Last week, I told you about Old Mac, Samuel McWhir Varnedoe, the strict schoolteacher as remembered by Cornelia Jones Pond, one of his students. Here is more information about the man, his life and family.
I found plenty of information provided by the Lowdnes County Historical Society and “Sweet Land of Liberty” about this strict school teacher. Varnedoe, born in 1816 in Liberty County, was the son of Nathaniel and Ann T. Jones Varnedoe. Nathaniel was rich, owning many acres of land and several plantations, two of which were Rice Hope and Liberty Hall. When he came to Liberty County between 1811 and 1814, his net worth was 50 cents and was meagerly educated. At his death in 1856, at age of 66, his net worth was $71,731.38. He received many land grants and was always pursuing more.
A few days before his death, he was pursuing a land grant for his service in the War of 1812. Being a wealthy man, he often went to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., for vacations. This was where the elite went. A pocket watch he had repaired in a watch repair shop there is in the Midway Museum today, along with the repair slip and name of the repairman. Nathaniel’s large portrait also hangs in the museum.
Samuel’s mother, Ann, was the daughter of Samuel Jones and Mary Way Jones. Samuel Jones was the founder of Jonesville below Bull Town Swamp. According to a historical marker, Jonesville became a refuge for women, children and invalids from the coastal area during the Civil War. Ann died in 1839. She and Nathaniel had 12 children.
In 1840, Nathaniel married Hannah Cozby, a widower with one son, James. Nathaniel and Hannah had three children together.
After the death of “Old Mister Varnedoe,” as he was referred to, his wife had not said two sentences in the days following his painful illness and death. Her son, James, fed her a little bird that he killed and cooked, trying to tempt her appetite, according to a letter written by Mary Jones. She finally recovered and got the land grant. She died in 1858, just two years after Nathaniel.
Midway Cemetery is the resting place of Nathaniel; his first wife, Ann; and his second wife, Hannah. There is a large obelisk at Nathaniel and Ann’s grave at the rear center of the cemetery. Hannah is buried near the north-side center.
Samuel McWhir Varnedoe was the second child in the family of 15 children and one step-brother. He was tutored in Liberty County by Alexander Stephens, who later became the vice president of the Confederate States of America, and then attended Sunbury Academy. He graduated with second honors from Franklin College, which is now the University of Georgia. He came home to teach in Liberty County at Jonesville and the school on the LeConte property.
Samuel married Caroline Bradwell Law, daughter of Samuel Law of Liberty County. They had five children.
After the Civil War and because of all the devastation on the two plantations Samuel owned and no free labor, he moved to Valdosta. This is where many of the people in Liberty County and surrounding areas made their homes after the war. He founded the Valdosta Institute, a private 10-grade school and one of the finest and most influential schools in the state of Georgia. He managed it until his death in 1870 at 54.
The institute was directly across from the current site of Lowndes County Historical Museum. There are pictures of the school on the Internet. It was a beautiful school, with two stories as well as large columns on the front with the name over it. It had many windows and a white fence around the yard.
The old school bell that rang each day at the beginning of school was put in storage after the school was razed years ago to make way for a new school. The Lowndes County Historical Society had fundraisers to restore the bell, which is in its belfry across the street from where it once stood. The bell was rung again on Feb. 14, 2007. If you have a computer, be sure you look up these pictures. Samuel McWhir Varnedoe is a name that is not forgotten by the people in Valdosta.
One of the institute’s most prominent students was J.H. “Doc” Holliday, born in 1851 in Griffin. Holliday, whose father was a druggist and mother died of tuberculosis in 1866, poured himself into his studies of science and math. After he attended school under “Old Mac,” he went to Pennsylvania to dentistry school in 1870 and graduated in 1872 as a dentist. He went to Atlanta and set up his practice.
A short time later, he contracted tuberculosis and went west to a drier climate for his health. He practiced dentistry for a short while and became addicted to gambling and drinking. On the run from the law, he finally settled in Dodge City, Kan., and became a friend of Wyatt Earp. There, he was involved in the most legendary battle of the west — the gunfight at O.K. Corral. His illness got worse, and he died at the age of 36. He is buried in Pioneer Cemetery in Glenwood Springs, Colo. He has a beautiful, huge grave marker.
James Oglethorpe Varnedoe was a son of Samuel and Caroline. Just after graduation from Oglethorpe University, he enlisted in the Liberty County Troops. In 1864, he married Harriett Louise Busby of Liberty County. He helped his father in his work at the Valdosta Institute.
In 1890, James organized the Valdosta Videttes and rose through the ranks to colonel. He became the chief of the commissary department during the Spanish American War in 1898. He reported to a federal leader to whom he had surrendered more than 30 years before after the end of the war. Later, he became a postmaster in Valdosta. He also served as mayor of Valdosta and ran a large mercantile business in the city until he retired.
Samuel McWhir and Caroline Varnedoe are buried in the Sunset Hill Cemetery in Valdosta. It always is amazing and interesting to me to find out how far people went from Liberty County in their education and how they affected other people. There have been numerous people born in Liberty County who went to other places and made a great impact on their communities.
Maybe we need more teachers like Dr. William McWhir, Alexander Stephens and Samuel McWhir Varnedoe.