Tag Archives: Governor James P. Preston

- The Women of Smithfield


Portrait of Susanna Smith Preston by Jeremiah Deus at Smithfield Plantation in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Processing of the Montgomery County chancery began in August 2013, and one of the early finds was Chancery Cause 1848-016, Letitia Floyd vs. Executors of Elizabeth Madison, which involved two locally well-known Virginia families, the Prestons and Floyds.  While much of the history of these families revolves around the military, economic, and political exploits of the men, this particular suit reveals great politicking among the females as well. Additionally, this case permits researchers to evaluate changes in women’s economic and social status over several generations.

William Preston, an Irish immigrant who arrived in Virginia in 1737, moved to western Virginia and became a surveyor in Augusta and Botetourt Counties.  He fought in the French and Indian War, became an officer in the colonial militia, and eventually served in the House of Burgesses and as a sheriff and surveyor in Fincastle County. In 1775, he signed the Fincastle Resolutions and helped to recruit soldiers for the militia, ultimately serving as a colonel in the newly-created regiment mustered from Montgomery County.  Preston and his friend and fellow surveyor, John Floyd, (among others) advanced land claims for prominent Virginians by surveying tracts (legally and illegally) in Kentucky.

Numerous local and area histories celebrate adventurers and pioneers but few of these accounts consider the experiences of the women who carved out a home for their families in the … read more »

- A Brief History of the Public Privy on Capitol Square

The Virginia State Capitol Building.

Editors Note:  This post originally appeared in the former “Virginiana” section of Virginia Memory.

When we think of Capitol Square, it conjures up visions of Thomas Jefferson’s venerable Capitol on the hill, Alexander Parris’s elegant Executive Mansion, and Arthur S. Brockenbrough’s public privy. Well, maybe not the latter, but to the ordinary visitor of Capitol Square in the early nineteenth century it was equally important.

The early part of the nineteenth century saw the most significant amount of change to Capitol Square since its formation in the 1780s. In 1816, French architect Maximilian Godefroy was appointed to draw up a plan for the improvement of the “Public Square,” as it was often called. Since Godefroy’s plans do not survive, it is not known whether he first suggested a public privy on the Square. Governor James P. Preston, however, began granting various contracts based on Godefroy’s plan which included landscaping, a cast iron enclosure, a stable, and a public privy. Construction began on the privy, or necessary, in September 1818, when Arthur S. Brockenbrough, Superintendent of the Improvement of the Public Square, contracted William G. Goodson to complete the carpenter’s work and furnish the materials necessary for its construction. Located, appropriately, next to the newly constructed governor’s stable, the public privy was built a few hundred feet south of the Executive Mansion on the southeast … read more »

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