R. E. B. Baylor, lawyer, college founder, and Baptist leader, was born in Lincoln County, Kentucky, on May 10, 1793, the son of Walker and Jane (Bledsoe) Baylor. His father had been a captain in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, in a company of dragoons that often assisted George Washington. Baylor received his formal education at a country school and at academies around Paris, Kentucky. After service in the War of 1812 he studied law in the office of his uncle, Judge Jesse Bledsoe, and was elected in 1819 to the Kentucky legislature. Around 1820 he moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he practiced law. In 1824–25 he served in the Alabama legislature. He was elected a representative from Alabama to the Twenty-first Congress of the United States in 1829 and was defeated in the election of 1831. In 1833 he moved to Dallas County, Alabama. Baylor raised a few volunteers and served as a lieutenant colonel against the Creek Indians in Alabama in 1836.
He was converted in 1839 during a Baptist revival meeting conducted by his cousin Thomas Chilton at Talladega, Alabama. The same year he was ordained a Baptist minister and, at the age of forty-six, went to Texas. He settled near La Grange in Fayette County and organized a school. He assisted in the organization of the Union Baptist Association in 1840 and the Texas Baptist Education Society around 1841. With two other Baptist ministers, Z. N. Morrell and Thomas W. Cox, he served under Edward Burleson at the battle of Plum Creek in 1840.
On January 7, 1841, Baylor was elected judge of the Third Judicial District of the Congress of the Republic of Texas and consequently became an associate justice of the Supreme Court, an office he held until the end of the republic. He was a delegate from Fayette County to the Convention of 1845 and served on three committees: Annexation, Judiciary, and General Provisions of the Constitution. He helped to write the first state constitution and favored free public schools, homestead exemptions, annual elections, and the exclusion of clergy from the legislature. He opposed the veto power for the governor. In 1846 the first Texas state governor, J. P. Henderson, appointed Baylor judge of the state's Third Judicial District. Baylor served in that capacity until 1863.
With William M. Tryon and J. G. Thomas, Baylor prepared the petition that led to the establishment of Baylor University in 1845. He may have donated the first $1,000 to the university; he served as a member of the board of trustees and taught law intermittently, without pay. While traveling through his judicial districts on horseback to enforce the law, he held court by day and preached in the evenings. He presided at the first district court held in Waco and perhaps delivered the first sermon ever preached in that city, at the hotel owned by Shapley P. Ross. Baylor became a Mason in 1825; he served as chaplain of the Grand Lodge of Texas Masons in 1843, 1845, and 1847. In 1853 he assisted in the organization of a lodge at Gay Hill in Washington County, his home until his death.
Baylor never married. He died on December 30, 1873, and was buried, as he had requested, on the campus of Baylor University at Independence. His remains were reinterred in 1917 on the campus of Baylor Female College (now the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor).