Colonel William Preston Memorial Project at Greenfield
The idea for the Preston memorial first surfaced in a letter to the editor of The Roanoke Times by the late SAR member Malcolm Bryan, a descendant of Colonel William Preston, 18 years ago.
Who was Colonel William Preston?
William Preston played a crucial role in the surveying and development of western lands, exerted great influence in 18th century colonial affairs, supervised a large plantation, and founded a dynasty that supplied leaders for the South for a century or more.
He was one of the signers of the , after which our Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution is named.
Here’s a more complete story of his interesting life, taken from the National Register of Historic Places registration form for Greenfield prepared by Mike Pulice of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources in 2010:
Born in 1729 in northern Ireland to Presbyterians, John and Elizabeth Patton Preston, William Preston sailed to the American colonies with his parents and three sisters in 1738, and settled in the Valley of Virginia near the site of Staunton in what is now Augusta County.
After the death of his father in 1748, William Preston received instruction and patronage from his uncle James Patton, who was by then one of the principal leaders of frontier Virginia, with controlling interest in large land grants west of the Blue Ridge. Because Patton directed Augusta County surveys for his land grants and served as colonel of the Augusta County militia, county sheriff, collector of revenues, burgess, and general leader of county affairs, he was well positioned to make William Preston his secretary and surveyor of his land grants, and then to secure Preston’s appointment as deputy surveyor for Augusta County in 1752 and as justice of the Augusta County Court in March 1755.
At the start of the French and Indian War hostilities, when a raiding party of Shawnee killed Col. Patton at Drapers Meadow in July 1755, William Preston assumed greater responsibility for protection of the Virginia frontier. Preston received a commission as captain of Augusta County Rangers by August 1755. By 1756 he built Fort William, probably on Catawba Creek in what became Botetourt County, wrote an August 1756 account of the burning of the first Fort Vause (now in Montgomery County), and in October 1756 accompanied George Washington, who then commanded all of Virginia’s colonial troops, on a tour of frontier forts.
From late 1756 to early 1759, Captain, then Major, and finally Colonel Preston commanded Augusta County Rangers who sought to defend a string of forts along the headwaters of the Ohio River and Chesapeake Bay. When French and Indian War raids on the Virginia frontier subsided around 1760, William Preston returned to maintain the peace in Augusta County and married Susanna Smith of Hanover County, Virginia, on January 17, 1761.
Sometime after the birth of their first child in May 1762, William and Susanna Preston moved to Greenfield, an estate that began in 1759 with Preston’s purchase of a 191-acre tract from Stephen Rentfroe, and that extended to 2,345 acres by 1761. When Botetourt County was formed from Augusta County in 1769, William Preston, then residing at Greenfield, received Botetourt commissions as justice of the peace, surveyor, coroner, and colonel of militia.
The Greenfield plantation house eventually became a two-and-a-half-story log L-plan residence with weatherboard siding and three massive brick chimneys. By the time William and Susanna Preston moved in 1774 with their six children to Smithfield, in what would soon become Montgomery County, Greenfield plantation was consolidated in an exclusive tract of 2,175 acres.
Once in Montgomery County, William Preston resumed his military command in support of the American Revolution. The Continental Congress named Preston as Colonel of Montgomery County Militia, whose troops he led at the decisive North
Carolina Battle of Guilford Court House in March 1781. During the Revolutionary Era years of frontier military and political unrest, Preston, who received death threats from disaffected frontiersmen, still sought to keep the peace along the waters of the New River, by protecting Tory landholdings from seizure at the hands of zealous Patriots, and by persuading Tories in the New River Valley to take the oath of allegiance to the new American nation.
At the time of his death in 1783, Preston was the wealthiest man in Montgomery County, with 7,000 acres of land, 34 slaves, 36 horses, and 86 cattle. The Prestons, one of the first families to settle in the region, were arguably southwestern Virginia's most prominent and powerful family from the mid-18th century until the period following the Civil War.
The Greenfield manor house burned to the ground in 1959. Only a detached kitchen/dwelling and a separate slave dwelling, both constructed of logs, survive to the present, but both are significant buildings in their own right.
You can learn more by buying the book, “William Preston and the Allegheny Patriots” by Patricia Givens Johnson, through
and ordering a copy of the doctoral dissertation, “William Preston of Virginia, 1727-1783: The Making of a Frontier Elite” by Richard Charles Osborn, from . Or you can go to a public library and order them, via inter-library loan if necessary, free of charge!
It’s a chance to honor a local colonial-era hero and it’s an important opportunity to add a major attraction to the county’s history-based tourism appeal. It will complement the recently installed Lewis and Clark memorial disk in the nearby county courthouse lawn, and other initiatives the county is taking to encourage long distance travelers to leave I-81 and enjoy what Botetourt County has to offer by way of historical sites and recreation.
It will be a very convenient place for students to retreat to for outdoor breaks between classes, as well as for tourists who will have parking nearby. It will be an asset for the teaching facility, as well as a major tourist attraction. It will be a work of art, potentially the beginning of a public art program in Botetourt County. It will increase traffic flow at the Education and Training Center because the Preston Memorial Garden could be the location of outdoor weddings and parties. It will help bring Botetourt County history to life.
May, 2014 Status
Dr. M. Rupert Cutler and John Bradshaw are the Committee Chairmen for the Project for the Fincastle Resolutions Chapter.
Over $69,000 has been raised to date. It is now up to the county to come up with the balance of the funds needed to build the memorial garden adjoining the Greenfield Education and Training Center in the Botetourt Center at Greenfield. Preston memorial project funds of $7,500 were included by the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors in their 2013-2014 budget. The Preston family added $5,000 in matching funds.
The memorial garden, the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors has agreed, will be built at the north end of the Greenfield Education and Training Center, where easy access, abundant parking, nearby utilities, and high visitor traffic volume make the site ideal, and where the Prestons’ Greenfield Plantation site is easily viewed from the proposed landscaped monument and garden.
Our SAR chapter has taken the lead in the design of the memorial by contracting with Hill Studio in Roanoke to create the plan for the memorial. Four graphics, or “boards,” have been created to show the current plan.
David Hill’s design is both aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly. It will have a landscaped garden effect, with benches and low stone walls on the periphery, around a set of stone arrows or rays set into the ground. Each ray of the memorial will have a focal point that Preston may have seen in his day, such as toward Fincastle, toward Amsterdam, toward Smithfield, and so forth.
Text describing the highlights of Preston’s life will be inscribed on the flat stones, and on vertical stones and walls, that will also be used to list the sponsors and donors to the memorial.