Daniel Baker, Presbyterian minister, was born on August 17, 1791, at Midway, Liberty County, Georgia, the youngest of seven children of William Baker and his first wife, who died in Daniel's infancy. Later William Baker died, leaving Daniel to be raised by an older brother and an aunt. After clerking in stores in Savannah for several years, Daniel went in 1811 to prepare himself for the ministry at Hampden-Sidney College in Virginia. He joined the Presbyterian Church there on April 19, 1811. Because of disturbances related to the war with Britain he moved to Princeton, where he graduated with honors in 1815.
To further his theological studies he associated himself with Rev. William Hill at Winchester, Virginia. He was married to Elizabeth McRobert by Moses Hoge, president of Hampden-Sidney, on March 28, 1816; the couple had four children. Baker was ordained and installed as pastor of the Presbyterian congregations at Harrisonburg and New Erection in March 1818; he supplemented his income by teaching school. In 1821 or 1822 he became pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C., where John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson were members. Baker also clerked at the Washington land office during this period. In 1828 he became pastor of the Independent Presbyterian Church, Savannah, Georgia. Following a brief pastorate in Frankfort, Kentucky, he went in 1836 to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Although he was never a slaveowner, he was also not an abolitionist, and at the division of the Presbyterian Church in 1836 his sympathies and membership remained with the "old school."
In 1839 Baker, influenced by Rev. John Breckinridge, resigned his pastorate and headed for Texas. He hoped to get there in time to claim 640 acres promised any head of a family who settled before January 1, 1840, but demands for him to preach and conduct protracted meetings were so insistent that his arrival at Galveston was delayed until early February 1840. As an evangelist he witnessed the first conversion to Presbyterianism in Galveston and helped to administer the first Protestant baptism and conduct the first Presbyterian communion there. The Presbyterian church at Galveston was organized by Rev. John McCullough in January 1840, and Baker went to Houston, which he described as "not handsome, and the streets very muddy. It was like treading mortar." The Presbyterian church there had been organized by Rev. William Y. Allen in 1839. In Chriesman Settlement, near Independence, an independent presbytery was organized in April 1840. Baker was invited to sit as a corresponding member from the Presbytery of Tuscaloosa. It may have been at this meeting on April 6 that the matter of establishing a college was broached. Afterward, Baker returned to the United States, conducted many revivals, and settled as pastor at Holly Springs, Mississippi.
On June 25, 1848, at the urging of Rev. Stephen F. Cocke, Baker arrived back in Texas, at Port Lavaca. Before returning to Holly Springs he preached in Victoria, Cuero, Clinton, Goliad, Gonzales, New Braunfels, and San Antonio. As a result of a brush with danger on the way from San Antonio to Austin the rumor spread as far as Washington, D.C., that he had been murdered. The news of his safety ruined some flowery obituaries. After preaching in Austin, Bastrop, Wharton, Columbia, and other places, he returned to Port Lavaca. He had organized churches in Port Lavaca and La Grange. After a brief return to Holly Springs he accepted the pastorate of the First Presbyterian Church in Galveston in 1848 and brought his family to Texas the following year. As a member of the committee to locate a college, Baker toured East Texas. He organized a church at Palestine. When he preached in Huntsville and mentioned the possibility of a college, the citizens subscribed $8,000 to be paid over a five-year period. They wanted the college named for the preacher, but Baker declined the honor. The school, under the name of Austin College, was located in Huntsville, its charter was signed by Governor George T. Wood on November 22, 1849.
Baker preached at Brownsville, Rio Grande City, and other towns before returning to Huntsville, his new home. In 1850 he was appointed general agent to collect funds for Austin College. To this end he toured throughout the East, North, and South that year and each of the next five years, preaching and fund-raising. He became president of Austin College in 1853, when Samuel McKinney resigned, and held the post until he resigned in 1857. By then he had acquired approximately $100,000 for the college.
He wrote several pamphlets and a volume of sermons. He received an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Lafayette College in 1848. After a life of single-minded service to his church, he died in the home of his son, William, in Austin on December 10, 1857. Daniel Baker College in Brownwood was named in his honor. See also PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH.