Preble Hall’s Namesake

By Cassie Marceau and Ben Riggleman

Edward_PrebleYou look at all the buildings here at SMCC, and you can tell that they are old. So then you know they have some history to them. For example, Preble Hall was built in 1905. It was built to be an artillery barracks, and was designed to hold 109 men.

The building is named after Edward Preble, a United States naval commander who was born Aug. 15, 1761, and died Aug. 25, 1807. He served in the First Barbary War (1801-1805), during which he led American attacks on the Arab city-state of Tripoli, which was a base for pirates at the time (and is now the capital of Libya). He helped shape the early U.S. Navy and its officer corps.

Preble was the son of a military officer, merchant and political leader, Jedidiah Preble. As a boy, his home was destroyed when the city of Falmouth (present-day Portland) was burned by the British navy on the orders of Captain Henry Mowat during the Revolutionary War. This impelled the young Preble to serve his country at sea, and he joined the crew of a privateer vessel at age 16. In 1779, two years later, he joined the Massachusetts State Navy. He became a prisoner of the British in 1781 when his ship, the Protector, was captured.

After his release, he was promoted to First Lieutenant. Serving on the cruiser Winthrop, he led a daring mission to capture a British ship anchored off Castine, Maine, and braved heavy fire from shore as he led it out to sea. He quickly gained “a reputation for undaunted courage and presence of mind,” according to his biography on a U.S. Navy website. He also became feared by subordinates for his harsh discipline and what we would now call anger-management problems.

He is most famous for his conduct during the Barbary War. He acted as both military commander and diplomat, but did not excel in the latter capacity; his Encyclopedia Britannica entry notes that he was “insensitive to Islamic culture.” He did, however, sign a peace treaty with the Sultan of Morocco in 1803. His lack of diplomatic progress with the Tripolitanians on behalf of captured American sailors led him to attack Tripoli full-on in 1804. It was defended by 25,000 soldiers, and he had only a small seabound force under his command. Although Preble was not personally able to win a decisive victory, his bravery brought him national renown, and many junior officers who served under him became famous in their own right in the War of 1812.

Preble became President Thomas Jefferson’s senior naval advisor in the last years of his life. He died at the age of 46 from a painful gastrointestinal illness. Six U.S. Navy ships are named after him; the latest was commissioned in 2002.

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