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Weston Wagons West - Ep. W3 - Alexander Weston followed the Revolutionary War career and life of William Preston

Updated on August 9, 2014
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Dr. Bill's first passion is family history. His second is a passion for creating family saga, historical fiction stories that share it.

A Revolutionary War period image of Arnold

An image of Colonel Benedict Arnold during the period he was an American hero and Preston was in his command.
An image of Colonel Benedict Arnold during the period he was an American hero and Preston was in his command. | Source

Twenty year old William Preston enlisted to aid Massachusetts neighbors versus the British sanctions

Young William Preston had become like a nephew (or son, that he never had) to Alexander Weston through the informal apprenticeship and subsequent work they did together in the Rumney neighborhood. All had been aware of the tensions building in the Boston area between elements of the British government and their American colonists. In the spring of 1775, war essentially broke out and a call for militia troops from other colonies went out to support the blockaded rebels in the Boston area. Still a few months short of age 20, William Preston enlisted on the first day of May of 1775 in the Company raised by Captain Joshua Abbots in Colonel John Stark's 1st New Hampshire Regiment. They marched immediately to Charlestown, Massachusetts, and when they arrived were involved in the Battle of Bunker Hill. They remained in the area until September. Because of the fine work the New Hampshire regiment had done, George Washington offered Stark a command in the Continental Army. Stark and his New Hampshire regiment agreed to attach themselves to the Continental Army. In the Spring of 1776, they were sent as reinforcements during the Invasion of Canada.

Alexander pieced this story together from information received from the family, correspondence from William, and filled in some details from William when he returned. Alexander and Elli remained close to William and Hannah and supported the family in any way they could during these very difficult times.

William himself said they became part of Captain Henry Dearborn's company (Preston later named a son for Dearborn) under the command of Benedict Arnold, then a Colonel. The attack on Quebec took place on December 31. Arnold's leg was shattered during the battle. William Preston's company arrived at the battle on December 30, the day General Montgomery was killed, he said. William said he was taken prisoner that day, and was held prisoner until September of 1776. Most of these nearly nine months, he was in irons, was in a ship, and transported to New York where he became part of a prisoner exchange with the British. He was discharged and returned home near the end of October of 1776. Alexander and William's family learned later that many of these prisoners of the British died in captivity in this ships due to the extremely dangerous, unhealthy conditions on board. William was very fortunate to have survived.

Henry Dearborn later in life

Henry Dearborn as 5th United States Secretary of War
Henry Dearborn as 5th United States Secretary of War | Source

William Preston rejoined a New Hampshire Regiment and continued to see military action

In January of 1777, William Preston, now 21 and a half years old, enlisted for three years in Captain Benjamin Stone's Company of the 2rd New Hampshire Regiment commanded by Alexander T. Cammels. This unit marched immediately to Ticonderoga, according to William. However, before the Battle of Ticonderoga, which took place in July, William was captured in June by Indians sympathetic to the British side. In September, he "made his escape" and re-joined his company shortly before General Burgoyne surrendered his entire army at Saratoga in October of 1777.

By late June, 1778, William Preston participated in the Battle of Monmouth, in Monmouth County, New Jersey. In 1779, Preston said he went with General Sullivan up the Susquehanna River "to Genessee to Destroy the Indian Settlements." Major General John Sullivan led an extended systematic military campaign against Loyalists and the four American Indian nations of the Iroquois who had sided with the British in the war. It occurred mainly in the lands of the Iroquois Confederacy which today is the heartland of New York State. Starting in June 1779 the army marched from Easton, Pennsylvania, and did not return until October. There was one major battle, at Newtown, in August, in which William specifically mentioned that he did participated. Sullivan's army is on record as having carried out a scorched earth campaign, methodically destroying at least forty Iroquois villages throughout the Finger Lakes region of western New York. The Battle of Newtown was later considered the battle that broke the back of the Iroquois League and the hearts of the people of the Six Nations.

In January of 1780 William got his discharge, officially, he said. He noted that he was a Sergeant during his three years of service.

Burgoyne Surrendered his Entire Army

The impressionist painting of the Surrender of Burgoyne.
The impressionist painting of the Surrender of Burgoyne. | Source

William Preston returned to Rumney, married, and raised a large family; lived long.

William Preston married Elizabeth Clark in Rumney and their first born, a son they named William, was born on the 30th day of December 1780. Collins followed in 1782 and Benjamin in 1784. The first girl, Elizabeth, was born in 1786. In 1788, a boy was named after one of William's commanding officers: Henry Dearborn Preston. In December of 1789, another boy, John, joined the family. Between July of 1792 and June of 1801, six more children rounded out the dozen children of William and Elizabeth, including one set of twins (Hannah and Joseph). The others were: Michael, Wells, Washington and Adams.

In his home community, because of his extended militia service, he was known as Major William Preston. He also served in the state legislature in 1800 and 1802. After Elizabeth died, in 1807, William married Mary Herbert in 1808 and fathered two additional children: Jonathan in 1809 and Hannah in 1811. William died in January of 1842, in his 88th year.

His sons, William, born in 1780, and John, born in 1789, migrated to Ohio early in 1800. The rest of the family apparently remained nearby in New Hampshire, Massachusetts or Vermont.

Historical note by the author

As with prior Weston Wagon West episodes, all members of the Weston family, their spouses and children, are fictional. All other characters and places are based on actual historical figures and places, used fictionally while retaining their historical detail as closely as feasible based on known historical records. For example, William Preston, born in 1755, was a 3rd great-grandfather of the author; William Preston, born in 1780, was a 2nd great-grandfather. Many of the details of William Preston's story of his service in the Revolutionary War come from his own words contained in his U.S. Pension files in the hands of the author. Embellishments about historic individuals and events mentioned primarily based on material available on Wikipedia. For example, in the Battle of Newtown, the actions of the Company of soldiers led by Henry Dearborn are specifically mentioned; in addition to William's own words recorded later in his life.

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