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Commodore Edward Preble (1761-1807).

Edward Preble (15 August 1761 – 25 August 1807) was a United States naval officer.


Early life and Revolutionary War

Preble was born at Falmouth, Eastern Massachusetts, now Portland, Maine, 15 August 1761, the son of Gen. Jedidiah Preble. In 1779 he was appointed to the Massachusetts State Navy, becoming an officer in the 26 gun ship Protector. Becoming a British prisoner, when that ship was captured in 1781, he was held for a time in the prison ship New Jersey. On his release, he served in Winthrop and led a boarding party to capture a British brig at Castine, Maine, and worked it out to sea despite heavy shore fire.

United States Navy service

Fifteen years of merchant service followed his Revolutionary War service and, in April 1798, he was appointed First Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. In January 1799, he assumed command of the 14 gun brig Pickering and took her to the West Indies to protect American commerce during the Quasi-War with France. Commissioned Captain 7 June 1799, he took command of Essex in December and sailed in January 1800 for the Pacific to provide similar protective services for Americans engaged in the East Indies trade.

Philadelphia aground off Tripoli, in 1803.

Given command of the 3rd Squadron, with Constitution as his flagship, in 1803, he sailed for the Barbary coast and by October had promoted a treaty with Morocco and established a blockade off Tripoli in the First Barbary War. Stephen Decatur, William Bainbridge, Charles Stewart, Isaac Hull, Thomas MacDonough,James Lawrence, and David Porter served under his command at Tripoli.

While commanding in Tripoli, Preble masterminded the burning of the USS Philadelphia on February 16, 1804, preventing the impressive warship from falling into enemy hands. Had Tripoli gained the use of the Philadelphia, the entire blockade would have been wasted. Stephen Decatur and his younger brother, James Decatur, were involved in the actual operation.

James Decatur was killed in the fighting later that year aboard one of the squadron's attack craft,[1] described in Preble's September 18, 1804 letter[2] to the Secretary of the Navy detailing battles from July until he handed over command to Commodore James Barron.

EDWARDO PREBLE DUCI STRENUO COMITIA AMERICANA. (The American Congress to Edward Preble, a valiant officer.)
Reverse of Congressional Medal. VINDICI COMMERCII AMERICANI. (To the vindicator of American commerce.) Exergue: ANTE TRIPOLI MDCCCIV. (Off Tripoli, 1804). Representing the bombardment, by the American fleet in the foreground, of the forts and town of Tripoli in the background. The American vessels are drawn up in line, and several boats manned are seen in the water casting off to the attack of the enemy's shipping and batteries.

Over the course of his career, Preble helped establish many of the modern Navy's rules and regulations. Described as a stern taskmaster, he kept high discipline upon the ships under his command. He also dictated that his ships be kept in a state of readiness for any action while under sail, something many US naval officers at the time did not insist upon. The men listed in the previous paragraph took his procedures to heart at a time when the US Navy was highly unregulated. Many of Preble’s procedures became doctrine after the establishment of an official US Navy. The officers serving under him during his career also went on to become most influential in the Navy Department after his death, and together they proudly wore the unofficial title of "Preble's Boys". (When Preble took over command he discovered that his oldest officer was 20 and the youngest 15 years old. He therefore grumbled the Secretary of the Navy had given him "just a pack of schoolboys".)[3]

Preble's Mediterranean cruise led directly to the US government's firm anti-negotiation stance. Many Mediterranean states, including Tripoli, had been pirating American shipping vessels, ransoming the sailors, and demanding tribute to prevent future pirate attacks. The tribute rose after each successful payment, as did the brutality and boldness of the attacks.

End of career

In September 1804, Commodore Preble requested relief due to a long time illness. He returned to the United States in February 1805 and became engaged in the comparably light duty of shipbuilding activities at Portland, Maine. By Congressional resolution in March, 1805, a gold medal was struck and presented to Commodore Preble for the "gallantry and good conduct" of himself and his squadron at Tripoli. President Jefferson offered him the Navy Department in 1806, but Preble declined appointment due to his poor health. He died in Portland of a gastrointestinal illness on 25 August 1807.


In Fiction

Preble appears as a character in the science fiction novel Time for Patriots, ISBN 978-1-60693-224-7, performing much as he did historically.


  1. ^ The following is without attribution: The story has it that upon hearing of his brother's death, Stephen Decatur swung at Preble on the deck of the USS Constitution. The fanciful tale continues that afterwards the two officers retired to Preble's cabin and drank many toasts to the men killed in action in the Mediterranean, including Stephen Decatur's brother. No disciplinary action was taken for hitting a superior officer, perhaps evidence, if the story is true, of the relaxed regulations in the US Navy at the time or perhaps evidence of Preble's understanding of Decatur's grief.
  2. ^ Set out in full in The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Medallic History of the United States of America 1776-1876, by J. F. Loubat, page 137.
  3. ^ Flechtcher Pratt, "The Compact History of the United States Navy", 1957

External links

Further reading

  • Preble, George Henry. A genealogical Sketch of the First Three Generations of Prebles in America. Boston: David Clapp & Son, 1868. Excerpt, pp. 162–180.
  • Pratt, Fletcher. Preble's Boys: Commodore Preble and the Birth of American Sea Power. New York: William Sloane, 1950.
  • McKee, Christopher. Edward Preble: A Naval Biography 1761-1807. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1972. ISBN 0-87021-525-6
  • London, Joshua E. Victory in Tripoli: How America's How America's War with the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and Shaped a Nation. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005. ISBN 0-471-44415-4
  • White, William H. The Greater The Honor. Tiller Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1-888671-44-0
  • Berube, Claude and Rodgaard, John. A Call to the Sea: Captain Charles Stewart of the USS Constitution. Hamden Virginia: Potomac Books, Inc., 2006. ISBN 1-57488-996-6


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