William Calhoun Love

1798 - 1872

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister


WILLIAM CALHOUN LOVE was born in the Grassy Valley, Knox county, East Tennessee, on the 9th day of March, 1798. His father, William Love, was a native of Virginia, having been born and raised in Augusta county, near Staunton. His mother's maiden name was Esther Calhoun. She was born and raised in Abbeville District, South Carolina. She was a relative of John C. Calhoun, the distinguished politician of that State. Mr. Love's father and mother were married in 1785, and settled in Pendleton District, South Carolina. The parents remained in this State until after the birth of their fifth child, some time after which they started for the south-west. Mr. Love left his family for a time in East Tennessee, whilst he himself came to Kentucky, and made a settlement on the waters of Tradewater, in what is now Caldwell county. Whilst the mother and children were in East Tennessee, the subject of this sketch was born. In the settlement of the family in Kentucky it consisted of seventeen members, black and white. Mr. William Love, the father, was a surveyor, and while he was engaged in surveying some lands in what is now Hopkins county, he was killed by some outlaws by the name of Harp. The Harps were a family of brothers who had emigrated from North Carolina, and became a terror to that portion of Kentucky. Their robberies and murders are still recollected by the older inhabitants of Lower Kentucky. The mother was thus left in a land of strangers with a large family of twelve children, white and black. She was a Christian woman, however, and strengthened herself for her burden. Her husband was killed in his thirty-ninth year.

From the manuscript we have the following account of the earliest years of our subject:

"From my earliest years I was taught to pray. How often have I at night covered up my head after retiring, and repeated the little prayer:

'And now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
And if I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take!'

"After I became eight or ten years of age, I frequently retired at night to a certain walnut-tree in the field to pray. I recollect one night while I was engaged in prayer at the root of the tree, a decayed limb, or something which had been lodged in the tree, fell with a considerable noise, and frightened me very much. I verily thought it was the devil. It was some time before I ventured there for prayer again."

In process of time the widow married Joseph Kuykendall, and removed and settled with him near where Hopkinsville now stands. The marriage proved unhappy. The new husband was intemperate, and exceedingly profane. She could not endure the thought of raising her children under such an influence, and left him after an experiment of eighteen months, and returned to her former home. Says the writer of himself in those days:

"I was put in the field to work in crop-time, and in the winter sent to some little three-months' school. I soon learned to read, write, and spell. I was never permitted to swear, or use what were called bad words, or tell stories. On the contrary, I was taught to speak the truth, to go to Church, and when there to keep my seat and behave myself during the service. My mother was a Presbyterian, and had me baptized by old Father Terah Templin, at that time pastor of the congregation of which she was a member. I have a distinct recollection of the appearance of the grave, gray-headed old man. At one time, when he was administering the Lord's-supper, my attention was particularly attracted to him. I made my way up, and stood near him while he was officiating at the head of the table. When some of the old fathers and sisters began to clap their hands and shout, the preacher hastened to the stand, and cried out in the language of Joel, 'Rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God; for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.'"

His mother, however, became better satisfied with her religious condition after hearing McGready, and Ewing, and others of that class of preachers. Their earnest and experimental style of preaching came more fully home to her heart. She united herself with the revival ministers, as they were called, whilst they were laboring in the capacity of a Council. She died in 1844, in the communion of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The most of her children followed in her footsteps.

These details are not so important in themselves, but they are given because they will assist in the explanation of other facts, the account of which will follow. Mr. Love, our subject, grew up to manhood, and by degrees laid aside the habit of retirement for evening prayer, as well as other good habits which he had formed under the guidance of his pious mother. He became a restless and wild young man. He was a fine companion, had a roving disposition, and a great notion of what is called a life of adventure. These developments were, however, temporarily interrupted by the earthquakes of 1811 and 1812. Of the earthquakes we have the following account:

"In December of 1811, the earthquakes commenced on Sunday morning, some time before day. We were all aroused from sleep by a lumbering noise like distant thunder. Immediately the house began to shake, while mother sat up in the bed exclaiming, 'Judgment, the judgments of God upon the world for its wickedness!" We all put on our clothes in great consternation, waiting for daylight. Some time before day the neighbors began to come in, wishing to know mother's opinion of what had occurred, as she was considered among them as a woman of reading. They got the Bible, and turned it over from passage to passage, and came to the conclusion that it was an earthquake. Their minds were quieted a little. But just after daylight another severe shock occurred. All ran out of the house, which began to reel and crack as though it would fall over every moment. Everything appeared to be in motion. I know not what others thought, but verily I thought the last day had come. I was startled, but still I had but little fear. I had been up to this time like a young ruler: 'All these commandments have I observed from my youth.' The hidden wickedness of my heart had not yet been revealed to me."

Mr. Love's fondness for adventure has been mentioned. The war of 1812 came on, and in the latter part of 1814 a call was made on Kentucky and Tennessee for troops for the defense of New Orleans. He wanted to go upon the expedition which followed the call, but knew that his mother would not give her consent, as he was not yet seventeen. He obtained her consent, however, to make a boating trip, but made his way directly to Smithland, hired himself as a substitute for a man who had been drafted for the service, and was soon on his way to the seat of war. On the 4th of January, 1815, the expedition landed four miles below New Orleans. He shared in the terrible battle of the 8th, lost his bayonet in the conflict, and was very uneasy lest the British would be able to charge over the breastworks of the American lines, and he should be in an awkward predicament without a weapon so much needed in such a case. It turned out that he did not need his bayonet. He was one of the body of troops who were sent across the river to assist in recovering the ground which was supposed to have been lost there. The result of all was, that the unfilial young man reached the home of his mother unhurt. He was received as such wanderers are generally received by forgiving mothers. His own account is, "I met my mother and all the family at the gate, and such joy I had never experienced before as I experienced at that meeting."

This fondness for adventure still continued, and he determined to go to sea. Arrangements were made with Jesse Cobb, of Eddyville, a neighboring town on Cumberland River, to go with him as a hired hand on a trading boat to New Orleans. His purpose was to seek employment at New Orleans on board of a ship as a subordinate officer, or as a private sailor, and thus to commit himself to the perils of a life at sea. A good providence interposed. Before the boat was ready to leave Eddyville he was taken sick with what was then called the winter fever. Before he recovered the boat was gone, and the whole scheme was broken up.

On the 24th of July, 1817, Mr. Love was married to Honor Tison. His wife had been raised in Pitt county, North Carolina, and was six months younger than himself. He bought a farm a few miles from Princeton, and settled on it, but, after one or two unimportant changes, he moved in the winter of 1821 and 1822 to the Western District of Tennessee, and settled in Madison county, or rather what was soon organized into Madison county.

"Here," says her, "I must record with shame and deep contrition of heart that I departed farther than ever before from the way in which my pious mother had taught me to walk. The country was new, the people were strangers to one another, and acquaintances were frequently made and friendships formed around the bottle and over the glass."

He was a popular, companionable, and sprightly man--just such as one as would be expected to be carried away by a current like this. And he was carried too far. In the organization of the militia of the county he was elected an officer of respectable rank. This circumstance increased his temptations. He became, as he says, a prodigal, and started rapidly on the downward road. He had relentings, however, as a man with his early training would almost inevitably have. In the summer or early fall of 1822, James S. Guthrie, Francis Johnston, and the writer, held the first sacramental-meeting that ever was held by Cumberland Presbyterians in what is now Western Tennessee. The meeting was held on the north fork of Forked Deer, near Adley Alexander's. I have mentioned this circumstance elsewhere, but repeat it here for the purpose partly of more particularity. On Sabbath of this meeting, Mr. Guthrie was preaching with great power, on the subject of "pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father." I was in my place in the pulpit, and looking back I saw a man sitting alone on a stump fifteen or twenty steps from the pulpit, weeping like a child. That man was the prodigal, Major William C. Love. What wonders by his providence and by his grace God does work!

In 1824, Mr. Love left Madison county and settled in Gibson, about four miles from where Trenton now stands. After the organization of the county, the first court was held at his house. The following is his account of the accommodations for the occasion:

"I had built a cabin with a passage, and also a stable about twenty feet square, of round logs, mostly beech. As it had never been used, I gave it up for the use of the court. I split some puncheons and arranged them as seats for the court. Then some forks were driven into the ground, and a railing was made for the lawyers. A slab was prepared for their seat, and in front some boards were arranged on forks for their books and for the convenience of writing."

These were primitive preparations for the administration of justice. The ministrations of the gospel were conducted in very much the same primitive manner. The inevitable circuit-rider and camp-meeting of those days followed very soon upon the heels of the settlement. In 1826, a camp-meeting was held in the neighborhood of Mr. Love. It was the first meeting of the kind which was ever held there. He was one of the camp-holders, and, although not yet a professor of religion, and, as we have seen, altogether a man of the world, he entertained more people and kept more horses than any man on the ground. The preachers at that meeting were William Barnett, Robert Baker, Nelson I. Hess, and the writer.

The year 1828 was the great crisis in Mr. Love's life. He says himself, "It was the ever-memorable year in which four things transpired in connection with myself and family. Three of them should never be forgotten in time; and three of them I am sure will be remembered in eternity."

The first was strictly a domestic occurrence. He had, some time previous to this year, joined the Masons.

The second occurrence was his expulsion from the Lodge for card-playing and drinking on the Sabbath-day. He writes opposite to this: "A righteous judgment." If he had not been an honest Christian man he would have left no such record.

"The third," says he, "my last gambling and horse-racing."

The fourth, "My conviction and conversion."

It was a strange succession of events. I suppose the explanation is to be found in the principle that a disease develops itself with such power as partially to spend itself as it approaches a crisis. However we may settle this question, the record no doubt is honestly made, and the whole subsequent life was a cumulative testimony that the conviction and conversion were powerful realities. The following is his account of these latter events:

"Camp-meetings were coming on. The Cumberland Presbyterians held one near my own house. James Stewart, Richard Beard, John C. Smith, John and James McKee, and William Bumpass, were there. I suppose I need not say that there was another there greater than all the rest. It pleased this great, and good, and merciful Being, again to show me that I was a great sinner, and hastening to destruction. I believed and felt that I was the greatest sinner on the ground. Others might have committed more outrageous wickedness, but I had sinned against light and knowledge, had broken so many vows, had so often and so wickedly grieved the Holy Spirit, had so often gone to the altar and then again to the woods for prayer, and had still turned back. These reflections overwhelmed me. I did not know what to do. I was almost ready to say there could be no mercy for me. The good Lord, however, gave me strength and courage once more to seek the salvation of my soul. I there vowed, not in my own strength as heretofore, but in the strength of Israel's God, that I would pray and seek the pardon of my sins as long as I lived, and that I would die pleading for mercy, even if I never obtained it. I was not excited, nor in the altar, but quiet in the camp."

We are not surprised to learn that soon after this experience his mind became calm and peaceful; still he was not satisfied. At another meeting, however, not long after this, he became entirely relieved. It was a quiet, peaceful, and satisfactory conversion. On the following day his wife professed religion. His negro man Cato made profession before the meeting closed. It was, of course, a memorable occasion in the family. In a few weeks the husband and wife presented themselves for examination to the session at a camp-meeting at McLemoresville. The writer was present as Moderator of the session at the time. They were received, and their membership transferred to the congregation in their own vicinity. There was a large number of such cases, as it had been a year of great ingathering.

The following are his reasons, condensed, for uniting with the Cumberland Presbyterians:

"1. Their unity and love for one another. This was no small matter with a young convert.

"2. Their friendship for other Churches.

"3. Their general liberality and open communion.

"4. I believed, and loved with all my heart, the doctrines which their preachers presented and urged, especially, that Jesus Christ by the grace of God had tasted death for every man.

"5. Their doctrine of human freedom, which makes men fully responsible for their own conduct.

"6. The manner in which the righteousness of Christ is presented as the basis of our justification.

"7. Justification by faith alone; not by baptism, not by works of any kind, but by faith, and if by faith, then by grace."

Of course all these doctrinal principles are to be regarded as crudely received at first, but they afterward became digested into a system, made a part of the spiritual life of our subject. He understood them as well as believed them.

Mr. Love's old companions allowed him three months for a trial of his new life, but supposed that in three months, or at farthest in six, he would break down and be back among them. Instead of this, however, in a few months the subject of the temperance reformation began to be agitated, and he, with a few Presbyterians and Cumberland Presbyterians, organized, it is believed, the first temperance society that was ever organized in Tennessee. It was certainly the first that was organized in West Tennessee. There was opposition. Strange as it may seem, a man who had bidden fair to be a drunkard was found at the head of this temperance movement, in conflict, not merely with men of the world, but with Methodists, Baptists, and, with shame be it said, with some Presbyterians, and Cumberland Presbyterians also. Honor to the memory of the eighteen [This was the number that first organized the Temperance Society, at the close of a sermon by Rev. Samuel Hodge.] who then and there commenced the rolling of that ball! The writer knew something of the trial of those days.

In the fall of 1829, Mr. Love was received as a candidate for the ministry by the Hopewell Presbytery. He says of the Presbytery: "It was held at Trenton. I had been sent as a representative by our little Church. Reuben Burrow, Richard Beard, Anthony B. Lambert, Jordan Lambert, William H. Bigham, Robert Baker, William Bumpass, and perhaps others, were in attendance. I had long been in a strait, but my mind was greatly relieved, supposing that if such men as these thought me called to preach it must be so."

He no doubt learned to believe in the experience of his subsequent life that "such men as these," and far wiser and better men, might have been mistaken in this matter. Still, the judgment was unquestionably correct in the particular case.

In March, 1831, he was licensed, the sessions of the Presbytery being held at Bolivar. Two others stood with him and received the Presbyterial commission. One was the present venerable Israel Pickens; the name of a the other is not given. Robert Baker presided. His first regular appointment for preaching was at a school-house about ten miles from his home. In preaching he was very much embarrassed, and his effort was so unsatisfactory to himself, to use his own language, he was so ashamed of himself that as soon as the congregation could be dismissed he left unceremoniously, and rode home without his dinner, thus neglecting to claim even the lowest measure of the laborer's hire.

The following is an account of an experience of the olden time. He had been appointed to a circuit, and at the expiration of the first month says:

"I had been gone from home more than a month, had ridden two hundred and seventh miles, and had preached about twenty-five times. And as this was a six-months' service, the numbers multiplied by six would produce, for miles traveled, sixteen hundred and twenty, and for sermons one hundred and fifty, and yet one dollar and fifty cents was my compensation."

Such a record will startle some of the present generation of preachers. It is not made, however, nor is it repeated here by way of commendation. We may commend the self-denying preacher, but the people receiving the benefits of such labor were guilty before God. Is it not a wonder that God prospered them?

In the month of August, 1836, his wife died. He speaks of this circumstance as the greatest trial of his life. She was no doubt an earnest and devoted Christian woman. She was the mother of several children when her husband entered the ministry. An immense responsibility was upon her, yet she seems always to have borne her burdens with patience and meekness, and as a real helper. The truth is, the man who writes the history of some of the women of those times will write a book to be read. One verse of a favorite song with her was:

No, that stream has nothing frightful;
 To its banks my steps I bend.
There to plunge will be delightful;
 There my pilgrimage will end.

It was made a part of her obituary notice.

In 1837, Mr. Love moved to Kentucky, and settled in Piney Fork Congregation. His chief object in coming to Kentucky seems to have been that he might secure the aid of his mother in the management of his children. Piney Fork and Bethlehem Congregations were both without pastors. Neither of them had a comfortable house of worship. He calls them, no doubt very appropriately, mere shells of Churches. The Princeton Presbytery itself was small, and very much crippled in its operations. It had but four ministerial members. One of these was a Professor in Cumberland College, another was engaged in the practice of medicine, a third very much embarrassed with the financial affairs of the College, and the fourth was a farmer. About this time Mr. Love took charge of the Bethlehem and Piney Fork Congregations. He was to divide his time equally between them. No specified salary was stipulated.

In July, 1838, he was married a second time, to Miss Catherine Smith. The years 1843 and 1844 he lived near Bethlehem, and taught school in addition to his preaching. Necessity controlled him. In 1844 he resigned the charge of Piney Congregation. The annual compensation for pastoral services was fifty dollars, and sometimes not so much. He felt compelled to look elsewhere for a field of labor.

In October of 1845, he organized the Fredonia Congregation, to which he preached fourteen years in succession. In 1846 he moved to that neighborhood, where he remained to his death. In 1846 he withdrew from his connection with Bethlehem. The salary had been meager enough to produce discouragement. He records it, as upon an average, less than sixty dollars a year. His ministerial labors during the latter years of his life were distributed to the various congregations and destitute neighborhoods within his reach, as circumstances would permit.

In 1861, the cruel civil war came on. His inevitable sympathies and the sympathies of some of his friends ran in different channels. A few of his old friends turned their backs upon him. They were proscriptive; he thought them cruel. Let the charity of silence, however, bury these unholy heart-burnings in oblivion. One of his sons died a prisoner on Johnson's Island. About the same time two of his younger sons, the hope of his old age, were taken from him by death. In addition, in 1864 his home, which was comfortable and well furnished, with nearly every thing which it contained, was consumed by fire. Such a series of disasters produced, says my informant, a depressing effect upon his mind. He nevertheless rallied, and the five last years of his life were years of active labor. In addition to some necessary secular pursuits, he preached frequently on the Sabbath. At the fall session of Princeton Presbytery he was, by a mutual understanding, made the stated supply of Fredonia Congregation. He accordingly preached to them semi-monthly until his death. After the death of Dr. Bird, whose funeral-service he performed, he agreed to preach semi-monthly for the Bethlehem Congregation until a pastor could be procured. This engagement he fulfilled with his accustomed fidelity to his death. Some of the old people said that his pulpit efforts in those last days of his life savored of younger and more vigorous years. One of the elders of Fredonia, who had been in the habit of hearing him for thirty years, reports that "his sermons seemed fresh and new every time."

On the fourth Sabbath in March, 1872, he rode to Bethlehem, about six miles, and returned the same day. He was unwell, and not able to preach. A neighboring minister of the Presbyterian Church supplied the pulpit for him. On Friday following a violent attack of pneumonia developed itself. It soon assumed a typhoid form. Every arrangement, however, had been made. He had set his house in order. His will had been written by himself. He had selected his burial-place, had even given instructions in relation to his coffin and burial-services. Says my informant: "His sufferings were intense and protracted, but his patience and submission were those of a tried Christian. He was scarcely able to speak or hear for days previous to his departure, yet his every and last expression was that of peace and prospective joy. His death was a complete vindication of the truth and power of the Christian religion, as his life had been." He died April 18, 1872.

I have written this sketch on some accounts with a deeper and more tender interest than usual. It will be perceived that the line of the history falls in with the line of my own at various points. I first became slightly acquainted with Mr. Love in my early ministerial life. He then lived in Western Tennessee. I sometimes saw him at my meetings when a circuit-rider in that country. A few years subsequently I knew him as a liberal supporter of camp-meetings near Trenton, while still a man of the old world. Then again, as it has been stated, I believe, I was the Moderator of the session when he and the wife of his youth were received to membership in the Church. I next knew him as a member of the first temperance society of Trenton, and at his request, with that of others, preached, I suppose, the second temperance-sermon that was ever preached in Western Tennessee. That sermon was delivered in Trenton in the fall of 1828. I was present, according to his record, and according to my own recollection, when he was received as a candidate for the ministry. We were for a short time co-presbyters in 1837 and 1838, and again from 1843 to 1854. I have always regarded him as a remarkable man. He made no pretensions to greatness, in the popular acceptation of that term; but, considering his early life, his habits of life, and his educational advantages, and then the decided change which took place, the unfaltering consistency of that changed life during a trial of forty-five years, and last, though not least, the attainments which he made in scriptural and theological knowledge in the course of his ministry, a ministry at least highly respectable in the sphere in which he moved, I must be allowed to regard him as a remarkable man. There never was a more signal illustration, although a somewhat quiet one, of the sanctifying power of the Christian religion.

It affords me great pleasure in this connection to bear my testimony to one characteristic of Mr. Love which is not always found in the great ministerial brotherhood. I allude to his freedom from that low-minded jealousy and envy which so often poison what should be sources of happiness in society. If he possessed anything of this spirit I never detected it. He loved the Church of his choice; he loved its theology, its measures, and its men.

We see a specimen in his case of what an earnest and willing mind can do under the most unfavorable circumstances. Think of a poor man, with a wife and ten or twelve children at one time dependent on him, performing all the functions of a pastor to one, and sometimes to two, congregations, for the consideration of a hundred, or, at most, a hundred and fifty dollars a year. And yet there are scores of men in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church who are living just such lives to-day. God sees and appreciates their work of faith and labor of love, if the congregations do not. Such men are in their way benefactors of the Church.

That my history may be faithful, however, it is but justice to say here in its place, that the congregations to which our friend and brother whose record we are now considering ministered, under such disadvantages, have made great advances within a few years in their system of operations. They have built good houses of worship, and have, it is believed, become liberal supporters of the ministry and all the institutions of religion. So true it is that while some men sow the seed, others are permitted, in the providence of God, to reap the harvest.

[Source: Beard, Richard. Brief Biographical Sketches of Some of the Early Ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Second Series. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1874, pages 356-374

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Updated February 7, 2012