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Family Notables

The descendants of William and Susanna Smith Preston have created a legacy of leadership that has proven significant.  From the leadership exhibited by William Preston during the pre-Revolutionary War period, and followed by family members through the Civil War, Preston descendants had helped provide direction to Virginia and the nation. 

At Mount Vernon, we commemorate the leadership of George Washington.  At Monticello, we mark the genius and ego of Thomas Jefferson.  Montpelier celebrates the exquisite design of James Madison’s Constitutionalism.  Historic Smithfield, on the other hand, commemorates the accomplishments of a family.  For over a century, the Preston family, exemplified by their courage, strength and vision, dominated the fields of politics, education and the military in a way unmatched by any other family dynasty.      

Read about just a very few of the family members below.

John C. Breckinridge (1821-1875) – Breckinridge, was a member of the Kentucky legislature, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate as well, and was elected as the youngest Vice President of the United States under President James Buchanan.  He was a second cousin of Mary Todd Lincoln.  Breckinridge was also the Secretary of War for the CSA.

James Patton Preston (1774-1843) – Preston was the eighth child of William and Susanna Preston.  Born at Historic Smithfield, he was a Colonel of the US Army during the War of 1812, a member of the Virginia General Assembly and the 20th Governor of Virginia from 1816-1819. 

Francis Preston Blair (1791-1876) – Preston Blair was a political advisor as a member of Andrew Jackson’s kitchen cabinet and an advisor to Abraham Lincoln.  One son, Francis Preston Blair, Jr., was a rather famous Union Major General who was a veteran of the Mexican War and Civil War.  Another son, Montgomery Blair, was a member of Lincoln’s cabinet.  Preston Blair is perhaps best known for his Pennsylvania Avenue home, which later became the Blair House, the official state guest house of the United States. 

Letitia Preston Floyd (1779-1852) – The tenth child of William and Susanna Preston, Letitia married John Floyd, the 25th Governor of Virginia from 1830-1834 and the mother of John B. Floyd, a Brigadier General of the CSA and the 31st Governor of Virginia from 1849-1852. 

John Thomas Lewis “Jack” Preston (1811-1890) was the founder of Virginia Military Institute and a member the faculty.  He was a member of Stonewall Jackson’s CSA staff and a brother-in-law of Gen. Jackson; the two men married the Junkin sisters.  The VMI Library is named in Preston’s honor.

Sarah “Sally” Preston McDowell (1767-1841) – The fourth child of William and Susanna Preston, Sally married James McDowell, the 29th Governor of Virginia (from 1843-1846).  Sally was also the mother-in-law of Sen. Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858), Senator from Missouri, and great-grandmother of Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), the famous American artist.

William Ballard Preston (1805-1862) – A member of the Virginia House of Delegates, Senate and the US House of Representatives, ‘Ballard’ was the Secretary of the Navy in 1849-1850.  Trying to prevent the outbreak of the Civil War as part of the peace negotiations with Abraham Lincoln on April 12, 1861 and then being rebuffed by Lincoln, Ballard introduced the Virginia Ordinance of Secession on April 16, 1861. 

Senator Wade Hampton, III (1818-1902) was a CSA Lt. Gen. during the Civil War.  He was a member of a strong political family in South Carolina.  His wife was Margaret Buchanan Preston, granddaughter of William Preston.  After South Carolina was re-admitted to the Union, Hampton served as a Senator from his home state. 

Benjamin Howard (1760-1814) – William Preston’s nephew, Howard was a member of the Kentucky General Assembly and was a member Congress.  In 1810, President James Madison appointed Howard as the first Governor of the Missouri Territory.  During the War of 1812, he was a Brigadier General.  Howard County, MO is named in his honor. 

William Campbell Preston (1794-1860) – Preston, a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives and a US Senator, was the grandson of William Preston and great-nephew of Patrick Henry.  He served as the 5th President of the University of South Carolina from 1845 to 1851.