Varney Ansel Gaskill (1824 - 1898) was born in Clarendon, the oldest of 7
children born to Joseph Gaskill (1793 - 1863) and Sabra Weeks (1802 -
1846). After completing his schooling in Clarendon he attended school at Castleton Seminary (otherwise known as Rutland County Grammar School) followed by attendance at Middlebury College where he graduated in 1846. For his commencement program at Middlebury Varney gave an oration entitled Unreasonable Use of Reason. Varney subsequently relocated to Griffin, GA where he taught school. Attendance at Mercer College quickly followed with Varney graduating from the theological seminary there in 1849. For several years he served as a Baptist minister in Georgia but along the way he studied law and in 1853 he was admitted to practice in Georgia. His first office was in Atlanta and he must have been a very impressive young man because just a year later Georgia Governor Herschel Johnson asked him to codify the laws of Georgia.
Varney served as a Confederate officer for the duration of the war, achieving the rank of Colonel. He was not a battlefield commander but rather in high level support positions such as Quartermaster General for the State of Georgia. From letters that survive he took his roles very seriously and offered advice to his superiors when and where he thought necessary to help the war effort.
We can't know if it was politically motivated such as the defense maintained or if it was real but in 1871 Varney was caught up with his boss Foster Blodgett in charges of embezzlement of State railroad funds. In June of 1872 Varney was acquitted on recommendation of the State that all charges against him be dropped upon review of the Solicitor General. How Foster Blodgett fared is not known. By 1874 we find Varney has relocated to Chattanooga, TN.
Varney was active in Democratic Party politics in Georgia, before, during, and after the war but by 1874 he had switched parties and became a Republican. In the Athens, TN Athens Post of Oct. 2 1874 there is a mention of Varney giving a talk at a convention for the Second Congressional District:
"Varney A. Gaskill, now of Chattanooga, late of Georgia, made a lengthy speech, explaining how he had been a rebel and was now a radical; and how he had been twenty-five years a Democrat and was now a Republican."
Varney, who is a sort of handy man, has been telling that same story at every opportunity since he crossed the State line, and as it must be immensely interesting to people who never heard it more than eight or nine hundred times, we marvel the Press and Herald man didn't report the distinguished gentleman more elaborately. On the hypothesis of from bad to worse, a man who wore the livery of the old Locofoco party for twenty-five years and went over to the Republicans, must be past praying for, and we shall waste no lamentations over such waywardness.
His changing political parties may not have been well received by all quarters but he remained a popular figure in Atlanta nonetheless. In the May 15, 1875 the Daily Times in Chattanooga reprinted an article from the Atlanta Herald:
We had the pleasure of meeting Alderman Varney Gaskill on yesterday. The Alderman comes down to attend a case in Hopkin's Court. Otherwise he is all right. The Alderman is very popular with the people of Atlanta, and they do not hesitate to crack jokes at his expense, and tell some funny tales in his presence. Among the questions asked him yesterday in a crowd by one of the "boys" was "What are you doing down here?" Before the Alderman could answer, some irreverent man suggested the trouble between the Governors. But as Gaskill was now on Georgia soil, the further question arose, "what did you do last in Tennessee?" But the parson meekly answered that he had been standing up to his a__ankles in water for three months, he did not care whether it rained or not. He was used to it. He wants all of us to go to Chattanooga, because it is the home of the free, and the land of __ well, those fellows who don't know where else to go. Joking aside: Gaskill is one of the best-hearted men in the world, and it is only necessary to get him cornered by George Adair in order to get a view of his fine points.
In 1879 Varney moved back to Vermont, settling in Rutland where he lived out the remainder of his life. He continued to speak at various functions and be politically active. Varney was married four times:
1) In 1850 in Georgia to Martha A. Battle (1829 - 1869) of Powellton, GA. Varney and Martha had 4 children, one son having died in 1870. The three that survived to adulthood all remained in Tennessee when he moved back to Vermont.
2) In 1871 in Chattanooga, TN to the widow Harriet Leonora (Straw) Whiteside (1824 - 1903). This marriage must have resulted in divorce though a record hasn't been found. Harriet was extremely wealthy; a millionaire. Harriet had 9 children by her 1st marriage.
3) Nov. 1879 in Rutland to the widow Mary Jane (Hatfield) Hillard (1825 - 1894), originally from NY. She had been widowed 3 times before marrying Varney.
4) Oct. 1896 in Rutland to the widow Augusta E (Soper) Tremayne (1838 - 1906), originally from Dorset. After Varney's death she married for a 3rd time to Walter Landon.
Varney was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Rutland with his 3rd wife Mary Jane.
See the DeWitt Clinton Gaskill, California Gold Rush entry in the People collection for a history of his brother DeWitt.