Noah T. Byars, pioneer Baptist preacher, was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on May 17, 1808. He moved to Georgia as a young man and subsequently, in 1835, to Texas, where he established a gunsmith and blacksmith shop at Washington-on-the-Brazos. He was also involved in a real estate business with Peter M. Mercer; the two were described as "merchants and partners" in the deed records of Washington County in 1835. On January 21, 1838, Byars married Sophia A. Lowden; they had three children.
In 1836 Sam Houston appointed Byars armorer and blacksmith of the Texas army. He also served as sergeant-at-arms to the Texas Senate from 1837 to 1841 and as armorer and blacksmith to the Indians, a position to which he was appointed by Mirabeau B. Lamar. Byars was associate judge of Travis County from 1839 to 1841 and was elected for another two-year term but declined to serve because of his ordination in 1841 to the Baptist ministry. When he moved to Burleson County to assume his first pastorate, he was appointed notary public for the county by the president of the Republic of Texas.
Byars had been one of eight charter members of the first Baptist church in Texas, which Z. N. Morrell established at Washington-on-the-Brazos. His ordination, on October 16, 1841, was attended by President Lamar and members of his cabinet. In 1848 Byars was appointed the first missionary of the Texas Baptist Convention. His mission field extended from the Brazos River to the Trinity and northwest to Palo Pinto and Young counties. It covered the territory of thirty present-day Texas counties. Byars was instrumental in founding five Baptist associations in Texas: the Trinity River Association in 1848, the West Fork (of the Trinity) Association in 1856, the Brazos River Association in 1858, the Pecan Valley Association in 1876, and the Hamilton County Association in 1877. He also founded more than sixty churches in Texas, including First Baptist, Waco, in 1851, and First Baptist, Brownwood, in 1876.
Though he had little formal education himself, he wanted the church to lead the way in providing education in Texas. Under his leadership, the Brazos River Association founded a school at Golconda (now Palo Pinto). He later founded a school known as Byars Institute in Houston. By 1843 the Texas Baptist Educational Society was functioning as a separate organization but in connection with the Brazos River Association; it included Byars on its first board of managers. The education society founded Baylor University in Waco and the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton while Byars served on the board of managers. A year after his death, the Pecan Valley Association established Howard Payne College (now Howard Payne University) in Brownwood.
In his old age Byars served as pastor of First Baptist, Brownwood, for fourteen months in 1881–82. His last full charge was at Clear Creek Baptist in Brown County in 1884. He officiated at the wedding of Katherine Anne Porter's parents. In 1884–85 he was appointed missionary to the Texas Baptist Convention without definite charge (probably as a means of giving him a livelihood rather than for actual services.) But Byars returned to the pulpit in the last months of his life. In April 1888 he petitioned the conference for permission to preach at least one sermon a month in the Coggin Academy Building across the street from his home in Brownwood. Permission was granted, and he preached there until his death on July 18, 1888. He was survived by his second wife, whom he had married in 1877, and his children from his first marriage. He is buried in Greenleaf Cemetery in Brownwood. In 1936 a special Byars Memorial Thanksgiving Service was held in honor of the Texas Centennial on the campus of Howard Payne College. A blue marble spire was erected there and later moved to Byars's grave.