Preble Genealogy


John Senior and John Junior

John Preble, the third son of Brigadier Jedidiah by his first wife, and the one from whom it is extremely likely that we are descended, was born at York, Maine, in 1742. In three different places in the volume, the author says that John "married Sarah Frost, of Machias." Where he gives a more extended account of John, he says that John "was married by John Allan, Esq., to Sarah Frost, of Pleasant Point on the Schoodic River, then called Plantation No. 1, and now the town of Perry, Maine, November, 1783, and died of consumption at Portland, Maine, December 3, 1787, aged forty-five.

"John Preble was an Indian interpreter, having made himself familiar with the Indian dialects, and was truck master for the supply of the Indians, by appointment of the government of Massachusetts, at Fort Pownal (now Fort Point) on the Penobscot River, from 1770 to 1775.

"In June, 1776, the General Court made provision for stationing a company of soldiers at Falmouth, Maine, for which they sent ten cannon. The company was enlisted in the neighborhood to serve until December, and the command given to John Preble. In June, 1777, he was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the St. John expedition of which John Allan, of Machias, was the colonel and Colonel Little the brigadier."

The only child by the marriage of John Preble and Sarah Frost was Lucy, who married John Mahar in 1803, bore him ten children, and died October 10, 1845.

According to this account John Preble was more than forty-one years old when he married Sarah Frost. Whether or not he had a previous marriage and children by that marriage are facts that we do not know, but we must assume that he had.

Certainly he led a roving life, spending many years in the forest with the Indians, living and trading with them, and becoming an adept at their language, also serving in the army in different capacities and at widely different stations along the coast. That he remained all this time without any marital affiliations, in blissful bachelorhood, seems improbable, if we judge human nature in the middle of the eighteenth century from the standpoint of the twentieth.

Our present contention is that John Preble of Machias, born about 1770 or 1771, our known ancestor, who always claimed to be a grandson of Brigadier-General Jedidiah Preble, was in all possibility a son of John senior, by a marriage many years prior to that with Sarah Frost.

The same thing is very likely true in the case of Reuben Preble, who is mentioned more in detail later in this chapter. Both were orphans and both were "grandsons" of Brigadier-General Jedidiah Preble.

What we really know about the claim of John Preble, of Machias, is contained in a few sentences in the appendix of George Henry Preble's volume, particularly in the following paragraph contributed by my uncle, Edward Perkins Preble, son of Nathaniel C. A. Preble, who was the youngest child of John Preble, of Machias:--

"John Preble claimed to be a grandson of Brigadier-General Jedidiah Preble, but was never heard to say who his father or mother were. He used to relate that he was left an orphan when very young and was taken into the family of his grandfather, the Brigadier, who designed to give him a college education; but showing no special inclination to study, he was finally bound apprentice to a carpenter."

Supplementing and strengthening the above statement by Edward P. Preble, at the same time diminishing to some degree its value, is this note by "G. H. P.," the author of the genealogy:--

"If a grandson of Brigadier Preble, he must either have been a son of William, who went to sea and was never heard from, and of whom we have no other account; or, as is most probable, of John (the third son of Jedidiah) who married Sarah Frost of Machias, November, 1783, by a prior marriage of which we have no account. John, senior, died December, 1787, which would make the age of this John sixteen at the time of his decease.

"There is a vague tradition at Machias, that John, senior, was married by a Catholic priest, while it is certain by the record that he was married in 1783 to Sarah Frost, by John Allen, Esq., and left one child by her, named Lucy, who inherited his estate.

"My father, Captain Enoch Preble (who was a son of Jedidiah by the second marriage) often talked about the members of his father's family, but never, that I can remember, made any allusion to such a child being one of its inmates."

The foregoing statement by Edward P. Preble, who was born in 1845, four years after the death of his grandfather, John Preble, of Machias, must have been made from information obtained from his father, N. C. A. Preble, and his aunts, Sarah (Preble) McIntire and Betsy (Preble) Eveleth, who were the only children of John of Machias living at the time of the publication of the volume in 1870. That statement and the note by "G. H. P." represent and explain the accepted family tradition. Any other documentary proof that may have existed has long since disappeared.

My grandfather, Nathaniel C. A. Preble, and Admiral George Henry Preble, it may be remarked in passing, were life-long friends and always regarded themselves as cousins or, more accurately, second cousins, as they belonged to different generations. The former was a great-grandson and the latter a grandson of the Brigadier. It was the former's son, Edward Perkins Preble, who served as captain's clerk under George Henry Preble, aboard the gunboat Katahdin, which the latter commanded in 1862, during Farragut's famous campaign on the lower Mississippi, including the passage of the forts below New Orleans.

Here we have the picture: the senior John Preble and the junior John Preble, the former born in 1742, the latter in 1771, when the "father" was 29 years old, and Reuben in 1778, when he was 37. The senior John did not marry Sarah Frost till he was more than 41 years old, after a long and eventful career among the Indians and in the army and up and down and along the coast and into the interior. Then there was the tradition in Machias that the elder John was married by a Catholic priest; also we have the oftrepeated story that he married an Indian woman, perhaps of the Passamaquoddy tribe, a story that is not at all incredible when we observe certain family physical traits and complexions; and the well-known historical fact that the Jesuit priests had long been active in their missionary work among the Indians and on the frontier, coupled with the civil marriage of John Preble and Sarah Frost of

Machias in 1783 by John Allan or Allen, Esq. We also have the generally accepted fact that John the junior was born in Machias.

Right here let me add that some years ago I wrote to the town clerk at Machias and learned that there were no records in that town of the Prebles early enough to cover the period of John's birth in 1771.

Sarah Frost apparently lived in Machias or at least in that vicinity; and inasmuch as all the early settlements in Maine were along a narrow fringe of the sea coast and all communication was by water and almost all of our male forbears were as much at home on the water as they were ashore; and inasmuch as John the senior was something of a traveled man, it can easily be surmised that he was in and about Machias long before he ever married Sarah Frost, and that his first wife, if there was an earlier one, was from that town or from the immediate neighborhood. We have the fact that he was associated in 1777 in a military command with John Allan, of Machias, who apparently was the gentleman who performed the civil marriage of John Preble and Sarah Frost in 1783. In those days in the New England colonies marriages were usually performed by the civil magistrates.

It is also easy to fill in the picture or to piece out the narrative with the details, some of them suppositions and others established facts, like this, that John the senior actually had a wife who bore him a son in Machias in 1771 or thereabouts, and possibly another son born in Portland in 1778; that he named one of the boys after himself; that in their wandering from place to place the wife finally died from privations; that the children, like many a motherless child in the present enlightened and civilized age, never knew the luxury of a real home; that they were batted around from pillar to post, and now and then dumped on their willing or unwilling relatives; that the younger John spent some time in the home of his stepgrandmother and his grandfather, the Brigadier, who died, however, when the lad was only thirteen; that the prosperous old grandfather had suggested an education for the child, but from his incessant wanderings the boy did not feel the call of books and that finally the aged grandfather bound the lad out to a carpenter; that meanwhile the father, the elder John, had remarried and settled down into a family life and that the boy or boys were not welcome in the new household; that the elder John died three years later; that his widow Sarah afterward married again and still there was no place or welcome for this husky young John nor for the other orphan lad Reuben, who may have been his younger brother.

Such is the picture, based on the hypothesis that John, the younger of that name, could have been descended only from John the elder. It is the most likely story and the only one that seemed possible to George Henry Preble, with the greater knowledge of family history that he possessed. Personally, however, I fail to see at this late date, why it was not within the range of possibility that he could have been the son of William who went to sea and was never heard from, or of Samuel who died in the West Indies. Our present knowledge of their careers, of course, is so scant that almost any conjecture now might seem plausible.

Nevertheless, I incline strongly to the picture previously outlined and am willing to accept it in its entirety. True, our case is not sufficiently proved to enable the descendants of John Preble of Machias to join the various colonial or other patriotic societies through the Preble line. If they are desirous of connecting themselves with Sons or Daughters of the Revolution, for example, they will have to try it through some other lines of their ancestry.


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