COL. JAMES OGLETHORPE VARNEDOE
Few Georgians have had careers of more varied activity than the present postmaster of Valdosta, Colonel Varnedoe. A veteran of two wars, a teacher, merchant and public official, he has long been one of the prominent citizens of southern Georgia and represents one of the oldest families of the state.
He was born at the Varnedoe summer home in McIntosh county of this state on June 24, 1842. His grandfather, Nathaniel Varnedoe, a native of South Carolina, on coming to Georgia settled in Liberty county, where he began his career as a planter and acquired large landed interests and many slaves. He was a cultured, prosperous Southern planter. Many of his summers were spent at Saratoga Springs, New York, at that time the most fashionable resort in America. Aside from this recreation afforded him by reason of his considerable wealth, he lived quietly most of his time in Liberty county and died there, aged about sixty-four. The maiden name of his first wife, the grandmother of the colonel, was Jones, and she was a sister of Moses and Samuel Jones. She passed away at middle age, leaving four sons and five daughters named as follows: Samuel McWhir, Nathaniel I., Leander L., Rufus A., Sarah, Louisa, Matilda, Claudia, and Anna. By his second marriage the grandfather had one daughter, Mary Ellen, and one son, who died aged eight or nine years, and whose name was Stockton.
Prof. Samuel McWhir Varnedoe, the first of the sons named above and the father of Colonel Varnedoe, was born on the Liberty county plantation in 1818, and was graduated with second honors from the state university, then known as Franklin College. He became one of the successful and inspiring teachers of his native state and also took an active interest in the politics of the time. In 1855 he was candidate of the American party for congress from the district that then embraced the greater part of south Georgia, being defeated by Mr. Seward of Thomasville. For some years prior to the war he was prosperously engaged in farming, having two plantations in Liberty county. With the overturn of the labor facilities by the war, he gave up the full operation of his lands and came to Valdosta, where he founded the Valdosta Institute, which, under his management until his death in 1870, was one of the fine and influential schools of Georgia, in which many men of the present generation received their training for honorable careers. Professor Varnedoe married Miss Caroline Fraser Law, who was born in Liberty county, a daughter of Samuel Law. She died at the age of seventy-six, the mother of five children, namely: Matilda Law, James Oglethorpe, Charles Carroll, Sarah Louise and Samuel LaMartine.
The education of James Oglethorpe Varnedoe was completed by graduation from the Oglethorpe University, and almost immediately he was ushered into the strenuous activities of war. Enlisting in 1861 in the Liberty county troop, attached to the Fifth Georgia Cavalry under Col. George R. Anderson, he was for a time in the coast defense, and later was sent to the western army under the command of Gen. Joe Wheeler, one of the conspicuous southern cavalrymen. In the campaign against Sherman's invasion he participated in some of its most notable battles. A short time before the close of hostilities he came home to get a fresh horse, and had gone as far as South Carolina on his way to rejoin his command when the news of Lee's surrender was received. At Macon he was paroled by the federal Gen. James Wilson.
After four years of military life he resumed civil pursuits in the capacity of a teacher, in charge of a school in Decatur county six months, after which he returned to Liberty county and farmed two years, taught a year in Brooks county, and assisted his father at the institute a year. He then became agent for the Southern Express Company and was located at Valdosta, resigning that work to become clerk and book-keeper for W. H. Briggs, a prominent Valdosta merchant, with whom he remained ten years. At the end of that time he himself became proprietor of a general store in Valdosta. In 1890 he organized the Valdosta Mercantile Company as a wholesale dry goods house, one of the successful mercantile firms of south Georgia.
In 1890 he became actively identified with the Georgia militia as captain of the Valdosta Videttes, and was promoted through the grades of captain, major, lieutenant colonel, to colonel. With the rank of major at the time of the breaking out of the Spanish-American war in 1898, he was appointed chief of the commissary department in the volunteer army. It is an interesting coincidence that on his entering the service he reported to Gen. J. H. Wilson, the federal leader to whom more than thirty years before he had surrendered at the close of the Civil war. He was assigned to General Wilson's staff, with which he served in Porto Rico until the troops were withdrawn from that island, and was then transferred to the staff of General Bates in Cuba. In 1899, at the close of his service, Colonel Varnedoe returned to Valdosta and resumed his regular business until President Roosevelt appointed him to the postmastership. He was reappointed by President Taft, and has given a very efficient administration of this local federal office.
Colonel Varnedoe was married in 1864 to Miss Harriet Louise Busby, a native of Liberty county. Her death occurred in 1897. The present Mrs. Varnedoe was Miss Anna Elizabeth Rogers, a native of Macon and daughter of William and Delia Rogers. Mrs. Varnedoe is one of the talented Georgia women, known for her artistic accomplishments throughout the state. After her graduation from the Wesleyan Female College at Macon she studied art in Boston and later in France, some of her work having received the recognition most desired by artists, reception in the Paris Salon. She is the author of the painting of Gen. John B. Gordon, executed for the state of Georgia. Colonel Varnedoe by his first marriage has three children — Sarah Louise, David Comfort and Hallie Lois. Sarah is the wife of Judge John Cranford, and has four children — James Varnedoe, Hallie, Ora Lee and Sarah. David C. married Wenona Jones, and they are the parents of two children — Wyenelle and Virginia. Colonel Varnedoe is a member and ruling elder in the Presbyterian church.