Commodore Edward Preble

Commodore Edward Preble


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Stories about Commodore Edward Preble

antique engraving

We offer you this beautiful steel engraving of Commodore Edward Preble. He was born August 15, 1761, in a part of the ancient town of Falmouth, which is now Portland, in Casco Bay, Maine. He was the son of the Hon. Jedidiah Preble, a brigadier general under the government of Massachusetts Bay, and after the commencement of the revolution a member of the council and senate. He died at the age of 77, in 1783. Edward being designed for a liberal education and a profession, was at a suitable age placed at Dummer academy, in Newbury, then under the care of Mr. Samuel Moody, a celebrated teacher. While at the academy, our young hero, had an encounter with a school fellow, had given him a blow, which covered his face with blood. The boy presented himself in this plight to Mr. Moody, and announced the guilt of Preble. Mr. Moody, who was unfortunately an irritable person, in the heat of his indignation, seized the fire shovel of the schoolroom, sprang toward the offender, and aimed a blow at his head, which, however, he took care should just escape on one side of his mark, and fall on the desk. He repeated the movement, bringing down his deadly weapon on the other side, with the utmost violence. Preble, meanwhile, never changed his attitude or countenance; but sitting perfectly erect, looked calmly in the face of his assailant.  The latter from being pale and quivering with rage, became instantly composed, and, turning away, exclaimed, "That fellow will make a general!" Upon leaving school Preble felt his strong desire for seafaring life, though his father opposed his choice, he thought it unwise to thwart him, and he was put on board a ship. About 1779, he became midshipman in the state ship, Protector, of twenty-six guns, commanded by John Forster Williams. That vessel on her first cruise, engaged off Newfoundland, the letter of marque, Admiral Duff, of thirty-six guns, and so disabled her in a short but bloody action, that she was forced to strike, but blew up a few moments afterwards. On her second cruise, she was captured by a British frigate and sloop of war. The principal officers were taken to England, but Preble, by the interest of one of his father's friends, Colonel Tyng, obtained his release at New York and returned home. He next entered as first lieutenant on board the sloop of war Winthrop, Captain Little, who had been Williams' second in command in the Protector, had scaled the walls of his prison at Plymouth, (England,) and escaping with one other person in a wherry to the coast of France, thence took passage to Boston, and it was upon this station that one of Preble's exploits took place, which well exemplified the daring courage and intrepidity natural to the man. Captain Little had taken the tender of a brig, of force superior to his own, which lay in the waters of the Penobscot, (in Maine.) From the crew he gained such information of the position of the brig, as determined him on an attempt to seize her by surprise. He ran her alongside in the night, having prepared forty men to jump into her, dressed in white frocks, to enable them to distinguish friend from foe; coming close upon her, he was hailed by the enemy, who, as was said supposed the Winthrop must be her tender, and they cried out, "You will run us aboard!" "Ayew!" shouted Preble, "I am coming aboard!" and he immediately sprang into the vessel with fourteen men. The notion of the vessel was so rapid that the rest of the forty, destined for boarding, missed their opportunity. Little cried out to his lieutenant, "Will you not have more men?" "No!" he answered with great presence of mind, (expecting to be overheard by the enemy," we have more than we want, we stand in each other's way." Those of the English crew who were on deck, by this time were leaping over the side; and others below from the cabin windows; and they were soon seen swimming for the shore, which was within pistol shot. Preble instantly entering the cabin, found the officers either in bed, or just rising; he assured them they were his prisoners, and that resistance, if attempted, would be fatal to them. Supposing themselves mastered by superior numbers, they submitted without the slightest effort to rescue the vessel. The enemy's troops on shore, marched down to the water, and commenced a brisk firing with muskets; and the battery also opened a cannonade, but the latter was too high to take effect, and no damage was done by either. The captors were meantime beating their prize out of the harbor, whence they soon conveyed her to Boston. Preble continued in the Winthrop during the whole of the war.  After the close of the war, when our flag began to be extensively known in foreign seas, he was a ship master, in successive voyages, for a number of years. In 1798, our relations with France called the attention of government to the state of our navy, if navy it deserved to be called; and during that and the ensuing year, fifteen frigates, and about twelve other vessels of war, were built and commissioned. Preble was one of the five first lieutenants first appointed. In the winter of 1798-9, he made two cruises as commandant of the brig Pickering, and the next year, with a captain's commission,  he received command of the frigate Essex, of thirty-six guns. In January 1800, he made a voyage in this vessel to Batavia, in company with the frigate Congress, to convoy our homeward bound ships. In June he took under convoy fourteen sail of merchantmen, valued at several millions of dollars.  Afterwards he was appointed to the command of the Adams, for the Mediterranean, but his health, which now began to fail, compelled him to leave the profession until 1803, when he commenced a career in our operations against the Algerine pirates, which not only redounded much of his own credit, but exalted the character of the American navy in the eyes of all nations. On this occasion he commanded the Constitution frigate and had under him also the frigate Philadelphia, and several smaller vessels. The satisfactory negotiations concluded by him with the emperor of Morocco, and the details of the memorable bombardment of Tripoli, till Preble was relieved by the arrival of his senior, Commodore Barron, are familiar to all readers of our history. The value of his services was recognized by a vote of congress, conferring upon him the thanks of the nation, and an elegant medal, which were both presented by the president, with the most emphatic expressions of esteem.  In the latter part of 1806, the commodore's health began again to fail under his old complaint,   a debility of the digestive organs. He struggled with it for some months, indulging a hope of recovery till within ten days of his death, which took place on August 25, 1807, in the forty-sixth year of his life.

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