By Paul Fisher, Processing Archivist
One of the most important early supporters of Baylor University is also one of the lesser-known figures in university history. He has no building named in his memory, and his story is given only brief attention in resources about early Texas and Baylor history. Despite the lack of attention, Baptist minister and wealthy landowner Hosea Garrett was one of the longest-serving trustees in Baylor history and was a major donor of both his time and resources for more than 40 years.
Not much is known of Garrett’s early years. Born in South Carolina in 1800, he married his first cousin Mary Garrett in 1819 and was ordained as a Baptist minister around 1835. The Garrett family came to Texas in 1841, and settled in Chappell Hill, Washington County. Over time, Hosea Garrett became one of the richest plantation owners in Washington County.
Almost immediately upon arriving in Texas, Garrett began doing what he could to encourage Baptist churches throughout Texas. Although he spent the bulk of his time preaching in Washington County, Garrett was also involved on the state level with Baptist churches. Just prior to the American Civil War, he became president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Hosea Garrett’s subscription book, 1853, used to keep track of financial donations from people Garrett knew. Can you find Sam Houston’s name and donation amount? Hosea Garrett papers #3874, box 1, folder 5
Garrett must have become involved with Baylor University shortly upon arriving in Texas. His home of Chappell Hill (about 20 miles southeast of Independence) was one of a few towns that submitted bids for Baylor to make its home there—perhaps he was involved with that town’s offer. Garrett was first elected to the Board of Trustees (today the Board of Regents) in 1848, became president of the board that same year, and gave generously of his administrative talents while serving until 1868. But his service was not yet done—in 1870 he became president of the board again, serving until 1888. A notable change in the university during his tenure was the move from Independence to Waco in 1886, which he helped to oversee. His combined 38 years as president of the board still ranks as the record for the longest-serving leader of the board.
Page from the minutes of the Baylor Historical Society, 1953. Mentioned at the bottom is the oak grove memorial to Hosea Garrett. BU Records: Baylor Historical Society BU/28, box 19, folder 7.
Hosea Garrett passed away in 1888, at his home in Chappell Hill. However, that is not the end of his story. In the 1950s, when Baylor supporters were active in securing the original site of the university in Independence, Texas, descendants of Garrett named an oak grove on the property in his memory. The exact location of the grove is now lost to history—there are many oaks in Independence! However, the oak tree is known for its strength and endurance, and surely some of the descendants of that grove survive as a fitting memorial to a man who helped establish a firm foundation for Baylor University.
Did you find Sam Houston’s donation of $20 to Baylor in the subscription book? That $20 in 1853 would be about $550 today, according to inflation calculators.