A Baptist stronghold, Independence claims a famous convert, Texas statesman and hero Sam Houston, who was baptized in 1854 at a creek south of town. According to local lore, when told his sins were washed away, Houston reportedly replied, “… pity the fish downstream.” Houston, his wife, Margaret, and mother-in-law, Nancy Moffette Lea, worshipped at Independence Baptist Church; the two women are buried across the street from the churchyard and Margaret Lea Houston’s 1863 home stands nearby.
One of the oldest Baptist congregations in Texas, Independence Baptist Church was organized in the 1839. The current stone house of worship dates to 1872. The adjacent Texas Baptist Museum displays pre-Civil War artifacts including an 1856 church bell.
The church held separate services for Anglo and African American congregants, but after Emancipation, the African Americans broke away to form Liberty Baptist Church and a school. In the 1920s, a new school was constructed under the program established by philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, the former president of Sears, Roebuck, to advance African American education in the rural South. The Rosenwald school closed in 1953, but the early-20th Century, Gothic Revival-style church remains active. Liberty Baptist and Independence Baptist are among six area churches that participate in a program initiated by the Independence Preservation Trust. The grounds of each church are lit at night, creating a magical tour of a region that played an important role in early Texas history.