John Bodkin Link, Baptist preacher, editor, and education advocate, was born on May 7, 1825, in Rockbridge County, Virginia. He received his first formal instruction in the schools near his home. Due to the influence of a Presbyterian teacher, he underwent a conversion at the age of fifteen. Around 1845 he moved to western Tennessee to teach and save money for a college education. Two years later he briefly attended Botetourt Springs Academy in Virginia. From 1849 to 1853 he was enrolled in Georgetown College, Kentucky. While a student, he occasionally preached at local churches and worked as a colporteur for the American Tract Society. After receiving a bachelor of arts degree in 1853, Link entered Rochester Theological Seminary in New York and received a B.D. degree two years later. In 1879 he was awarded a doctorate of laws degree by Southwestern Baptist University in Jackson, Tennessee.
His first two pastoral assignments were in Paris, Kentucky, and Liberty, Missouri. While serving in Missouri he became the financial agent for William Jewel College. In two years he was successful in raising over $20,000 for the school. In 1861 he became brigade chaplain in the command of Gen. Tom Harris of the Missouri State Guard. Link quickly won the respect of the soldiers with his clear and logical presentation of the Gospel. He resigned his post in 1864 to accept an assignment with the Domestic Mission Board, Southern Baptist Conference, Trans-Mississippi Department. His work with the board's army-mission program brought him to South Texas, where he had begun to minister to the soldiers when Robert E. Lee surrendered in 1865.
Link recognized that the Baptists in Texas were unorganized and that they needed leadership and direction. He wanted to alleviate this situation with a denominational publication to promote educational and mission concerns and to reflect the political and theological sentiments of its readership. With the encouragement of the Texas Baptist State Convention, he assumed control of its almost defunct journal, the Texas Christian Herald. He depleted virtually all of his financial resources to published his first issue in December 1865 under the name Texas Baptist Herald. In 1869 Link met and married Mrs. Ada Miller, a widow whom he affectionately referred to as "Miss Ada."
Because of his lack of sentimental attachment to Baylor University and his desire to restore financial stability to educational concerns, Link championed the idea of developing a new central Baptist university. In the early stages the plan received some support, but by the late 1870s many influential leaders had come to reject the idea categorically. Through a new opposition periodical, Robert C. Buckner's Texas Baptist, Rufus C. Burleson, B. H. Carroll, and many others voiced their opposition to the plan. Carroll even began to question Link's doctrinal integrity. Heated exchanges between the Herald and the Baptist culminated in a quarrel that split the First Baptist Church in Dallas, where Buckner was a member until Link moved to Dallas and also joined the church.
In 1886 Link sold his interest in the Herald to Samuel A. Hayden, who had taken over the editorial duties of the Baptist. For a short time, Link remained as a coeditor of the new enterprise, the Texas Baptist and Herald. His last major contribution to Baptist work in Texas came during 1891–92, when he edited and published the monthly Texas Historical and Biographical Magazine. This publication put before the public a collection of articles and biographical sketches about Texas Baptist history. Link spent his last years on his stock farm near Austin. He occasionally traveled and spoke in behalf of Baylor College at Belton (now the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor). He also wrote articles for the Texas Baptist Standard and preached at Rockdale and Walnut Creek in Travis County. He died on January 10, 1894, in Austin.