Benajah Harvey Carroll, Baptist leader, pastor, teacher, and author, was born near Carrollton, Mississippi, on December 27, 1843, the seventh child of Benajah and Mary Elisa (Mallard) Carroll. His father was a Baptist preacher who supported his family by farming. The family moved to Arkansas in 1850 and to Burleson County, Texas, in 1858. Carroll entered Baylor University, then at Independence, in 1859 with junior standing. He studied philosophy and became a champion debater. In 1861, just before earning his degree, he left to fight for the Confederacy in Benjamin McCulloch's Texas Rangers. He later joined the Seventeenth Texas Infantry of the Confederate Army and served until he was wounded in 1864 in Mansfield, Louisiana. Although Carroll left Baylor before graduating, the institution granted him the B.A. degree. Later he received honorary M.A. and D.D. degrees from the University of Tennessee and an honorary LL.D. degree from Keatchie College, Louisiana.
Despite the influence of his parents, Carroll was deeply troubled over his spiritual condition and privately skeptical toward the rudiments of Christianity. After his return from the war he was crippled and in debt and suffered numerous family crises. He was converted in 1865 at a Methodist camp meeting near Caldwell, Texas. The following year he became an ordained Baptist minister. From 1866 to 1869 Carroll preached in rural Baptist churches in Burleson and McLennan counties and participated in revivals throughout Central Texas. He also taught school and farmed to help support his family. In 1871 he became pastor of the First Baptist Church, Waco, where he remained until 1899. During his pastorate this church became a flagship church of Texas Baptists. Carroll's intellectual acumen and oratorical gifts contributed mightily to his prominence, but more than any single factor a doctrinal debate in 1871 and the publicity surrounding it thrust him to the forefront among the state's Baptists. Editor J. B. Link of the Texas Baptist Herald vigorously promoted Carroll as a rising champion of orthodoxy after the young Waco pastor purportedly vanquished a seasoned Methodist polemicist in an acrimonious confrontation. Proclaimed as a "new giant in Israel," Carroll began publishing a steady stream of trenchant editorials, doctrinal discussions, and sermons in the state's Baptist periodicals. Throughout the 1870s he held important positions on boards and committees of the General Association (a regional forerunner of the Baptist General Convention of Texas) and figured prominently in early negotiations and support efforts aimed at centralizing Texas Baptist educational institutions. In the 1880s he took an active role in consolidating regional associations and conventions into a single unified body, the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Carroll also served on several Southern Baptist Convention committees and addressed the convention on various occasions.
Having publicly maintained a firm stand against liquor since the beginning of his Waco ministry, Carroll, a Democrat, was a natural leadership choice in the McLennan County and statewide prohibition crusades of the late 1880s. In both he matched words and wits with two of the state's most influential politicians, Richard Coke and Roger Q. Mills. Before a crowd of 7,000 in Waco he engaged Mills in a heated three-hour debate that almost ended in a brawl. By weathering abuse in the political arena, he developed an imperviousness to criticism that served him well in guiding Texas Baptists through the turbulent 1890s. During the last decade of his ministry at the First Baptist Church, Carroll was involved directly and indirectly in virtually every controversy that touched Baptists in the state.
Carroll left the First Baptist Church to become corresponding secretary for the Educational Commission, an agency dedicated primarily to securing financial stability for Texas Baptist schools. For the remainder of his career he continued to work for the cause of Christian education. He taught Bible and theology at Baylor from 1872 to 1905. He began a fifteen-year term as chairman of the Baylor University Board of Trustees in 1886. He also served as a trustee of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, in the 1880s. In 1905 he organized Baylor Theological Seminary, which eventuated in the founding of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1908. Carroll taught at the new school, which moved to Fort Worth in 1910, and served as its president until his death.
Carroll's publications include addresses, doctrinal works, sermons, and Bible expositions. His magnum opus is An Interpretation of the English Bible (1913), a commentary in seventeen volumes. Baptist leader George Truett called Carroll "the greatest preacher our State has ever known." In 1866 Carroll married Ellen Virginia Bell. Nine children were born to this union. In 1899, after Ellen's death, he married Hallie Harrison. To them was born one son. Carroll died in Fort Worth on November 11, 1914, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Waco.