When the Texas Baptist Education Society petitioned the Congress of the Republic of Texas for a charter to start a university, the first name suggested was “San Jacinto” to recognize the victory which enabled the Texans to become an independent nation. Then it was changed to honor revolutionary hero Ben Milam. Just before the final vote of the Congress, the petitioners requested the university be named in honor of Judge R. E. B. Baylor. Republic of Texas President Anson Jones signed the Act of Congress on February 1, 1845, officially chartering it as Baylor University.
Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor, or R. E. B. Baylor, was born in Lincoln County, Kentucky, on 1793 May 10. His parents, Walker and Jane Bledsoe Baylor, had six children. Walker had served in the Continental Army as a member of the 3rd Light Dragoons. He was eventually promoted to captain and served as an orderly on General George Washington’s staff. Walker’s son Robert attended country schools for most of his adolescence. He was admitted to the bar in 1812, but postponed his legal career to fight in the War of 1812. As a member of the Kentucky Militia, Baylor participated in battles in Ohio Territory and in the ill-fated invasion of Canada.
After the end of the War of 1812, Baylor studied law with his uncle, Judge Jesse Bledsoe and became well-known throughout the area. In 1819, R.E.B. Baylor was elected to the Kentucky State Legislature. His reputation continued to grow after moving to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In 1824, Baylor was elected to the Alabama State Legislature and became a United States Representative from that state in 1828. In 1836, Baylor led a battalion of Alabama volunteers against the Creek Indians.
One of the defining moments of R.E.B. Baylor’s life came in 1839 with his conversion to Christianity. He was ordained shortly after his conversion experience, leaving his flourishing political career in Alabama behind to spread the Gospel.
At the age of forty-six, Baylor moved to Texas where he continued to devote his life to law and his new faith. In 1841, he was appointed an associate justice of Texas’ Supreme Court. While judging cases around the state, he presided over the first district court held in Waco and preached perhaps the first sermon offered in Waco. He was involved in a number of religious organizations including the Texas Baptist Education Society, the Union Association, and the Texas Baptist State Convention. He had joined the Freemasons in 1825 and served as a chaplain for that society in 1843, 1846, and 1847.
Baylor was also instrumental in founding Baylor University, named for him when it was chartered in 1845. Despite his involvement as donor and law professor, Baylor was never a president of the school.
Although Baylor was never married nor had children, he was quite close to his nephew John Baylor, as John lived with him for a time and wrote to him often when he left Robert Baylor’s house. John Baylor led an adventurous life of his own as a noted Indian fighter, commander of the first Confederate invasion of New Mexico in the American Civil War, Confederate congressman, and gunfighter.
After a life of faith in God and public service to three states, Robert Baylor died on 1873 December 30. He was buried at Baylor University’s original campus in Independence, Texas, but his remains were transferred to the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor in 1917.
1 The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, Texas. Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor Papers # 1362. Retrieved from https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/164146.pdf.