The 'Prestons of Virginia’ are the family line of William and Susanna Smith Preston. William was born on Christmas Day in 1729 near Londonderry, Ireland. He emigrated from Ireland to Virginia with his family, arriving August 26, 1738. Susanna Smith was born in Hanover Courthouse on January 23, 1740 into a fifth-generation, established, affluent Virginia family.
William and Susanna met in 1760 and were married shortly thereafter on January 17, 1761 by the Rev. Patrick Henry, uncle of orator Patrick Henry. Thus began one of the remarkable family legacies in Virginia and the nation. They had twelve children who went on to provide leadership for a century in many areas, but notably in the fields of politics, education and the military.
Dr. Malcolm Bryan, a descendant of Robert and Letitia Preston Breckinridge, published an article in the Historical Society of Western Virginia in 2008 that details the first five generations of the Preston legacy. Those achievements are summarized below.
In politics, the Preston family produced, in addition to four governors of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the youngest Vice President of the United States, senators, congressmen, governors of other states, members of both houses of the Virginia General Assembly, and state legislators in Kentucky, California, Louisiana, Tennessee, New York and Wisconsin. Two Secretaries of War, one Secretary of the Navy, one U.S. Consul, one Council General, five foreign ministers and one Postmaster General were from the Preston family. The “Blair House”, the official state guest house of the United States, was the former home of a Preston family member.
Education was a bedrock belief of both William and Susanna. They saw to it that all their children, as well as nephews and nieces, were educated. At a time when women rarely were educated, William and Susanna insisted that all their children, including the girls, receive an education. Seven colleges and universities, including Virginia Tech, V.M.I., and Tulane, to mention just three, were established through Preston efforts. Governor James Patton Preston worked with Thomas Jefferson to create the University of Virginia. Five college presidents, two college founders, 25 college professors and 37 boards of trustee members were Prestons.
Military leadership was provided during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War and the Civil War. During the Civil War, 147 members of the Preston family participated. That number included seven Confederate and two Union Generals.
In other endeavors, there have been 108 attorneys, 16 judges, 43 doctors, 17 ministers, 11 corporate presidents, and four railroad presidents.
Where most historic sites commemorate the achievements of one person, Historic Smithfield commemorates the legacy of a remarkable family that is still making its mark in society. It is truly a “Legacy of American Leadership”.
Historic Smithfield, in addition to being named by the Virginia General Assembly as the “Family Homestead of Virginia Governors”, is listed in the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.
1000 Smithfield Plantation Road, Blacksburg, VA 24060 540.231.3947 email@example.com