Colonel William Preston was a strong and dedicated leader who married an equally strong wife; together they bore many determined sons and daughters. Unfortunately, William Preston’s life was cut short and it was his wife, Susanna Smith Preston, who successfully raised and educated all of the Preston children. Most of the children, in turn, married well and raised more civic leaders of both genders.
Notable among the Preston women are:
Susanna Smith Preston (1740-1823) – A fifth generation Virginian born in Hanover County, she was educated by the Rev. Patrick Henry, married William Preston in 1761 and gave birth to twelve children. She ran Smithfield Plantation for forty years after becoming a widow when Colonel Preston died in 1783.
Elizabeth Preston Madison (1762-1837) – The eldest daughter of William and Susanna Preston, she married William Strother Madison, a first cousin once removed of President James Madison, Jr. Elizabeth was widowed at age 19 during the Revolutionary War, but successfully ran her plantation, raised her two daughters and chose never to remarry.
Edmonia Madison Randolph Preston (1787-1847) – Edmonia was the daughter of Edmond Jennings Randolph, the United States Attorney General and later Secretary of State under George Washington. She married Thomas Lewis Preston, who died during the War of 1812. Edmonia and Thomas Preston had three children, one of whom was John Thomas Lewis Preston (“J.T.L.”) who founded Virginia Military Institute.
Elizabeth Preston McDowell Benton (1794-1854) – Elizabeth married Senator Thomas Hart Benton and they settled in Nashville, Tennessee before moving to the Missouri Territory in 1815. Senator Benton was one of the most powerful men in the Senate. Elizabeth and Hart Benton had three children, one of whom was Jessie Benton Frémont. Elizabeth’s great-nephew was Thomas Hart Benton the renowned early 20th century artist.
Margaret Junkin Preston (1820-1897) – Known as the “Poetess of the Confederacy”, Margaret married J.T.L. Preston who founded Virginia Military Institute. She was a published author of prose and poetry, much of which advocated on behalf of the Confederacy. Margaret’s sister Elinor “Ellie” Junkin married Thomas Jonathan Stonewall Jackson.
Jessie Benton Frémont (1824-1902) – Daughter of Senator Thomas Hart Benton, she married John C. Frémont, a military officer, explorer and politician. He was the Territorial Governor of Arizona and a U.S. Senator from California. Jessie was a prolific author, was outspoken on political issues and, at an intensely adverse time for women, was quite determined in her opposition to slavery.
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