Herbert Augustine Preston was my great great grandfather. His third daughter and fifth child was Elizabeth Monica Preston who married Herbert Sydney Bryant in 1900. Their first child, Katherine Gertrude Bryant, was my father’s mother. Kitty was born in Washington DC in 1902.
The Bryant and Preston families were residents of Washington DC since the end of the Civil War. Members of both families held positions as government clerks, lawyers and journalists but the only one to have his caricature appear on the first page of a DC paper was Herbert Augustine Preston. (At least, he’s the only one I’ve found so far.)
This picture appeared in the sixth column (above the fold!) on the front page of The Washington Critic on May 28, 1885. The text of the article is transcribed below. It provides a timeline of HAP’s career and insights into his character and physical appearance.
The three line title of the article reads:
Our Press Gallery
One of the Most Enterprising of News-Gatherers
The Washington Correspondent of the “New York Herald,” Whose Varied and Industrious Career as a Journalist Covers Fully a Quarter of a Century
Mr. Herbert A. Preston is the regular correspondent of the New York Herald. He is in his forth-fifth year, a native of Charlestown, Mass., and has been connected with journalism for a quarter of a century. In Boston before the war he worked on the Herald and also on the Ledger, the latter a paper started once upon a time in opposition to the former. He served in the army for three years and was offered the position of war correspondent on the Cincinnati Commercial. This he declined and became one of the city staff of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
He came to this city in 1866 and became an attaché of the National Intelligence. In 1869 he went to the National Republican, and in 1870 he accepted a place in the Washington bureau of the New York Herald. In 1875 he took charge of the New York Sun bureau, but returned to the Herald in the fall of 1877 and has been its regular correspondent here ever since.
During the negotiations for the treaty of Washington the Herald was the medium through which a number of important state secrets were made public, to the great annoyance of President Grant who thought someone was conspiring to defeat the chief ambition of his Administration, and openly charged Mr. Preston with aiding the conspiracy. This caused the proprietor of the paper to “fire him out,” as it were. During the last Irish famine Mr. Preston exerted himself in collecting funds in this city to aid the sufferers, and secured nearly $6,000.
Like most of the older newspaper men, continued indulgence in the luxuries of life have made him a plump and pleasing person. He is fond of conversation and devoted to bon mots, which he handles in a style that greatly resembles that of Senator William M. Evarts. Mr. Preston carries about with him a somewhat sparsely settled beard and moustache of a reddish hue.
He makes no pretensions to phenomenal gifts as a writer, and cares only to be esteemed as having “a nose for the news.” He is certainly so esteemed. Facts, rather than rhetoric, constitute his forte.
Mr. Preston is ably seconded in the discharge of his laborious duties by the intelligent assistance of Mr. Patrick Diggins, who commenced his journalistic career on the Herald with the elder Bennett in 1835, when the paper was started. Mr. Diggins is a permanent fixture attached to the Herald’s real estate.
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So if you’re like me and don’t remember learning about the Treaty of Washington, it establish a precedent in international law about the role of “neutral” countries. Under the Treaty (which was signed in 1871 despite my grandfather’s alleged efforts to defeat it) the United States received $15 million from Great Britain for damage and losses caused by Confederate cruisers built in Liverpool during the civil war. These ships, largely the Alabama, caused significant damage to the US Merchant Marine during the Civil War. The US sought compensation from Great Britain for these losses in 1869 and Senator Charles Sumner originally sought $2 billion or the annexation of Canada! The Treaty of Washington settled these and other claims. I’m reading about this now, in issues of the New York Herald from 1871 to see just what my gg grandfather did to get President Grant so riled up.
Is it possible my great great grandfather tried to defeat that Treaty? Pretty cool that Grant specifically identified him although I doubt he thought so when he was losing his job! Herbert A. Preston was from Massachusetts and fought for the Union for three years, so I don’t have any reason to believe he was a southern sympathizer.
Hamilton Fish, Grant’s Secretary of State, was a key player in the negotiations that began in early 1871 when Sir John Rose came to Washington DC to sort out differences between the two countries involving the Northwest boundary dispute. The US agreed to enter into discussion with Great Britain, provided their scope was broadened to include the Alabama claims that had not yet been resolved.
Perhaps there was something about the process that HAP found newsworthy. Or perhaps President Grant just didn’t like him. We may never know but I love when my genealogy research broadens my general knowledge of history and world affairs.