Most American colonies, states and districts did not begin their existence practicing religious liberty. Two exceptions were the colonies of Rhode Island and New Jersey. Later Texas would join that list.
Texas was originally a part of Mexico under the 1824 Mexican Democratic Constitution. But political turmoil and Catholic domination from the south made life in Texas miserable and various factions fought for control, including the forces of Santa Anna who attempted to set up a dictatorship. On November 3, 1835 a meeting was held by American settlers seeking independence, but the motion was voted down and the colonists, calling themselves Texans, determined to remain loyal to Mexico. But government troops, Santa Anna’s men and some Texans continued to clash until it was recognized that the only road to peace was through total independence which included freedom to choose, freedom to vote, and freedom of worship.
In Mexico the only religion not forbidden by law was Roman Catholicism. Also, there were as yet no schools, so there were very few places for large groups to meet. On this day (March 1) in 1836 in Washington, Texas, a group of American settlers met in the blacksmith shop of N. T. Byars. All his equipment was pushed aside, benches were brought in and government business began. That meeting became the first Texas convention. Judge Richard Ellis, who had become a farmer after emigrating from Virginia, was chosen to preside over the session. The following day Texas independence was declared, a new government was begun, and Samuel Houston was selected to lead the Texan army.
At that time, Santa Anna was massing 10,000 troops to besiege San Antonio. Four days later the Alamo fell, and 182 Texans were slain, but at the expense of 1,600 Mexican troops. Two weeks later Santa Anna captured and attempted to slaughter 350 more Texans, but 82 somehow escaped. Then, less than one month later, the Battle of San Jacinto was fought – led by Sam Houston. In 30 minutes 750 Texans had defeated 1,500 of Santa Anna’s men, and he had been captured. Texas was free from Mexican control, and a new state was prepared to enter the American union.
Now for the rest of the story… Judge Richard Ellis was from a prominent Virginia Baptist family that provided many Baptist preachers both back home and on the frontier. Blacksmith Byars was a Baptist and became a missionary and church planter. And General Samuel Houston also became an outspoken Baptist. The early political and spiritual leadership of Texas guaranteed that there would be religious liberty in the Lone Star State.