William Wright (W. W.) Barnes, preacher, seminary professor, and Baptist Church historian, was born on February 28, 1883, in Elm City, North Carolina, the youngest son of six children of Wright and Nettie Ralph (Bridgers) Barnes. His father and brother were physicians, and his mother was class valedictorian at Chowan College. Barnes joined the Elm City Baptist Church on October 12, 1898, and was baptized four days later. He graduated from Wake Forest College with B.A. and M.A. degrees. He was ordained to the ministry on July 31, 1904, at Elm City Baptist Church. In 1904–05 he taught the children of American families in Santiago, Cuba. In 1905 he returned to Wilson, North Carolina, and became both principal and teacher at a public school. Barnes entered Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1906 and received a Th.M. degree in 1909. After returning to Havana, Cuba, he served from February 1909 until May 1912 as principal of El Colegio Cubano-Americano.
In 1913 he received a Th.D. degree from Southern Seminary and became professor of church history at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, where he stayed until his retirement in 1953. During the frequent absences of Dr. Lee R. Scarborough, president of Southwestern from 1914 to 1942, Barnes served as acting president and at times as dean and registrar. He ministered as interim pastor at many Baptist churches and as moderator of the Tarrant Baptist Association for 1914, 1922–27, and 1933–35. He also served on committees and commissions in the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1936 Barnes served on the Southern Baptist Committee for the Preservation of Baptist History, which established the Southern Baptist Historical Commission on May 13, 1938. He served also as president of the Texas Baptist Historical Society, organized on November 10, 1938. He received honorary doctorates from Wake Forest College in 1934 and Hardin-Simmons University in 1952.
Barnes wrote articles for Review and Expositor, Southwestern Journal of Theology, and Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists. He also published The Southern Baptist Convention: A Study in the Development of Ecclesiology (1923) and The Southern Baptist Convention, 1845–1953 (1954). Barnes was a Mason. He and Ethel Dalrymple were married on October 20, 1909, in Amory, Mississippi. They had two sons. Barnes died on April 6, 1960, in Fort Worth and was buried there in Greenwood Cemetery.
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Robert A. Barker, "William Wright Barnes," Baptist History and Heritage 5 (July 1970). William Wright Barnes Collection (Texas Baptist Historical Collection, A. Webb Roberts Library, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary). James F. Carter, Cowboys, Cowtowns and Crosses: A Centennial History of the Tarrant Baptist Association (Fort Worth: Tarrant Baptist Association, 1986). Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists (4 vols., Nashville: Broadman, 1958–82).
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Samuel B. Hesler,
“Barnes, William Wright,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 22, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
November 1, 1994
Most Recent Revision Date:
September 30, 2020
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: