839, Baylor moved to Texas, and settled in La Grange, where he later began preaching. He then helped organize a small number of Baptist churches into the Union Baptist Association. Baylor served as secretary for the association while Tryon served as moderator. The union formed the Texas Baptist Education Society which petitioned the Republic of Texas for the charter for a university that would be called Baylor.

Republic of Texas President Anson Jones signed the charter on Feb. 1, 1845, and the university annually celebrates its anniversary on that day. Judge Baylor served as president of the founding education society and Tryon served as vice president.

The first Baylor campus opened in Independence, Texas. Henry Gillett, an Episcopalian, served as the school's first instructor. Henry L. Graves served as the university's first president. Baylor's first graduate, Stephen Decatur Rowe, received his diploma in 1854. In 1866, the university split along gender lines, creating the Baylor Female College, which today is the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas. In 1886, Baylor merged with Waco University and moved from the Independence campus to Waco, where it remains today.

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