James Preston

This is a brief biography of a distant ancestor.



James Preston

Born 1720/21
Died March 1807

We know nothing of James early life. He did serve in the merchant service.

On 22nd August 1749 he married Mary Selkeld at St Benett Church Paul’s Wharf London. On 14th August 1750 he was aboard RMS Royal Ann and wrote on 25th September to the Lords of the Admiralty seeking Preferment (he was probably an ordinary seaman at this time). he was discharged from HMS Antelope 23rd December 1757. In 1758 James was applying for his commission in the Royal Navy. In support he produced a certificate from, the master of the merchant ship wherein he served. Also journals left by himself whilst midshipman on Swan, Colchester and Antelope with Certificates from Captains Gregory, Russell, Gardiner and Savmarez as to his diligence. He passed the examinations on 9th August 1758 and was commissioned Lieutenant on 25th October.

Early 1759 he was aboard the Trident, one of the Blue Squadron under Rear Admiral Chas Holmes, sailing from Spithead on 14th of February on the way to wrest Canada from the French. In the Bay of Biscay they encountered a great storm and the Trident suffered severe damage having to put into Lisbon for repairs. These took from 10th March to 10th April and while there the crew suffered badly from fever.

Meanwhile Saunders, the commanding Admiral of the expedition was unable to land at Louisberg because of the ice and went South to Halifax (NovaScotia). 19th May the fleet and transports were entering the St Lawrence estuary. By 8th June an advance party of four ships and three transports were at the Traverse just below the Ile d’Orleans. The fleet finally passed the T’raverse and were anchored in Quebec basin by 27th June. Batteries were erected on Point Levi to bombard Quebec. Wolfe setup camps and landed troops on the North bank, East of well defended french positions. These proved impregnable from that direction. Soon the 31st July an attack from the river was prepared. James was in charge of four flat bottomed boats for troop transport and two similar with canon mounted as floating batteries. The plan did not work. There was an undetected boulder bank out from the shore which initially grounded the boats, These were freed and a channel was found the first to land were grenadiers who, instead of waiting for the full force to land and against orders rushed the enemy with great loss of men and officers. The whole force then withdrew, the boats that were stuck fast were stripped and burnt. Wolfe was depressed! Meanwhile Quebec town was being pounded to rubble. The lower town was totally destroyed and the upper suffered much damage.

Wolfe was getting desperate it was September and before winter came the fleet had to be away. He decided the final attack would be made West of Quebec and to this end he marched most of the troops West past Point Levi after dark on 12th September. James was in charge of flat bottomed boats landing the troops about one mile up stream from Quebec. After midnight the boats came silently downstream passing several French pickets and successfully landed the first troops who had to scramble up the cliff hanging onto bushes and stumps. The boats then went back and across the over to ferry the other soldiers over – in all 3,600 were landed. Once the troops were ashore James was in command of landing the cannon and the sailors had to man handle this armament up to the level ground. The action was successful and won Quebec, but both General Wolfe and General Montcalm, the Fench commander were killed along with 1,200 French and 58 British soldiers.

After Quebec, Admiral Saunders sailed to England before the winter, leaving troops in Quebec to winter over-unenviable duty. We do not know if the Trident with James retuned with the fleet – I would suspect it did.

In 1760 The Trident was once more on the St Lawrence and James was in charge of taking troops ashore for the assault on Montreal which capitulated on 8th September 1760 (we have a
testimonial from Lieutenant General I ‘ Murray certifying as to James distinguished service in the Navy during these campaigns, signed and dated 10th July 1776).

After the French surrender James escorted the transports evacuating the French troops and saw them safe to Eastward of point Champlain. He was then ordered to go and rescue the Governor of Canada whose ship was aground in mid river above Montreal. He managed to get the ship off and delivered the Governor to Commodore Swanton who commanded at Quebec.

On 25th October Trident was anchored off the Ile d’Orleans, probably on her way down river. Evidence of what James did after the Canadian campaign is sketchy. On 10th January 1761 he was appointed 2nd Lieutenant of the Trident and on 10th July 1776 2nd Lieutenant of the Hector. In 1780 he submitted to the Admiralty details of a method of using warships as fire-ships. Their Lordships did not consider this either proper or usable. In 1781 he was once again promoting an improved (he hoped!) weapon. This was a new style of gun carriage. After exhaustive tests by the Naval Board of ordinance this was rejected (1781).

James was residing in London; on 3rd October 1782 he was living at 30 East Street, Red Lion Square.

On the 4th March 1790, 10 articles, including chairs, a table, trunks, a carpet, window curtains and a sea chest were brought to London from Portsmouth on James account – is this the end of his Naval voyaging?

On 1st July he sailed from a wharf at Billingsgate in the Friendship master John Stephenson, destination Huddersfield.

10th July 1790 he sailed from Hull and came to anchor in the Ouse – no other information. Mary Preston died, childless, on 5th July 1792 aged 71 years. She was buried in the church at Doncaster.

In 1793 and 1794 he begat two sons George Augustus and James. Their mother was Ann Robinson of Wooldale.

James in 1796 wrote from Wooldale to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, petitioning for retirement and a pension. He stated he was suffering from a bilious disorder, fever, diabetes and dimness of eyesight such that he could only distinguish one man from another by voice.

On 22nd of July 1799 George Augustus and James junior were baptized at Wooldale Church before divers witnesses as the sons of Ann Robinson by James Preston.

On 1st of August 1801 James at last was granted retirement from the Navy. The Naval Board allowed only thirty officers at a time to draw a Naval Pension. James had had to wait till one died! At retirement he was granted the rank of Commander and allowed Six Shillings a day during his natural life.

He had his will drawn up and signed it on 4th September 1805 and on 8th October 1805 the two sons of James Preston were registered in the Register of Holmfirth Chapel.
James died on 2 March 1807 aged 86 years.
He is buried in the Holmfirth Chapel.