Senator Valentine Best, a founder of Montour County, received wide acclaim by his party as the indefatigable publisher of the Democratic Danville Intelligencer (1828) and The Watchman (1840), however was burned in effigy by Columbia Democrats after the Senate’s 1850 Speaker election. Born in Mahoning Township, Northumberland County (afterward Columbia County, now, near Danville, Montour County) on March 8, 1801, Senator Best was the son of Pottadown, County Armagh, Ireland immigrant Thomas Best and Virginia native Eleanor Bryan. Valentine’s parents arrived in Northumberland (Montour) shortly after 1790 with a group of Best and extended family members from Hunterdon County, New Jersey. His father became an important early settler of Danville, instrumental in the 1793 formation of the Grove Presbyterian Church, supporting the first pastor’s salary with personal funds. While an infant, Valentine’s father died, and from 1806 through 1824, Eleanor supported the family with funds received through the operation of her Washingtonville subscription school.
Best received an early education at his mother’s school before entering an apprenticeship at age 15 with local printers Dr. Dannell and General Frick of Milton. After a four -year stint, he pursued journeyman status at newspapers in New York, Washington (DC), and Harrisburg. He returned to Danville in 1825, marrying Eleanor (Ellen) Woodside, the daughter of James and Lydia Jane Forrest Woodside. In 1828, Best purchased the Danville Intelligencer, a staunchly Democratic journal that propelled his journalistic and political careers. In 1843, he also established the Harrisburg Argus.
Entry into the political arena occurred in 1839 when the future Speaker received a Gov. Porter appointment as prothonotary of Columbia County, simultaneously serving as captain, and later lieutenant colonel of the Columbia Guards. Elected to the state Senate in October 1849, he played an important and controversial role in the formation of Montour County, especially in the area including former parts of Columbia County and the retention of Danville as the new seat of Montour. This, he accomplished as freshman Speaker of the Senate on May 3, 1850, negotiating a deal with upper house Whigs, who voted for the Democrat’s Montour bill, in trade for key committee seats. The county’s formation came at great personal sacrifice for Senator Best, his fellow Democrats blackballing Best from the party.
Otherwise, in the Senate, Best fought the annexation of California as a slave state, backed Whig George Darsie’s aggressive revenue programs, voted the Democratic line in favor of retaining the Walker Tariff, and led the “Banking Act of 1850” to passage. Seeking a nomination for Congress in 1856, hard-line members of the Democratic caucus refused support.
Although a brief legislative career, Honorable Valentine Best’s lasting legacy is the creation of Montour County. He died in Danville, October 28, 1857.
Historical and Biographical Annals of Columbia and Montour Counties, Pennsylvania, vol. 1 (Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co., 1915), 276. Marriage Records, Culpeper (Virginia) County Courthouse; Correspondence, Kimberly Sutherland Mills, Ontario Canada, June 7, 2003; “Best Family File,” Northumberland County Historical Society, Sunbury; also:Danville Intelligencer, October 30, 1857; also: 1850 Pennsylvania Census, Montour County, 298; also,1840 Columbia County, US Census; also: Emerson, 30.