Plantation: Historical perspective
family's roots lie in England
Preston is said to have been friends with
famed abolitionist Delia Webster
Helen E. McKinney
(June 2006) Since its beginnings in 1785 as
Norfolk Farm, Preston Plantation has come a long way. The name changed,
but the history of the farm is still intact. Today, Paul and Pam Venard,
the couple who own part of the original farm, and civic-minded individuals
are trying to piece the farm back together to create a living history
museum that would entertain and educate the public on the areas
her land to be used
for a Catholic school
upon her death.
The farm itself has an interesting history that weaves
early pioneering settlements to Civil War era activities, including
beliefs that the area had a role in smuggling slaves across the Ohio
River to freedom. Not much is recorded about activities at the farm,
but the Venards have been able to piece together some history about
the Prestons and their ancestors.
John Howard (1733-1834), who descended from British aristocracy, served
as aide de camp for Gen. George Washington during the French and Indian
War (1754-1763). As a reward for his military service, this captain
of the Virginia Militia in 1786 was awarded approximately 8,000 acres
of land in present day Trimble County, Ky., from a Treasury Warrant
signed by Virginia Gov. Patrick Henry.
Howard also bought and settled 1,000 acres in Lexington, Ky., that became
known as Howards Grove. A hemp grower and military hero, Howard
married Mary Preston (1740-1814). The couple had five children, the
second youngest daughter being Margaret Preston, who at age 33 married
Upon division of Norfolk Farm, the southern 3,300 acres went to Margaret.
Her husband was a successful businessman, attorney and powerful local
agent for the Democratic Party. He was also the largest slave owner
One of the couples six children, Mary Howard Wickliffe (1817-1892),
in 1851 married a distant cousin, John Preston (1811-1882). For a time,
they lived at Marys childhood home, called Glendower, in Lexington.
It was while living at Glendower in 1843 before her marriage that Mary
befriended a young woman named Delia Webster. Webster was a Vermont
abolitionist and schoolteacher who had settled into a boarding house
across the street. She is believed to have been responsible for helping
many slaves escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad.
by Don Ward
stands on the property
near the Preston
In 1850, Mary purchased Preston Plantation from her father
for $1. But when she married John Preston, the land became her husbands
property because of the laws of the time. The couple spent their summers
there and the rest of the year living in Louisville. Mary, an independent
woman, was able to get the plantation back in her name by 1859. They
resided in a two-story farm house built before 1855 and located in the
middle of the farm on top of the hill.
Some time after this, Mary decided to convert to Catholicism. Many feel
this conversion was due to the loss of a son, Robert, who was born in
1856 and died four years later, with the cause of death uncertain. Whatever
her reasons, Mary was baptized as a Roman Catholic on Nov. 6, 1862,
at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, Ky.
Mary later opened a one-room schoolhouse for the children who lived
on the plantation.
It still stands today on the property near the home place, along with
a smokehouse, cellar and out building. The school gained a reputation
after the Civil War as the only one of its kind in the area that educated
both African American and caucasian children. At one point in its history,
Preston Plantation housed 66 slaves on the property. The slaves
quarters were torn down several years ago.
Although they werent the wealthiest couple living in the state,
Mary and John Preston were afforded some semblances of luxury. In the
1850s, Mary was said to have spent $5,000 on roses to be planted on
the plantation. The Prestons cultivated large peach orchards and grew
tobacco, products that could easily be shipped and sold from their home
on the banks of the Ohio River.
by Don Ward
one-room schoolhouse still stands on the property near the Preston
In January 1891, Mary willed all of her Trimble County
property to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Louisville. She specifically
stated that the plantation land was to be used for a boys school.
A year later, a codicil stated that Mary had already disposed of Norfolk
Farm, as it was officially referred to then, by donating the land to
the Abbot of St. Meinrads Abbey in Spencer County, Ind.
Not long after her death in 1892, family members fought to overturn
her will. They had been vehemently against her Catholic conversion and
argued that she had been mentally unstable and under the influence of
the Roman Catholic Church while making her will.
The outcome of this dispute was the eventual sale of the farm in 1902.
The farm was then divided into 24 separate farms. After ownership passed
from Marys family, several families lived in her former home.
Mary Preston, meanwhile, is buried in St. Louis Catholic Cemetery in
Louisville, Ky. Prior to her death, she arranged for the bodies of her
non-Catholic husband, John, their 4-year-old son, Robert, and Johns
parents to be moved to the same cemetery with her.
Back to June 2006 Articles.