Henry Lee Graves, Baptist minister and educational leader, was born in Yanceyville, North Carolina, on February 22, 1813, the son of Thomas Graves. He attended the University of North Carolina from 1831 to 1835 and taught math at Wake Forest College from 1835 to 1837. After his ordination to the Baptist ministry in 1837, he attended Hamilton Literary and Theological Institute in New York from 1840 to 1842. He taught in Covington, Georgia, in 1843, and in 1845 he was a delegate from that state to the organizational meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Augusta, Georgia.
Graves left his teaching position and moved to Texas in 1846 to become the first president of Baylor University at Independence. During his presidency Baylor acquired its first permanent building and saw enrollment grow to seventy students. Graves served in the joint capacity of university president and minister of the Independence Baptist Church from 1847 to 1850. He resigned his university position in 1851 due to health problems.
He was closely associated with other Texas Baptist leaders, including J. M. Carroll, Z. N. Morrell, R. E. B. Baylor, and George W. Baines, Sr. Carroll called Graves "a princely gentleman, a ripe scholar, a strong and dignified convention presiding officer, and a splendid school man." Graves's denominational activities in Texas included service as president of the Texas Baptist State Convention in 1848 and president of the Texas Baptist Education Society in 1872. He also held pastorates at Brenham and Schulenburg. From 1859 to 1869 Graves was president of Fairfield Female Academy in Fairfield. The Civil War brought him financial difficulties, but by late 1869 he had sold his property in Fairfield, paid his debts, and moved to Brenham, where he continued his Baptist work. He served as president of Baylor Female College at Independence in 1871–72.
Graves was married to Rebecca W. Graves, a cousin, in 1836 and had four daughters and two sons. Rebecca died in 1865, and he married a widow, Myra Lusk Crumpler, in 1872. Graves was a master Mason. He died at Brenham on November 4, 1881, and is buried there.