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Commodore Edward Preble, USN. Naval History & Heritage Command, Art Collection.



Commodore Edward Preble, US Navy
1761 - 1807


Born at Falmouth, Maine, Edward Preble was the fourth child and third son of General Jedidiah Preble, an officer of the Revolution. His great-grandfather was Abraham Preble, having settled in Scituate, Massachusetts, about 1636. His mother, Mehitable (Bangs) Roberts, was the second wife of General Preble. Edward was educated at Dummer Academy, Newbury, Massachusetts. He married Mary Deering on 17 March 1801, and they had one son.

At the age of sixteen Preble ran away to sea on a privateer of Newburyport, and in 1779 was appointed a midshipman on the frigate Protector of the Massachusetts navy. This ship fought two actions with the British ships Admiral Duff and Thames. In 1781 she was captured and Preble was confined for a time on the prison-ship Jersey. In 1782 he was a lieutenant under Captain George Little on the Massachusetts cruiser Winthrop, which succeeded in taking five prizes. After the Revolution he spent fifteen years in the merchant service and visited many parts of the world, being once captured by pirates.

Upon the opening of hostilities with France in 1798, he was appointed a lieutenant in the navy and was given command of the brig Pickering in the squadron of Commodore John Barry in the West Indies. He received a commission as captain on 15 May 1799 and was ordered to the new frigate Essex. The frigate Congress and the Essex set sail with a convoy of merchantment for the East Indies in January 1800, but six days out the Congress was dismasted in a gale and the Essex proceeded alone. She was the first American warship to show the flag beyond the Cape of Good Hope. After cruising for two months about the Straits of Sunda, rendering important service in protecting American trade from French privateers, the Essex sailed for home with a convoy of fourteen vessels, arriving at New York in November.

The naval war with France was scarcely brought to a close before the war with Tripoli began and in 1803 Preble was put in command of the third squadron to be sent to the Mediterranean. His flagship was the Constitution and the squadron included six other vessels: the frigate Philadelphia, the brigs Siren and (Argus), and the schooners Vixen, Nautilus, and Enterprise. Each vessel sailed when ready and the Consitution was the fourth to get away on 14 August 1803, arriving at Gibraltar on 12 September. After working on a difficulty with Morocco in November, Preble sailed east for the rendezvous with the squadron. Before reaching Syracuse, however, he learned of the capture of the Philadelphia by the Tripolitans and the captivity of Captain William Bainbridge with more than 300 members of the crew. The Philadelphia, lying in the harbor of Tripoli, was later destroyed by a prize ketch called the Intrepid, commanded by Stephen Deactur. Meanwhile, the blockade of Tripoli had been proclaimed by the commodore and was maintained, as well as circumstances permitted, by the squadron. At the same time, the squadron was also employed in cruising and in preparing for an attack upon the town. Preble borrowed two mortar-boats and six gunboats from the king of the Two Sicilies. Aside from these auxiliaries the squadron comprised the six American vessels and two prizes taken into the service, the Intrepid and the brig Scourge. The squadron carried forty-two heavy guns, one on each gunboat and the others on the Constitution, all the other vessels' guns being too light for assaulting the enemy's batteries.

The commodore had under his command 1060 officers and men. Tripoli was defended by strong forts and batteries, many gunboats, several larger vessels, and 25,000 men. After much delay because of bad weather, the first assault on Tripoli was made on 3 August 1804. Most of the fighting was done by the gunboats, which closed with the enemy's gunboats and necessitated many desperate hand-to-hand contests. The squadron bombarded the town, inflicting considerable but not vital damage. The Americans were victorious at sea, three of the enemy's gunboats being captured and three sunk. Four subsequent attacks were made, two of them at night, with great loss to the enemy, but Tripoli was not captured. On the night of 4 September, the Intrepid, with 15,000 pounds of powder on board and commanded by Richard Somers, was sent into the harbor to be exploded in the midst of the Tripolitan fleet, but for some reason never explained, the explosion was pre-mature and all hands perished. Preble's total loss during the summer, including the crew of the Intrepid, was thirty killed and twenty-four wounded.

Soon after this a larger and more powerful squadron appeared under the command of Commodore Samuel Barron and Preble was superseded. Very little was accomplished by Barron's squadron and the next year peace was reached with Tripoli on terms far from satisfactory. After his return home Preble was employed in building gunboats for the navy. His health, which had long been declining, turned for the worse and he died at Portland at the early age of forty-six on 25 August 1807.

Ships named for Commodore Edward Preble

The first Preble, sometimes called Commodore Preble, a sloop purchased on Lake Champlain in 1813, was commissioned 6 August 1813, Lt. Charles Budd in command.

The second Preble, a sloop-of-war built by the Portsmouth (N.H.) Navy Yard, was launched 13 June 1839 and commissioned the following year, Comdr. Samuel L. Breese in command.

The third Preble (Torpedo boat destroyer 12) was laid down by the Union Iron Works, San Francisco, Calif., 21 April 1899; launched 2 March 1901; sponsored by Miss Ethel Preble; and commissioned 14 December 1903, Lt. T. C. Fenton in command.

The fourth Preble (DD 345) was laid down by the Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine, 12 April 1919; launched 8 March 1920; sponsored by Miss Sallie MacIntosh Tucker; and commissioned at the Boston Navy Yard 19 March 1920, Comdr. H. A. Baldridge in command.

The fifth Preble (DLG 15) was laid down by the Bath Iron Works Corp., Bath, Maine, 16 December 1957; launched 23 May 1959; sponsored by Mrs. Ralph E. Wilson; and commissioned in the Boston Naval Shipyard 9 May 1960, Comdr. Edward G. Fitz-Patrick in command.

The sixth Preble (DDG 88) was laid down by Ingalls Shipbuilding, Pascagoula, Mississippi, 22 June 2000; launched 1 June 2001; sponsored by Connie Rae Clark; and commissioned at the Commonwealth Pier/World Trade Center in Boston, Massachusetts on 9 November 2002, Commander Timothy Batzler in command.

Dates of Service

1798 9 April Appointed in the US Navy as 1st Lieutenant for the US Frigate Constitution (shortly before commencement of hostilities, Naval War with France). Notified 12 April (absent). (Name not found on muster rolls of the Constitution of this period. A letter from the Secretary of the Navy to Captain Nicholson, commanding officer of the Constitution, dated 23 July 1798, states that Mr. Fletcher had been appointed to take the place of Mr. Preble (absent) as 1st Lieutenant).
  15 November Accepted appointment.
  8 December Granted permission to attend to his private affairs for a few weeks; would probably be called into service on the arrival of the Revenue Cutter Pickering and the USS Herald at Boston, which was expected in December. Adresses at Boston.
1799 4 January Ordered to duty as Lieutenant Commandant of the Revenue Cutter Pickering (temporarily transferred to the navy for duty in the Naval War with France); to prepare the ship for service immediately.
17 January Informed it was presumed the Pickering was ready for sailing, and that he was ordered by the President to proceed without delay to the Island of Dominica, West Indies, and cruise in the vicinity of Prince Rupert's Bay until falling in with Captain John Barry of the Frigate United States, under whose orders to place himself. Served in the West Indies under Barry.
  25 May Recommended by the Secretary of the Navy for promotion to Captain.
  7 June Promoted to Captain, with commission of that date, to take rank from 15 May 1799. The Pickering arrived at New York in June, and was prepared by Preble for another cruise in the West Indies, not under his command.
  21 October Ordered as soon as possible to repair to Salem, Massachusetts, and assist in preparing the US Frigate Essex for sea; to command her if ready before the return of Captain Derby (who was to have commanded her) returned. Carried on the muster roll of the Essex from date.
  3 December Ordered in company with the US Frigate Congress to convoy a number of merchant vessels to Batavia, East Indies. The Essex and Congress sailed from Newport, Rhode Island, 9 January 1800, but soon after encountered a gale in which the Congress was dismasted and obliged to return home. The Essex continued the cruise, and Preble had the honor of being the first US naval officer to fly the American flag east of the Cape of Good Hope, as the Essex on this voyage was the first US man-of-war to make so distant a cruise.
1800 28 November Arrived at New York.
  6 December Letter of 29 November acknowledged, informing the Department of his return. Congratulated on his safe arrival; the crew of the Essex to be immediately discharged and the ship refitted for another cruise.
1801 3 January His arrangements for the Essex approved; leave request granted for such time as might suit his convenience unless his services should be required sooner; in which case orders would be transmitted.
  1 April Informed that he was retained in the Navy under the Peace Establishment Act of 3 March 1801. Directed to open a rendezvous immediately for the Essex, and to prepare her for a cruise of 12 months; assigned to duty in the squadron of Captain Thomas Truxtun.
  17 April Requested to be relieved from the command of the Essex on account of his health.
  22 April Request granted with great regret; directed to proceed with the Essex to Hampton Roads, where Captain William Bainbridge would relieve him. Addressed at New York.
  29 May Detached from the Essex at Hampton Roads.
  1 August Ordered to Court Martial duty at Boston 1 September.
1802 12 January Ordered to the command of the US Frigate Adams; to repair immediately to New York and assume command , and to report after survey what would be necesary to complete her preparations for sea. Assumed command.
  16 April Furloughed for the recovery of his health.
1803 7 March Ordered to superintend the building of a vessel at Portsmouth, N.H. Addressed at Portland, ME.
  13 April Directed to furnish an estimate for a brig of the same size to be built at Boston. Addressed at Portsmouth, N.H.
  18 April Informed that the idea of building a brig at Portsmouth had been abandoned. Directed to superintend the building of one at Boston.
  14 May Ordered to assume command of the US Frigate Constitution at Boston, and have her put in condition to sail at the shortest possible period. To continue to superintend the building of the brig.
  21 May Appointed to the command of a squadron which was to sail for the Mediterranean as soon as possible, to participate in the War against Tripoli: the squadron to consist of the Frigate Consitution and Philadelphia, the Brig Siren building at Philadelphia, the Brig building at Boston (later named (Argus), the Schooner Enterprise already in the Mediterranean, the Schooner Nautilus which would be ready to sail in 3 weeks from Baltimore, and the Schooner Vixen building at Baltimore.
  27 May Informed that Lieutenant Stephen Decatur would relieve him of superintending the building of the brig at Boston, and command her to the Mediterranean, exchanging there with the commander of the Nautilus.
  14 August Sailed for the Mediterranean in the Constitution.
  18 September Arrived at Gibraltar. At this time the Emperor of Morocco was committing hostilities agaisnt the United States. On 8 October Preble in the Consitution in company with Commodore John Rodgers in the New York sailed from Gibraltar to Tangier, and on 12 October compelled the Emperor to sign the treaty of 1786. The story of Preble's services during the War with Tripoli can be found in detail in Gardiner W. Allen's Our Navy and the Barbary Corsairs. He planned the gallant and successful expedition commanded by Decatur to burn the Philadelphia, which had been captured by the Tripolitans; carried out with the vessels of his squadron five attacks on Triploi, on 3, 7, 24, and 28 August, and 3 September; and endeavored to secure a treaty for the establishment of a permanent peace upon honorable terms with the Pashaw, but was recalled to the United States before this was accomplished.
1804 10 September Gave up the command of the squadron to Commodore Samuel Barron, who had been appointed to succeed him, and returned to the United States in the John Adams, arriving at New York 26 February 1805.
1805 3 March Congress passed a Resolution of thanks to Commodore Preble and the officers, petty officers, seamen and marines attached to the squadron under his command, for their gallantry and good conduct displayed in the several attacks on the town, batteries, and naval force of Tripoli, in the year 1804, and requested the President to present a gold medal to Commodore Preble, and swords to each of the commissioned officers and Midshipmen who had distinguished themselves in the several attacks.
  15 March Addressed as present. Informed that after his long absence and honorable service the Secretary was disposed to give him a rest, but as he had volunteered his services they would be accepted. Requested to repair to Boston and Portland and at whichever place most convenient to build 2 bomb vessels and 2 gunboats; the bomb vessels to be completed as soon as possible. In pursuance of this order he purchased, with the approval of the Department, 2 vessels and refitted them as bomb vessels, to which the names of Spitfire and Vengeance were given; and built 2 gunboats, numbered 11 and 12, at Portland. Later, contracted for and built 9 more gunboats, numbered 29-37.
1806 17 May The medal authorized by Congress sent him.
1807 9 June Granted permission requested in letter of 1 June to use one of the gunboats to go occasionally into Casco Bay for 3 or 4 days during the hot weather in July and August for the benefit of his health, which was failing rapidly during this period. Requested to furnish the Department with his observations on the Shoals, etc., of the Bay, discovered on these excursions.
  13 June Invited to go to New York if his health would permit, to witness experiments by Robert Fulton for submarine attack on and blowing up of ships of war.
  26 June Ordered if his health permitted to repair to Hampton, Va. immediately as President of a Court of Inquiry, but was unable to do so, or to accept the invitation to New York to witness the experiments.
  17 July Wrote that he would be obliged to give up further attentions to the gunboats on account of the state of his health, by his physician's advice.
  25 July Letter of 17 July acknowledged. Directed to decline further attention to the gunboats, and on Lieutenant Lawrence's arrival to transfer them entirely to him. Furloughed to Madeira, in the hope that a trip to the south might benefit him.
  25 August Died at Portland, Me. He left a widow, who was Miss Mary Deering of Portland, and one son, Edward Deering Preble, who died at Portland 12 February 1846, leaving one son and two daughters.


Source: Adapted from 'Edward Preble, US Navy,' ZB file: Preble, Edward, Navy Department Library.

Related source: The George Henry Preble Collection.

For further information see: McKee, Christopher. Edward Preble: A Naval Biography, 1761-1807. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1972.

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