James A. Baker Sr.

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James A. Baker Sr.
Born James Addison Baker Jr.
January 10, 1857
Huntsville, Texas
Died August 2, 1941 (aged 84)
Houston, Texas
Cause of death Unspecified illness
Resting place Glenwood Cemetery, Houston, Texas
Nationality United States of America
Other names Captain James A. Baker
Occupation Attorney
Spouse(s) Alice Graham
(m. 10 January 1883)
Children 1) Frank Graham Baker
2) James A. Baker, Jr.
3) Alice Baker Jones
4) Walter Browne Baker
5) Malcolm G. Baker
Parent(s) James Addison Baker
Rowena Crawford Baker
Relatives James Baker

James Addison Baker Sr. (aka Captain James A. Baker[1] January 10, 1857 – August 2, 1941) was an American attorney and banker in Houston, Texas.

Baker was the grandfather of President Ronald Reagan's Chief of Staff, James Addison Baker III.[2] Baker's father was an early partner of the Houston-based international law firm, Baker Botts, joining in 1872. Baker became a partner with the firm as well.[3][4]

Life and career[edit]

Baker was born in Huntsville, Texas, the son of James Addison Baker (1821–1897) and his wife Rowena Crawford Baker (1826–1889).[2] James had lived in Dodge, Huntsville, Texas in his childhood.

Baker attended a nearby primary school in Dodge, Texas, before studying at the Texas Military Institute and Trinity University, both located in San Antonio, Texas. In 1880, Baker joined the State Bar of Texas.[citation needed]

In Houston, Capt. James A. Baker, Sr. headed the 100-year-old law firm, Baker, Botts, Andrews, and Wharton. [5] Baker was the personal attorney of William Marsh Rice, the eventual founder of Rice University. [6] Rice was chloroformed by his butler, Charles F. Jones, on September 23, 1900 in his apartment on Madison Avenue. [7] Albert T. Patrick was Rice's attorney in New York, and the mastermind behind murdering Rice.[8] Patrick had produced a will that turned out to be a fake with the signature of Rice forged by Patrick. Baker alerted the police about the potentially suspicious motives behind Rice's death.[9] The murder case and litigation over the will, which left a trust fund for the Rice Institute, would take nearly ten years to sort out.[10] Baker, as an executor of the previous 1896 will, got it admitted into evidence at the trial, a major point in the case.[2] In a case that made national headlines, he helped the estate direct the Rice fortune (over $5 million dollars in 1904) to the founding of the Rice Institute for the Advancement of Letters, Science, and Art, the intended wishes of William Rice.[1][10] Because of Baker's business acumen, by the time the case ended, the endowment for Rice Institute had doubled $10 million.[11] Baker would be the main representative of the estate and was the founding chairman of the university's Board of Trustees, where he served from the chartering of Rice in 1891 until his death in 1941. The board would take control of the assets on April 29, 1904. Rice University's Baker College is named for him.[1][10]

Beginning in 1905, he was a director of Union National Bank, he organized Commercial National Bank, and after engineering a merger with South Texas National Bank, served as president, and later chairman of the board, of South Texas Commercial National Bank (1914–1926).[1][2] After the Wall Street Crash of 1929 he was instrumental in avoiding the collapse of banks that were sweeping the nation. The president of South Texas Bank wanted to let two weaker Houston banks fail (Public National Bank and Trust Company of Houston run by Jules Henri Tallichet; and Houston National Bank run by C. S. E. Holland),[12][13] saying that they deserved to do so because management was incompetent. Baker argued that if the two weak banks failed, depositors would withdraw their money from all Houston banks, creating a domino effect that couldn't be stopped. Baker's reasoning persuaded the other bankers, including Jesse Holman Jones, not to let the other two banks fail. All of the solvent banks were assessed a recovery fee, based on a percentage of their assets and healthy businesses also contributed to the fund. The fund was used to absorb Public National, and with the help of the fund, Union National and Commercial National took over Houston National.[1][2]

Baker was a member of the Presbyterian Church, Philosophical Society of Texas, president of the Houston Bar Association, and a founder and a board member of the Houston Gas Company. He organized and was the first president of the Guardian Trust Company, and helped organize the Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railway and the Southwestern Drug Company.[1][2]


James Addison Baker married Alice Graham on January 10, 1883, his 26th birthday. They had five [14] children: Frank Graham Baker, James A. Baker, Jr., Alice Graham Baker (married Murray B. Jones), Walter Browne Baker, and Malcolm G. Baker.

James Baker, Jr. continued his fathers commitment to Rice, and his son James Baker III, was behind the James Baker Institute.[15] He has been on the Rice Board of Trustees from 1993 to present day.[16]

Alice Graham Baker founded the Houston Settlement Association (now Neighborhood Centers, Inc.) in 1907.[17]


James Addison Baker died in Houston on August 2, 1941,[18] aged 84. He was interred at Glenwood Cemetery in Houston. He bequeathed his home, "The Oaks", to Rice Institute (Rice University).[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f City of Houston: Procedures for Historic District Designation Archived 2010-06-01 at the Wayback Machine.. – City of Houston. – (Adobe Acrobat *.PDF document). – Retrieved: 2008-07-11
  2. ^ a b c d e f g James Addison Baker (1857–1941). – Handbook of Texas Online. – Texas State Historical Association. – Retrieved: 2008-07-11
  3. ^ James Addison Baker (father 1821–1897). – Handbook of Texas Online. – Texas State Historical Association. – Retrieved: 2008-07-11
  4. ^ Baker Botts. – Handbook of Texas Online. – Texas State Historical Association. – Retrieved: 2008-07-11
  5. ^ http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/ricewrc/00518/rice-00518.html
  6. ^ http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/ricewrc/00518/rice-00518.html
  7. ^ http://baker.rice.edu/captain-james-addison-baker.html
  8. ^ http://baker.rice.edu/captain-james-addison-baker.html
  9. ^ http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/ricewrc/00130/rice-00130.html
  10. ^ a b c "Murdered Man's Estate Founds Great University". – New York Times. – February 25, 1912. – Retrieved: 2008-07-11
  11. ^ http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/ricewrc/00130/rice-00130.html
  12. ^ Jules Henri Tallichet. – Handbook of Texas Online. – Texas State Historical Association. – Retrieved: 2008-07-11
  13. ^ C. S. E. Holland. – Handbook of Texas Online. – Texas State Historical Association. – Retrieved: 2008-07-11
  14. ^ http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/ricewrc/00518/rice-00518.html
  15. ^ http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/ricewrc/00130/rice-00130.html
  16. ^ http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/ricewrc/00130/rice-00130.html
  17. ^ Houghton, Dorothy Knox Howe. – "Honoring: Mr. and Mrs. James A. Baker, III". – The Flyleaf. – Friends of Fondren Library Vol. 48, No. 2 Spring 1998 – (Adobe Acrobat *.PDF document). – Retrieved: 2008-07-11
  18. ^ http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/ricewrc/00518/rice-00518.html

Further reading[edit]

  • Morris, Sylvia Stallings, and Andrew Forest Muir, (1972). – William Marsh Rice and His Institute: A Biographical Study. – Houston, Texas: William Marsh Rice University. – 726164
  • Logan, Bill (1977). – The Houston Heritage Collection of National Bank Notes, 1863 thru 1935. – Houston, Texas: Logan. – 3650758
  • Kirkland, William A., (1975). – Old Bank-New Bank: The First National Bank, Houston, 1866–1956. – Houston, Texas: Pacesetter Press. – ISBN 978-0-88415-304-7
  • Macon, N. Don, Thomas Dunaway Anderson, and the Texas Medical Center, (1994). – Monroe Dunaway Anderson, His Legacy, A History of the Texas Medical Center. – 31860082

External links[edit]