Colonel William Preston, 1729-1783

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

William Preston, frontier aristocrat, was active in the settlement and development of Virginia's Appalachian frontier during the second half of the eighteenth century. An immigrant of Irish antecedents, Preston enjoyed the favor of his benevolent uncle, James Patton, and succeeded him as the area's principal land magnate. By taking advantage of his multiple public and military offices--surveyor, sheriff, county lieutenant, justice of the peace and Eurgess--Preston assumed the foremost place of leadership and responsibility in the western counties of Augusta, Botetourt, Fincastle and Montgomery.

Preston's was a life devoted to the acquisition of western land, His personal and public interests in transmontane Virginia grew as he ably defended and enlarged first his Greenfield Plantation in Botetourt County, and later his Smithfield Plantation in Montgomery County. By the time of his death in 1783, the frontier land baron controlled more than one hundred thousand acres which dotted the borderlands between the Ohio River and the Allegheny Mountains.

Preston's active participation in the American Revolution was more the result of a desire to insure an independence to ingross more land, free of restraints imposed from afar, than to initiate democratic freedoms that were the goal of Virginia's leading Revolutionary theorist, Thomas Jefferson.

In any appraisal of the settlement and the development of transmontane Virginia, William Preston has been reckoned one of the most prominent participants in and shapers of events which molded that section of the Old Dominion.