In case you haven’t noticed, both William Francis and Annie have parents named William and Eliza!
We don’t have the details about how William (1) Patrick met Eliza McCall or how Will (2) and Annie met, but the story about how William Gannaway Brownlow met and wooed Eliza O’Brien is well recorded and is a grand old-fashioned love story.
William was an ordained Methodist minister and circuit rider. He visited small towns and villages that could not support a full-time minister. His circuit was in the Black Mountains of North Carolina, located approximately in the middle of the mountain range along the western border of North Carolina. They are the highest mountains on the eastern seaboard.
He also preached at camp meetings and it was at a camp meeting that he met Eliza. Brownlow was 30 years old and Eliza was 16. William was invited to dinner at the O’Brien home. Their mutual admiration started there.
A few days later, William told his sister:
“I have just met a Miss O’Brien at Kingsport, and I intend to marry her.”
“Then, William, you are engaged to her?”
“Oh, no. I have only seen her once and that in the presence of her family.”
“But, William, it may be the young lady won’t marry you.”
“But she is the only girl I have ever loved, and she shall marry me.”
Years later, their son John asked his mother what attracted her to his father: “you know he was homely, and then he was only a circuit rider as poor as Lazarus.”
Eliza replied “I knew after hearing him preach that he was talented; everybody said so. He was talked about more than any young preacher in the Conference, and when he preached he had more people to hear him than any other preacher. I was influenced by my admiration for his talents, and, besides, he was so earnest, persistent and eloquent in his wooing that there was no resisting him.”
Eliza’s father had a very successful iron business and the O’Briens did not like the idea of their daughter marrying a penniless preacher.
A year after meeting Eliza, William describes the situation to his cousin:
To Majors J & S Gaines
Grassy Cove, Sept. 7th, 1836
My Dear Friend:
On last night, at 10 o’clock, I arrived in Elizabethton, and to-day, at 3 o’clock, I started to this cove, a distance of 18 miles; and I now hasten, late at night, being hard now for paper, to send you a brief epistle, which for the present, I only intend for the eyes of yourself and our mutual friend Sam.
This morning, I very artfully contrived her a letter, having learned on my arrival, that times were getting worse for me. She sent me word by a trusty hand, not to come to her Father’s house at all–that my coming would make matters worse for her. She grieves and cries about half of her time. Her parents are exceedingly severe upon her. This is a desperate state of things.
To-morrow (Thursday) our camp-meeting will commence, about three miles below the village, and they have promised to let her come down on Saturday & Sunday and she informs me that she will then do as I tell her to. I have requested her to cut out with me before that-but she says she can’t possibly get off sooner. I also proposed to ask her parents, but she forbids it. Indeed I did write them a polite note, asking them for her, and enclosed it to her, but she would not give [it] to them. They have her very much under the influence of the most servile fear. Poor girl! I am sorry for her; and I am as completely miserable myself, as I think I ever can be in this life. I have no idea that they intend to let her come down to the meeting. And she says they won’t let her write anymore; while, as soon as any person steps into the house, her Mother is right by her side, lest, forsooth, she should get a letter from me! What to be at, I do not know.
One thing I do know, however,–that I never will give up the drive while she remains in the faith–and she is still unshaken. John O’Brien and his infamous brother-in-law, have done all this. I will write you again on Saturday next, which will go out by Sabbath’s mail. This will go to-morrow. It is now late at night.
W. G. Brownlow
P.S. Sept. 8th,–I am now about starting to the camp meeting. I am told that Eliza is to come down to the meeting to-morrow, with Mrs. Callett, who is now at her Father’s house. I scarcely think it true. If she does, however, by Sunday’s mail I can tell you something more definite. In haste, I am, W.G.B.
We don’t have the follow up letter, but we do know how the weekend ended.
Records indicate that William G. Brownlow and Eliza O’Brien were married that Sunday at the the camp meeting. Whether her parents were there or even knew of the marriage at the time, we don’t know.
William later in life said: “I never courted but one woman and her I married.”