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Smithfield: A Brief History

William Preston was about 45 years old when he moved his family to Smithfield in March of 1774. He and his wife had seven children at that time, five more children were born at Smithfield. Colonel Preston began at once to make Smithfield a productive and profitable plantation.

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.

As troubles with England grew, Preston's political responsibilities increased. He signed and possibly wrote the Fincastle Resolutions of 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.

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

James Patton Preston, the first child born at Smithfield, inherited Smithfield. 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 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. A college in Blacksburg, 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 Smithfield his home, but it 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 Smithfield to the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities with the stipulation that the newly formed Montgomery County Branch of Preservation Virginia would restore, maintain, and open the house to the public.

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


Adapted from:
  • Johnson, Patricia Givens. William Preston and the Allegheny Patriots. Pulaski, Virginia: B.D. Smith and Brothers Printers Inc., 1976.
  • Johnston, Mary Tabb. " Smithfield Plantation House: Showplace of Montgomery County". Unpublished article.
  • Schmidt, Barbara W. The Montgomery County Branch of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. Williamsburg, Virginia, 1989.