Peter G. Van Winkle

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Peter G. Van Winkle
Peter G. Van Winkle - Brady-Handy.jpg
United States Senator
from West Virginia
In office
August 4, 1863 – March 3, 1869
Preceded byoffice established
Succeeded byArthur I. Boreman
Member of the West Virginia House of Delegates
In office
Personal details
Born(1808-09-07)September 7, 1808
New York, New York
DiedApril 15, 1872(1872-04-15) (aged 63)
Parkersburg, West Virginia
Political partyUnionist
Other political
SpouseJulia Rathbone
Sketch of Van Winkle by Joseph Diss Debar

Peter Godwin Van Winkle (September 7, 1808 – April 15, 1872) was an American lawyer, businessman and politician. For many years a leading officer of the Northwestern Virginia Railroad, he became one of the founders of West Virginia and a United States senator.[1]

Early and family life[edit]

Born in New York City to an established family, Van Winkle completed preparatory studies, studied law, and was admitted to the bar. He married Juliet Rathbone, the eldest daughter of William Palmer Rathbone (1784 - 1862) and his wife Martha Ming Valleau Rathbone (1793 - 1846), an influential family in western Virginia who were developing the oil field at Burning Springs. Four years later, the Van Winkles had moved to Parkersburg, Virginia (now West Virginia).[2] They had three children who survived to adulthood before Julia Van Winkle's death: Rathbone Van Winkle (1834 - 1870), Godwin Van Winkle (1836 - 1883), and Mary Van Winkle Blackford (1838 - 1927).[3]


After further studies locally with lawyer and General John Jay Jackson Sr., Van Winkle began his legal practice in Parkersburg in 1835. He was president of the town board of trustees from 1844 until 1850. In 1850, Wood County voters also elected Van Winkle to represent at the Virginia State constitutional convention in 1850. He was treasurer and later president of the Northwestern Virginia Railroad Co. beginning in 1852 through the American Civil War as discussed below.[4]

After Virginia seceded from the Union, much to the distress of many in its northwestern corner, Wood County voters elected Van Winkle to the second Wheeling Convention in 1861. He helped organize the Restored Government of Virginia and also served in 1862 as an influential delegate to the convention which framed the constitution of West Virginia. He was also elected to the first session of the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1863. When West Virginia was admitted as a State into the Union, voters elected Van Winkle as a Unionist to the U.S. Senate, where he served from August 4, 1863, to March 3, 1869. While in the Senate, Van Winkle was chairman of the Committee on Pensions (Fortieth Congress).

During President Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial, Van Winkle broke party ranks, along with nine other Republican senators and voted for acquittal, defying their party and public opinion in voting against conviction (which failed by one vote).[5] Seven of these Republican senators were disturbed by how the proceedings had been manipulated in order to give a one-sided presentation of the evidence. The other senators who voted against impeachment along with him were James Dixon, James Rood Doolittle, William Pitt Fessenden, Joseph S. Fowler, James W. Grimes, John B. Henderson, Lyman Trumbull, Daniel S. Norton, and Edmund G. Ross (the latter of whom provided the decisive vote).[6][7] After the trial, Congressman Benjamin Butler conducted hearings on the widespread reports that Republican senators had been bribed to vote for Johnson's acquittal. In Butler's hearings, and in subsequent inquiries, there was increasing evidence that some acquittal votes were acquired by promises of patronage jobs and cash cards.[5]

West Virginia Governor Arthur Boreman was elected to succeed Van Winkle.

Van Winkle also served as a delegate to the Southern Loyalist Convention at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1866.

Former Home of Peter Van Winkle in Parkersburg, WV

Death and legacy[edit]

Van Winkle died in Parkersburg in 1872, survived by a son and daughter. He was buried beside his wife (whom he had survived by nearly three decades) in Riverview Cemetery.[8]

Marshall Van Winkle, Peter Van Winkle's grandnephew, was a U.S. Representative from New Jersey in the Fifty-ninth Congress.

His former home at Parkersburg, now known as the Peter G. Van Winkle House, is a contributing property in the Julia-Ann Square Historic District.[9][10]


  1. ^ Otis K. Rice, West Virginia: The State and its People (Parson, West Virginia: McClain Printing Co, 1972) pp.201-203
  2. ^ Rice, p. 201
  3. ^ findagrave
  4. ^ Daniel Carroll Toomey, The War Came by Train: the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad during the Civil War (Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum 2013) p. 134 ISBN 978-1-886248-01-4
  5. ^ a b David O. Stewart, Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy (2009), pp. 240-249, 284-299.
  6. ^ "The Trial of Andrew Johnson, 1868".
  7. ^ "Senate Journal. 40th Cong., 2nd sess., 16 / 26 May 1868, 943–51". A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774–1875. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. Retrieved June 7, 2019.
  8. ^ "Peter Godwin Van Winkle (1808–1872) - Find A Grave Memorial". Find a Grave.
  9. ^ James E. Harding (November 1976). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form: Julia-Ann Square Historic District" (PDF). State of West Virginia, West Virginia Division of Culture and History, Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2011-09-10.
  10. ^ Eliza Smith, Christina Mann (December 1981). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form: Peter G. Van Winkle House" (PDF). State of West Virginia, West Virginia Division of Culture and History, Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2011-09-10.
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
U.S. senator (Class 1) from West Virginia
Served alongside: Waitman T. Willey
Succeeded by