​The Beginning…

The amazing story of Preston leadership in Virginia and the nation began humbly when William Preston, born on Christmas Day in 1729, emigrated from Ireland in 1738 with his family.  The family settled in the Tinkling Springs area of Augusta County (near present day Staunton, Virginia).  William, under the tutelage of his uncle James Patton, began to learn about politics, the House of Burgesses, business, church activities, the militia, surveying, land speculation, and both fighting and negotiating with the native Indian tribes. 

In 1760, William met Susanna Smith, who lived in Hanover Courthouse, Virginia.  After a brief courtship, William and Susanna were married on January 17, 1761.  The young couple (he was just 31 and she turned 21 four days after the marriage) settled first in Tinkling Springs, where their first child, Elizabeth, was born in 1762.   

In 1763, William and Susanna moved to Greenfield, near the present-day Fincastle, Virginia.  William remained active in county politics, the militia, surveying land and speculation. 

With the 1772 creation of Fincastle County, which included all of Southwest Virginia, part of what is now West Virginia and all of what is now Kentucky, William took on more responsibility and looked for a place to settle in the new county. 

Colonel Preston had served as a member of the House of Burgesses and held the offices of County Lieutenant, Sheriff, and County Surveyor for Fincastle County, Virginia. One of his greatest contributions was opening up the Kentucky lands for settlement by the colonists who were pushing westward.

Historic Smithfield - A Final Home

In their final move, William, Susanna and seven children moved into  Historic Smithfield
 in early 1774.  At a time when most settlers lived in simple log cabins with dirt floors
(and a window was a luxury), Historic Smithfield was an absolute mansion in comparison. 
It became both a beacon and a destination for westward bound settlers in the Second

Tensions between the colonies and Great Britain caused unsettlement in the early
1770s. As troubles with Great Britain grew, Preston's political responsibilities increased
as well.  He signed and, possibly, wrote the Fincastle Resolutions of January, 1775. These
resolutions expressed the signers' sense of freedom, liberty, and popular sovereignty.

In 1776, Montgomery County was formed from Fincastle County, and the colonies
declared their independence from Great Britain. Colonel Preston was appointed County
Lieutenant and had almost total authority over the new county's affairs.  \During the Revolutionary War, the Preston family and other Patriot families were threatened by the Shawnees and the Cherokees, as well as the many Tories in the New River area. Colonel Preston lived to rejoice in the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in October 1781, but died two years later, in June 1783, while attending a regimental muster.

The Legacy Launched…

Colonel Preston’s will left his wife, Susanna, the use and profits of all of her husband's plantations, slaves, and stock if she remained single and also supervised the rearing and education of their children, particularly their daughters.  She lived at Historic Smithfield for forty more years, carrying out the wishes of her late husband, until her death in 1823.  Historic Smithfield continued to be the family seat for several generations afterward.

James Patton Preston, the first child born at Historic Smithfield, inherited Smithfield from his mother.  He served in the Virginia House of Delegates, fought in the War of 1812, and was Governor of Virginia from 1816-1819.  He died in 1843 and Historic Smithfield became the home of his son, William Ballard Preston.  William Ballard Preston served in the Virginia General Assembly and in 1849 was appointed Secretary of the Navy under President Zachary
​Taylor.  In Blacksburg, a small educational school, the Preston and Olin Institute,
was named for him.  It was from this school that Virginia Tech evolved.
​William Ballard Preston was the last Preston to make Historic Smithfield his
home; although his widow, Lucinda Staples Redd Preston, lived in the home
until her death in 1891.  Historic Smithfield would remain in the possession
of the family for two more generations.

In 1959, Janie Preston Boulware Lamb, great, great, granddaughter of Colonel
William Preston, presented Historic Smithfield to the Association for the
Preservation of Virginia Antiquities with the stipulation that the newly formed
Montgomery County Branch of Preservation Virginia restore, maintain, and
open the house to the public.

Historic Smithfield was first opened to the public in 1964, and today is a living
exemplar of the past, a testimony to the bravery and devotion to country of the
​Prestons, who made it their home.

1000 Smithfield Plantation Road, Blacksburg, VA 24060        540.231.3947          info@historicsmithfield.org

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