William Voltaire Loving was born on March 22, 1803, in Amherst County, Virginia, to John Loving and Elizabeth Spencer. His father was a planter who owned at least 39 slaves. The family moved to Warren County, Kentucky, sometime before 1810. Loving enrolled at the University of Virginia on February 1, 1826, on the same day as fellow UVA Unionists Thomas Swann and Charles B. Calvert. He spent the next year studying chemistry, ancient languages, and modern languages. According to one (much later) account, he attended the “burial of Thomas Jefferson and [was] the last at his grave save an old negro slave.”

After leaving UVA, Loving moved to Pulaski, Tennessee, where he spent the next two years working as a teacher. He returned to Kentucky by 1829, and he married Amanda Graham in Warren County on January 5, 1829. They had at least four children together: Hector Voltaire, born on September 8, 1839; William A., born around 1844; John A., born around 1847; and Laura, born around 1853. Loving began practicing law around this time, and by 1830, he had purchased or inherited at least three slaves.

Loving opened a law partnership with Congressman Henry Grider, and they reportedly “had the greater part of the practice in Warren County as well as in adjoining counties for many years.” He joined the Whig Party and published the Green River Gazette in the mid-1830s. As one observer noted, Loving “condemn[ed] in very strong terms the acts of President [Andrew] Jackson.” Loving secured a seat in the state legislature in 1840. Voters elected him to the state senate a year later, and he remained there until 1844. One writer declared him an “enlightened, attentive and upright legislator” whose “popularity was great on account of intrinsic merit.” In February 1845, Governor William Owsley named him the commonwealth attorney for the Sixth Judicial District. Four years later, he became a circuit court judge. By 1850, he owned $10,000 in real estate and at least 21 slaves.

Loving joined the nativist Know Nothing Party in the mid-1850s after the Whig Party collapsed, and the new party nominated him for governor in 1855. One editor praised the selection, calling Loving a “gentleman of high pure heart, of extensive attainments, of powerful intellect, and generally sound principles.” Loving, however, declined the nomination “on account of continued ill-health.” By 1860, he owned $35,400 in real estate and $30,740 in personal property, including 23 slaves.

During the Civil War, Loving remained staunchly loyal to the Union. Kentucky initially declared itself neutral and vowed to take no part in the sectional conflict. As Josie Underwood (daughter of UVA Unionist Warner L. Underwood) explained in February 1861, however, “Judge Loving…[and other] conservative men of the state think [neutrality] the only way to keep Kentucky in the Union.” In November 1861, she observed that Loving and other prominent men “still remain true” to the Union. Then, in May 1863, Loving served as chairman for a meeting of local Unionists. The delegates praised the “brave bold officers and men in the field” for “prosecuting the war for the preservation of the Union.” Loving denounced “this accursed rebellion” and urged loyal Kentuckians to donate “books, pamphlets, clothing, bandages, rags, lint, &c” to support the Union war effort.  

Loving, however, was a conservative Unionist who hoped to preserve slavery and white supremacy. In May 1866, he attended the state’s Union Party Convention, which celebrated the Union’s triumph over the “heresies of secession and rebellion.” The delegates endorsed President Andrew Johnson’s lenient plan for Reconstruction and accused the Freedman’s Bureau of “subverting the Constitution” by “seizing the property of citizens of Kentucky.” That October, he signed an indenture for a 13-year-old former slave named Anderson Loving, forcing Anderson to “dwell [with], continue and serve” him for the next eight years. 

Loving emerged from the war even wealthier than before. By 1870, he owned $65,000 in real estate and $10,000 in personal property. He moved to Louisville, Kentucky, around 1870, and he died there on September 3, 1883. One eulogist declared him a “fearless, able and upright Judge,” a “high-toned Christian gentleman,” and “the best of parents.” He was buried in Cave Hill Cemetery.

Image: William V. Loving (courtesy Department of Library Special Collections - Western Kentucky University)


Obituary of William V. Loving

Name:Loving, William Voltaire
Alternative names:
  • UVA (Union)
  • Civilian
Branch of service:
Residence at UVA:Bowling Green, KY
UVA Begin Year:1826
UVA End Year:1826
Residence at enlistment:
Rank In:
Rank Out:
Highest rank achieved:
Birth date:1803-03-22
Birth date certainty:Certain
Birth place:Amherst County, VA
Death date:1883-09-03
Death place:Louisville, KY
Causes of death:
Occupations:Attorney, Editor, Judge
Person 1Relation TypePerson 2
Loving, William Voltaireparent ofLoving, Hector Voltaire
Loving, William Voltaireparent ofLoving, William A.
Loving, William Voltaireparent ofLoving, John A.
Loving, William Voltaireparent ofLoving, Laura
Loving, Amandawife ofLoving, William Voltaire

1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 United States Federal Censuses, available from Ancestry.com; Kentucky, U.S., County Marriage Records, 1783-1936, available from Ancestry.com; U.S., Freedmen’s Bureau Records, 1865-1878, available from Ancestry.com; Session 2 of the University of Virginia Faculty Minutes, January 8, 1826 – December 22, 1826, Jefferson’s University: The Early Life; A Catalogue of the Officers and Students of the University of Virginia: Second Session, Commencing February 1st, 1826 (Charlottesville, VA: Chronicle Steam Book Printing House, 1880); The Courier-Journal, 27 April 1840, 11 August 1841, 23 April 1855, 15 January 1864, 31 May 1866, 20 January 1878; The Louisville Daily Courier, 8 February 1845, 9 June 1855; John B. Rodes, “The Judges of the Warren Circuit Court,” available from the Rodes Collection (MSS 427), Manuscripts & Folklife Archives, Western Kentucky University; Josie Underwood’s Civil War Diary, ed. Nancy Disher Baird (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2009); William V. Loving to Henry Grider 25 December 1863, Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress.