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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Colonel William Preston and Smithfield Plantation by Cynthia Howerter

William Preston was nine years old when he and his family immigrated to the American colonies from Ireland in 1738. The Preston family located in Augusta County, Virginia, near present day Staunton and Waynesboro, where the frontier literally began at their front door. 

Colonel William Preston served in the French and Indian War (1754-1763), and married Susanna Smith in 1761. After the war, Preston was elected in 1765 to represent Augusta County at Virginia’s House of Burgesses in Williamsburg. He served as a Representative until about 1770 when Augusta County was divided. 
The year 1774 not only saw Colonel Preston active in Lord Dunmore’s War against the Shawnee Indians, but he also moved his wife Susanna and their seven children to the newly built house on Smithfield Plantation, named in honor of Susanna's maiden name. At the time, it was the largest plantation in southwest Virginia.  

Although the property was located at the edge of the rugged Appalachian Mountain frontier in southwest Virginia, the L-shaped house reflects the refined architecture and genteel ambiance of the Tidewater homes in eastern Virginia.

Smithfield's plantation house

Throughout the Revolutionary War period (1775-1783), Colonel Preston took an active part in military affairs in Virginia. His family, as well as others who lived on the Virginia frontier, were threatened by Shawnee and Cherokee Indians who sided with the British. However, the Preston family remained on their plantation, setting an example of courage for other settlers in the area.

Late in 1780, Colonel Preston helped plan the military campaign that led to the defeat of the Tories at the Battle of King's Mountain in rural South Carolina. He was unable to participate in the battle due to illness in his family.
At the time of Preston’s death at age 53 in 1783, William and Susanna were the parents of 12 children, five of whom were born at Smithfield. Widowed, Susanna Smith Preston raised their children, living at Smithfield Plantation until her death in 1823. 
Many of William and Susanna’s descendants became prominent Americans. Their eldest son, James Patton Preston, who inherited the plantation, served as Governor of Virginia from 1816-1819. Their grandson, William Ballard Preston, served as a Congressman, Secretary of the Navy, and later as a Senator of the Confederate States of America. He also co-founded the Preston and Olin Institute, a small Methodist college in Blacksburg that later became Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, better known as Virginia Tech.

Smithfield Plantation was carefully restored in the 1960s. The one-and-a-half-story white house is noted for its spacious rooms and high ceilings, and contains many original Preston family furnishings. 

Smithfield's Formal Drawing Room

Its lovely garden is filled with a variety of 18th century plants that the Prestons mentioned in written documents. An heirloom orchard is being developed.

Rear view of the house showing the "L-shape" and the house garden

Several outbuildings, called “dependencies,” have been rebuilt. These include a cider house, a weaver/cook house, and a miller’s cabin. Other dependencies are to be rebuilt in the future. The Preston family cemetery is located on Virginia Tech’s campus, near the plantation.

Smithfield Plantation's weaver's cabin - also known as the cook house

Photographs generously provided by Colonel Douglas W. Anderson, Museum Administrator, Smithfield Plantation, and cannot be copied or reproduced without written permission by Smithfield Plantation.

Smithfield Plantation is adjacent to the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. For more information: Smithfield Plantation

Award-winning author Cynthia Howerter loves using her training in education, research, writing, and speaking to teach and inspire others about a time in America that was anything but boring. A member of the Daughters of the American revolution (DAR), Cynthia believes history should be alive and personal.


  1. That was a very interesting post, Cynthia.I did not know that Virginia Tech started out as a Methodist college. Great pictures.

  2. Thanks, Janet. I didn't know about Virginia Tech's origin either until I researched this article.

  3. I just went past this on Monday. It was the first time I drove it in the daytime, previously driving that route at night.
    I got to see all the scenery this time. Beautiful area. Thanks for the history behind it.

  4. I hope you get a chance to stop sometime, Cyn. It's not only a beautiful place, but the history is fascinating!

  5. Wonderful post, Cynthia! I really enjoyed it. Sure wish I could make a road trip up there but I think it is a long way from coastal VA! Love the pics and all the great info. Thanks!

  6. Carrie! WE could do a road trip there! You would love Smithfield; it's exactly your cup of tea. I'm so glad you enjoyed the article.

  7. Interesting post - I didn't know the history of Va. Tech. either, & my niece is a dr. there. Thanks for the info!

  8. Hi, Bonton! I hope you and your niece get a chance to visit Smithfield - it's such a relaxing place. Just what we need in our hectic lives.

  9. Thank you for the tour and introduction to Col. Preston! Enjoyed learning about him and the plantation.

    1. Thank you, Carla! Hope you get a chance to visit Smithfield sometime - I know you'll love it!


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