Edward Preble was born at Falmouth, Maine on August 15, 1761 and began his career at the age of sixteen when he ran away to sea on a privateer. Two years later, he was appointed a midshipman on the frigate Protector and fought two engagements before being captured in 1781. The following year, after his release, he became First Lieutenant on the cruiser Winthrop. While on this ship, Preble earned a reputation for undaunted courage and presence of mind. In one mission he led a boarding party in the capture of an anchored British brig at Castine, Maine, and escaped with her under hostile shore fire.
After the Revolutionary War, Preble remained in the merchant service. He was appointed a First Lieutenant in the United States Navy in April 1798, and ordered the following January to command the brig Pickering of the U.S. Revenue Marine. The Pickering sailed in the squadron of Commodore Barry, protecting American commerce against French privateers in the West Indies.
Commissioned a Captain on 7 June 1799, he took command of the new frigate Essex in December, and sailed from New York in January 1800 to afford protection to American vessels engaged in China and Eastern trade. During this cruise Preble had the honor of being the first naval officer to fly the American flag east of the Cape of Good Hope.
In 1803 on board his flagship, USS Constitution, Preble sailed against the Barbary pirates as Commodore of a seven-ship, thousand-man squadron. In October of that year he established a peace treaty with the Emperor of Morocco, and then effected a blockade of the harbor of Tripoli. Preble and his Tripolitan campaign became one of the focal points for the development of the fighting tradition of the U.S. Navy. Not satisfied with a passive blockade, Preble attacked the harbor, which was well-fortified and defended by 25,000 men. In a series of daring raids, Preble's men caused severe damage and inflicted heavy causalities, a direct result of strenuous training and bold thinking. Preble's influence extended not only to events of his time, but also to the later successes of the men who were called "Preble's Boys": Stephen Decatur, William Bainbridge, Charles Stewart, Isaac Hull, James Lawrence, Thomas MacDonough, Oliver Hazard Perry, and David Porter, all of whom served under his command at Tripoli. In 1804 Preble returned to the United States to supervise the construction of gunboats. He died a few years later on August 25, 1807.
- Platt, Fletcher. Preble's boys; Commodore Preble and the birth of American sea power, Sloane, New York (1950)