By Matt de Simone
After two years awaiting its proper dedication, the Col. William Preston Memorial outside of the Botetourt County Administrative Offices at Greenfield finally saw its day in the sun last Saturday.
Members of the community, including direct descendants of William Preston, gathered as members of Botetourt’s administration and individuals responsible for conceptualizing the memorial spoke during the dedication.
William Preston was the most significant founder and leader of Botetourt County. He was the dominant military and political leader in southwestern Virginia for 20 years, including the American Revolution. Preston led the development of Botetourt, Fincastle, and Montgomery counties and was the highest-ranking military officer in those counties. He served for six years in the Virginia House of Burgesses.
The ceremony was initially scheduled for May of 2020, but due to the pandemic, plans changed. The Virginia Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) initiated the plans for the ceremony two years ago. President of the Virginia Society Sons of the American Revolution (VASSAR) Bruce Meyer previously stated the Preston memorial ceremony was a part of his “presidential initiatives” once he took over the position.
The Rev. Robert Haley welcomed guests at the start of the program in the administrative offices’ lower lobby. Gary Duerk handled the bugle calls signaling guests that the program was about to begin.
Botetourt County Clerk of Court Tommy Moore reprised his role as John May, Botetourt’s first Clerk of Court and neighbor of Preston.
“How time flies,” Moore said at the beginning of the program, dawned in his Colonial garb. “I’m sure John May, my predecessor by 250 years in the post of Clerk of Court at Fincastle, would have approved of this ceremony honoring his neighbor William Preston. I’ll bet they were friends, and John May called William Preston ‘Billy.'”
Moore introduced the Rev. Dr. Eugene Thomas, VASSAR Chaplain, before Thomas offered the opening invocation.
The VASSAR Color Guard presented the colors before The Harmoneers Barbershop Chorus belted out “The Star-Spangled Banner,” followed by John Cahoon, First Vice President of the Fincastle Resolutions Chapter SAR, leading the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. Director-elect District VII of the Virginia DAR Jeanne Dooley read “The American’s Creed.”
The Harmoneers then offered an excellent rendition of the traditional American folk classic, “Shenandoah.”
Moore introduced guest speakers Bruce Meyer, State Regent for the DAR Leann Fetherolf Turbyfill, Botetourt County Supervisor for the Amsterdam District Steve Clinton, and Virginia Tech Associate Professor of History Dr. Daniel Thorp.
Meyer spoke briefly about patriotism and liberty. He stated that the memorial dedication is a small part of the work done by the patriots who represent VASSAR, DAR, and Botetourt County.
Turbyfill touched on life in Virginia before the American Revolution and gave a brief history of William Preston and his family.
“I’m reminded good things always take their time, and this is a good thing,” Turbyfill stated during her speech. “May all who come to this place gain an understanding of the need to identify historical sites such as this. Our ancestors provided us with a legacy, and it’s up to us to ensure that legacy is passed on to the next generation.”
Clinton spoke about the Historic Greenfield Preservation area and the work done by the Historic Greenfield Preservation Advisory Council (HGPAC). The 900-acre project is a remnant of Preston’s 2,300-acre Greenfield Plantation in the mid-1700s. Clinton went on to discuss “filling gaps” about the history of Greenfield to gain better knowledge about slavery.
“Unlike many historic destinations, our vision is that Greenfield will be dominated not by military figures winning and losing battles, but rather by everyday people overcoming and failing to overcome the challenges of everyday life on the edge of the frontier,” Clinton noted. “Throughout, the unavoidable overlay will be the institution of slavery. We will offer an authentic environment for gaining new, empathetic insights into slavery as it was practiced in frontier Virginia.
“We will offer a place that helps reveal the human and economic impact of slavery in this region. And we will promote a better understanding of the interplay of cultures and how each culture—Appalachian and African—bears the influence of the other, even today, more than two centuries later, because, after all, it is that interplay of cultures—cultures of all kinds, not just Appalachian and African—that makes an American an American.”
Dr. Thorp then took time to speak about William Preston’s contributions to American history and the tremendous cost to Preston and his family during the American Revolution.
“Everything about this country came at a cost, and it’s important that we understand that,” Dr. Thorp said. “That we honestly acknowledge the contributions of all the people and the cost to all of the people. And to recognize all of the people who helped build this nation, even those who did so unwillingly. This does not diminish William Preston and his contemporaries. It simply puts them in context and concludes the story.”
Following the guest speakers, Moore concluded the program by thanking all contributors over the last 20 years since the conceptualization of the Preston Memorial project.
Guests then walked outside to see Boy Scouts of Roanoke raise a 13-star “Betsy Ross” American flag at the memorial’s flagpole. The monument includes steel benches, beautiful landscaping, and interpretive signs installed by three Boy Scouts from Roanoke’s Troop 17– Bruce Ferrell, John Gurley, Jr., and Grey Gurley– as their Eagle Scout projects.
The William Preston Memorial is located outside the Botetourt County Administrative Offices at 57 S. Center Drive in Daleville.
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