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Peter Borst

Union or Secession
Peter Bock Borst (1826–1882)
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PETER BOCK BORST (1826–1882)

Peter Bock Borst (23 June 1826–25 April 1882), member of the Convention of 1861, was born in Schoharie County, New York, the son of Peter I. Borst, a one-term congressman, and Catherine Becker Borst. Little is known of Borst's youth or education. He had studied law and moved to Luray sometime before 27 September 1847, when he qualified to practice law and began a long and successful career at the bar and in business.

In April 1851 Borst married Isabella C. Almond. They had two daughters and two sons. In 1852 he was elected commonwealth's attorney for Page County, a position he held without interruption from 1852 until 1869. By 1860 Borst was one of Luray's most successful businessmen, with $40,000 worth of real estate and a personal estate estimated at more than $10,000. He owned at least four slaves in that year.

On 4 February 1861 Borst was elected to represent Page County in a state convention called to consider the secession question. Unlike many other residents of the lower Shenandoah Valley, he was not a strong Unionist, and early in the convention's proceedings he expressed alarm at shipments of men and arms to United States government military installations in Virginia. Borst voted for secession on 4 April 1861, when the question came up for the first time and failed to pass, and he supported secession again when it passed on 17 April. Borst attended the brief second and third sessions of the Convention of 1861 but took no other official part in the Civil War. He remained in Luray, where he operated a tanyard and sold harnesses to the Confederate army. Because of his wealth, not because he had fought for or held office under the Confederacy, he applied for a presidential pardon on 24 June 1865 and was granted it on 6 July.

The United States Army dismissed Borst from his position as commonwealth's attorney early in 1869, but after a new state constitution went into effect in 1870 he won election to another term. Borst retained an interest in politics and served on the Conservative Party's state committee in 1873. By then his real estate holdings, including a large property in Culpeper County, exceeded $220,000 in assessed value. Borst served as the first president of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad Company, which was incorporated in 1867 and which connected the Pennsylvania Railroad at Hagerstown, Maryland, to the emerging rail hub at Big Lick (later the city of Roanoke). The road was established by Pennsylvania promoters eager to tap the natural resources and markets of the Shenandoah Valley. Borst served as its president for four years, during which construction was begun but not completed. He also promoted and raised money for the Washington, Cincinnati, and Saint Louis Railroad, chartered in March 1871.

In 1852, the year after his marriage, Borst employed his knowledge of Greek Revival architecture, then much in vogue, to design a large new house in Luray. One of his daughters named it Aventine, for one of the Seven Hills of Rome. The mansion is composed of an interesting combination of designs that distinguish it from the Georgian and Federal structures more commonly found in Virginia. Aventine was the main building of the short-lived Luray College and still stands, although it was moved in 1937 from its original site.

Peter Bock Borst continued to practice law in Page County and had just concluded an argument before the bench when he collapsed and died in the courthouse at Luray on 25 April 1882. He was buried in Green Hill Cemetery in that town.

Contributed by Donald W. Gunter

This biography, with a bibliographical note, appears in John T. Kneebone et al., eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography (Richmond: The Library of Virginia, 1998– ), 2:100–101.

Copyright 2001 by the Library of Virginia. All rights reserved.