Peter B. Borst (1826-1882)

Peter Bouck Borst (23 June 1826 – 24 April 1882) was an active participant in the mid-19th century development of Page County, Virginia, serving as a lawyer, county delegate to Virginia’s Secession Convention of 1861, and president of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad.

Early life

Borst was born and raised in Schoharie County, New York, the second son of U.S. Congressman Peter I. Borst and Catherine B. Borst.

In 1847, he relocated from New York to Luray, Virginia, where he opened a practice as a lawyer. Within a few short years of his arrival, he met Isabella C. Almond, marrying her on 1 April 1851. Almond was a daughter of Edmund “Mann” Almond, a prominent Luray merchant and slaveholder (owning seven slaves in 1850, and five slaves in 1860).

The family home, “Aventine”

Soon after the arrival of the couple’s son, Charles Manning, in 1851, Borst began construction on a new family home, “Aventine”, on a high point on the west end of Luray and within sight of the county court house. Borst had designed the house when he was 20, without consulting any architects. All of the lumber that made up the home came from the Blue Ridge and had been seasoned for at least two years before being applied to the project. Built with no nails, the home was entirely “pinned and morticed.” According to family stories, it was Peter’s daughter, Elizabeth, who later named the home for Aventine Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome. Years later, after the family moved from the home, it served as the principal building of Luray College (1925–1927) and was moved in 1937 to make room for the construction of the Mimslyn.

Portion of a pencil sketch of Luray, completed by William Rupp on October 27, 1854. Aventine appears on the far right.

Aventine in its original location, ca. 1900

 

Aventine in its present location. Photo taken by author in 2001.

Early career

In 1852, Borst began a long career as Commonwealth’s Attorney for Page County, maintaining his office in the North wing of the courthouse. By 1860, he had accumulated considerable property and popularity in the county. He owned a farm by the mid-1850s and later built a three-story tannery that would be known as “one of the most flourishing establishments in the county” in antebellum Luray.

The Secession Convention

Borst was selected as Page County’s delegate to the Virginia Convention of 1861 and was one of only four convention delegates (along with Raphael Morgan Conn and Samuel Croudson Williams of Shenandoah County, and Robert H. Turner of Warren County), from among the eighteen delegates from the Shenandoah Valley, to side with secession in the April 4 vote. At that time, sentiments in the Shenandoah Valley were much more Unionist than pro-secession. When he voted again in favor of secession on April 17, he was among the majority vote of the Shenandoah Valley delegates, only two (Edmund Pendleton of Berkeley County and John Francis Lewis of Rockingham County) voting against. In the proceedings, Borst was quoted as seeing his adopted county as “fully alive to the crisis, and prepared to meet it, come what may.”

The Civil War Years

Since Peter Borst stood out as a delegate of Virginia’s secession convention, his home at “Aventine” would be earmarked as a building of interest by Union soldiers during multiple occupations of Luray during the war. The home was regularly occupied and used as a field hospital. Additionally, his tannery operations, providing a variety of leather goods in support of the Confederacy, would be burned twice, first on 22 December 1863. Though Borst attempted to rebuild his operation, the tannery was burned again during the October 1864 occupation.

Having also relocated to Page County prior to the war, two of Borst’s siblings, John B. and Addison A. Borst, served in the local “Page Volunteers” of Company K, 10th Virginia Infantry. Addison served as a corporal and was captured 12 May 1864 at Spotsylvania Court House. After spending several months at the POW camp at Point Lookout, Maryland, he was exchanged in October 1864. John B. Borst served initially as 1st sergeant of the company and later quartermaster sergeant of the regiment. Both brothers survived the war.

The post-Civil War Years

Following the war, Borst again secured his place as Commonwealth’s Attorney until 1870, when, due to the military appointment of another judge, Borst was without office for one year. He resumed the post again in 1871.

Image from a SVRR stock certificate

Image from a SVRR stock certificate

Perhaps the most significant contribution made by Borst to the county was his efforts to bring the railroad into the county. As a projector of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad, he was successful in seeing that hope to fruition. Borst became the first president of the railroad in 1870 and, by 1881, trains were running through the county.

In the midst of dealing with legal matters on 24 April 1882, Borst “suddenly and noiselessly” fell back in his chair, dead of apoplexy. His grave is in Green Hill Cemetery in Luray.

*Visit my Wikipedia entry for Peter Bouck Borst, here.

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  1. Yes, Page County, you once had slaves… | Cenantua's Blog

    […] of the Southland, no stories of depredations at the hands of the Yankees, no stories about the Peter B. Borst’s glorious stand for the rights of Page County’s citizens in the secession convention… I […]

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