Joseph Wilson Baines, lawyer, publisher, and Texas secretary of state, was born at Mount Lebanon, Louisiana, on January 24, 1846, the son of Melissa Ann (Butler) and Rev. George W. Baines. Four years later the family moved to Anderson, Texas, where George Baines published the first Baptist newspaper in the state. Described as a "precocious" child, Joseph received the educational benefits of a private tutor from England hired by his father. Later he attended Baylor University at Independence, where Reverend Baines had been appointed president. Joseph joined Walter L. Mann's Texas Cavalry Regiment in 1863 and served until the end of the Civil War.
In 1867 Baines moved to McKinney in Collin County, where he taught school and studied law under James W. Throckmorton. He was admitted to the bar and practiced civil law, invested in real estate, and in 1878 helped establish the McKinney Advocate. A year later he bought his partner's share and soon thereafter consolidated the paper with the McKinney Citizen. Baines renamed the weekly newspaper the Black Waxey and used it to support the campaign of Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Ireland. After his election Ireland acted on the advice of influential Democratic party members and newspaper editors and appointed Baines secretary of state. Baines sold the Black Waxey in 1883 and moved to Austin. For the next four years he served in the Ireland administration as a close political advisor to the governor and helped to oversee the construction of the Capitol.
He left Austin in 1887 and moved to Blanco, where he opened a law office and purchased a farm. Through his activities in the Baptist Church, support of public education, and the legal services he provided regardless of the clients' ability to pay, Baines established a good reputation. This and his past political experience resulted in his nomination and election to the Twenty-seventh Legislature from the Eighty-ninth District in 1903. At the end of his term he was forced to leave the community that had supported his political return to Austin. Financial losses incurred on the farm forced him to sell his land in Blanco and close his law office. He moved to Fredericksburg, where he lived in a modest house and renewed his law practice. He remained politically active and became chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee of Gillespie County.
He was married in 1869 to Ruth Huffman, and they had two daughters, Josefa and Rebekah, and a son, Huffman. Rebekah Baines Johnson was the mother of Lyndon Baines Johnson. The former secretary of state joined few organizations, for, he claimed, "I am a Baptist and a Democrat, that is enough for me." Baines died in Fredericksburg after a three-month illness, on November 18, 1906.