Scattered to All the Winds

A family tree (not mine).

A family tree (not mine).

One of the several thousand books on Huguenots that I checked out from the library is titled Scattered to All the Winds. It’s an account of Huguenot families in Germany from 1685 to 1720. The first thing I did upon grabbing the book was to check the index for Chastain. No luck. However, after some skimming, I did find the following:

Suzanne Aviény, died in Schwabendorf on March 29, 1712, as a married woman; she had married Jean Gautier, hosiery manufacturer. Before 1699, he was a soldier with the grenadiers of Brandenburg. He and his wife lived in Frankenberg after 1705 and have three children baptized there. This Jean Gautier comes from L’Albenc in the Dauphiné (near Vinay); he is the son of Alexandre Gautier and of Marthe Peccat; he died in Schwabendorf on November 23, 1725. His second marriage was to Antoinette Minet, daughter of Pierre Minet and of Jeanne Marechau from Couretron-sur-Seine, in the Champagne, refugees in Homburg vor der Höhe. Jean Gautier had the following brothers and sister: Claude Gautier, husband of Jeanneton or Jeanne Martin (daughter of the Reverend Martin, whose ministry was in in Holzappel and in Schwabendorf); Isabeau Gautier, “living in Geneva in 1709”; also Alexandre Gautier, who lived in Wolfhagen near Kassel and married Anne Pastre.

These names only caught my eye because of something I discovered two weeks ago. Here is some information from The German Huguenot Society that I’ve already posted.

Pierre Chastain was a master surgeon. He was married on February 18, 1717 in Schwabendorf to Anne Marie Gautier. She was born in 1701 in Schwabendorf, so it appears that Pierre moved from Louisendorf because of his marriage to Anne. Anne’s parents were Claude Gautier, a merchant, and Janeton Martin. Pierre died in February, 1731. Anne died on April 11, 1755.

Pierre Chastain, my earliest known ancestor, married Anne Marie Gautier. Anne’s parents were Claude Gautier and Janeton Martin. Scattered to All the Winds doesn’t mention Pierre Chastain, but it does have some information on his in-laws. I now know that Anne’s paternal grandparents were Alexandre Gautier and Marthe Peccat from L’Albenc in the Dauphiné. Her maternal grandfather was Reverend Martin, whose ministry included Schwabendorf. Pierre and Anne’s sons, one of whom I am directly descended from (I hope to discover which), had Gautier and Martin blood in their veins – which means I do too. The Gautiers of L’Albenc and Reverend Martin and his wife are newly discovered branches of my family tree. They’re the first ancestors I can trace back to France.

That’s Sir Chastain to You

Knights Hospitaller in the 14th Century

Knights Hospitaller in the 14th Century

As I mentioned a few days ago, in between reading about the Huguenots and following ever dwindling leads to uncover more of my family history, I’ve been having fun searching the archives of The National Library of France. One of the books I’ve discovered is titled The Estate Policy of the Province of Dauphiné by Nicholas Chorier. It was published in 1671 (I’m not sure what the purpose of the 1666 date is on the title page, but the date in Roman numerals at the bottom of the page is 1671.)

Cover of 'The Estate Policy of the Province of Dauphiné' published in 1671.

Cover of ‘The Estate Policy of the Province of Dauphiné’ published in 1671.

Title Page of 'The Estate Policy of the Province of Dauphiné'

Title Page of ‘The Estate Policy of the Province of Dauphiné’

In Chapter XVI, titled Nobiliaire (which translates to peerage or aristocracy), there is a brief entry for a Chastain family. While the first two sentences translate easily – “Girard Chastain, son of Giles, was born in 1498. Humbert, his son, was married in 1550”, I can’t make out the middle section. It’s difficult to translate not only because it’s an unfamiliar language, it’s difficult because it’s an unfamiliar and old language. Many words may no longer be used, or they may be altered in modern day usage. In fact, I didn’t get any results when I first searched the PDF version of this book for “Chastain”. I had to search for “Chaftain” because of the way the letter was once printed.

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVI

A Chastain Family

A Chastain Family of Dauphiné

So in this middle section I can’t translate, there are a few other names mentioned, Louise de Villars and d’Ennemond Chastain. Something about a grandfather. Then someone, d’Ennemond maybe, is the son of Louis Chastain and Jeanne Gregoire. I can make out most of the last sentence of the first paragraph – “Claude Chastain, his uncle, was a Knight of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem.” The Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem were also known as the Knights Hospitaller, an order of knighthood similar to the Knights Templar. Both were founded during the Crusades.

The last paragraph seems to describe a Coat of Arms with a silver lion and a field of blue with three gold flowers. The flag of the city of Lyon, which was formerly in the province of Dauphiné, matches this description exactly. Maybe these Chastains were from Lyon?

The Flag of the City of Lyons, France

The Flag of the City of Lyon, France

Scattered Chestnuts

A farm in Roulette Township, Pennsylvania
A farm in Roulette Township, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Nicholas T.)

My copy of James Garvin Chastain’s A Brief History of the Huguenots and Three Family Trees (1933) arrived today. Around fifty pages of the book is dedicated to the Chastain family tree. A vast majority of this section discusses the various branches that descended from Pierre the Emigrant who, escaping from France, settled in Virginia in 1700. I am not directly descended from this Chastain line, but towards the end of the section, the author shares information he has on a few scattered Chastain families. There is one particular humble family from Pennsylvania he mentions on page 305.

Scattered Chastain Families

Christian Chastain, born in Alsace-Lorraine about 1830, went to Hesse, Germany. His son Peter came (1850 ?) to Roulette, northwest Pennsylvania. His son Peter, born in 1851 at Roulette, is now 82 years old. And his son, Rev. Louis P. Chastain is now (1933) pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church at Pikeville, Md.

His dates are off, and he has some information wrong (the Chastains were in Germany by 1717 at the latest and, most likely, a few decades earlier than that and were not from Alsace-Lorraine), but there’s no doubt he’s referring to Peter Alexander Chastain I and his son, Peter Alexander Chastain II, my great-great-great and great-great grandfathers. So no new information here, but it is exciting to see my family mentioned on the printed page.

An Old Chestnut

Universal Commercial Dictionary
Universal Commercial Dictionary publish in 1726, France

I’ve been having some fun searching the French National Library for old records, books, articles, and journals for any mention of Chastain. It turns out chastain was also used to describe a certain brown, chestnut-like color. Close to ninety percent of the results returned were for the color and not the name. Here is just one example. This is from page 687 of the Universal Commercial Dictionary published in 1726.

Description of the color chastain
Description of the color chastain in the Universal Commercial Dictionary

A rough translation of the first entry for “chastaigne” is, “The fruit of a large tree, called chestnut.” The second entry for “chastaigne” or “chastain” states, “The color of chestnuts. Sometimes used to describe the color of silks or wool, but more often the latter. Can also be used to describe hair.”

The Online Etymology Dictionary has the following to say about the origins of chestnut:

chestnut (n.) 1560s, from chesten nut (1510s), with superfluous nut (n.) + Middle English chasteine, from Old French chastain (12c., Modern French châtaigne), from Latin castanea “chestnut, chestnut tree,” from Greek kastaneia, which the Greeks thought meant either “nut from Castanea” in Pontus, or “nut from Castana” in Thessaly, but probably both places are named for the trees, not the other way around, and the word is borrowed from a language of Asia Minor (compare Armenian kask “chestnut,” kaskeni “chestnut tree”). In reference to the dark reddish-brown color, 1650s. Applied to the horse-chestnut by 1832.

So chastain translates literally to chestnut in Old French (with origins around the twelfth century). Perhaps the surname Chastain originated with someone who had chestnut-colored hair? The other theory, which I mentioned in my first post, was that it was first used by someone who lived near a chestnut tree. (I suppose we shouldn’t rule out the combination of both theories – the first Chastain both lived near a chestnut tree and had chestnut-colored hair!)

As noted by the Online Etymology Dictionary, chastain was derived from the greek, kastaneia, and this greek word was derived from some other ancient tongue as evidenced by the similarities with the Armenian language. So while the surname Chastain may be eight to ten centuries old, the origins of the word itself stretch back thousands of years.

Some History and Some Speculation

Die, France which resided in the province of Dauphiné at the time of the Recall of the Edict  of Nantes in 1685. (Photo by Wikipedia/Michiel1972.)

Die, France, which resided in the province of Dauphiné at the time of the Recall of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. (Photo by Wikipedia/Michiel1972.)

In the History of the Huguenots of the Dispersion at the Recall of the Edict of Nantes by Reginald Lane Poole, Poole details the mass exodus of the French Protestants in the years following 1685. Those in eastern France mainly fled to Switzerland. With fake passports and help from sympathetic Catholics, porous borders, friendly French soldiers, and some luck, many were successful in their escape (though, it should also be noted, many were not). Poole quotes the diary of Jacques Flournoy, a Huguenot who found himself in Geneva, Switzerland in 1687:

There comes an amazing multitude…Scarce a week, it has been remarked, but we have as many as three hundred; and so it has been since the end of winter. Some days there come as many as 120 in sundry throngs; the more part craftsman, but persons of quality not a few…They come principally from Dauphiné. Days have been known when seven or eight hundred fugitives have come in. It is affirmed that in the five weeks ending with the 1st of September, nearly eight thousand arrived; so that although they daily take their departure by the lake, there are commonly more than three thousand together present in the city.

Keep in mind this account is from just one city in just one of the many countries that were taking in refugees. Tens of thousands were flowing into Switzerland alone, and this was occurring all over Europe. Based on what I’ve read so far, most estimates put the overall number of refugees at between 300,000 and 500,000.

With Switzerland fast running out of room, many of the Huguenots looked northward to Germany. Poole mentions one specific case that is of particular interest to me and my research. The landgrave (prince or duke) of Hesse-Cassel, now part of modern-day Germany, gathered a large group of these refugees in Geneva and brought them out of Switzerland to settle his lands. Hesse-Cassel is where both Louisendorf and Schwabendorf reside. This is the most likely route that the Chastains took (though it is far from certain). It is likely that they first escaped to Geneva, Switzerland, where they temporarily resided, before moving north into Germany. And if this is the case, chances are their place of origin in France was the ancient province of Dauphiné.

Poole’s history also contains an entire chapter describing the settlements of the Huguenots in Hesse, including a page and a half on Louisedendorf, Schwabendorf and their surrounding communities. I quote the relevant passages below along with footnotes of particular interest (note: landgrave means prince):

Karlsdorf and Mariendorf soon filled; and new colonies were planted in the province of Upper Hesse…and the colonisation of Frauenberg and Louisendorf went together. Louisendorf represents Hammonshausen, a village ruined and without inhabitants; when now revived, it was named afresh after a princess of Hesse. But it did not flourish at once. The French1 could not be happy in the rough huts which were all they had for dwelling; they resolved to seek a new home in some other country. The landgrave however forestalled them, and built them houses2.

The colonies grew quietly for some years, and the villages, as they became too crowded, sent out offshoots to wastelands near. The only hindrance they had to contend with was the countrymen’s tenacity of their mark-rights; and this in many instances drove them to found new villages in the open country3. The settlers reclaimed moors; they improved the meadows and the art of gardening4. They bred cattle and opened mines of coal.

1 They came principally from Die in Dauphiné: Uebersicht der Wanderungen, 85.

2 A similar case occurred at Schwabendorf near by. The stocking weavers were discontented; and some in fact dispersed in 1690. But the rest reasonably concluded that the cost of travelling might equal the expense of building good houses; which they carried into effect. The colony had been founded, June 30 1687: its church opened in 1711: Koehler, Réfugiés in Preuseen und Kurhessen, 96.

3 Of such an origin was Kelse: Koehler, 73. At Schwabendorf they had to fell a thousand oaks before they could begin building: pp. 96.

4 On the agriculture, see Arnaud, Protestants de Dauphiné, 3. 22; who shews how much of this progress was due to Dauphinois immigrants. Before this time, asparagus, cauliflower, and artichokes, were known only to the landgrave; the refugees made them common everywhere.

The first footnote is even more specific about where the majority of this particular group of refugees came from – the town of Die, France. Again, this is far from certain, but if the Chastains followed the most common route of those Huguenots who settled in the province of Hesse, Germany, they had first escaped to Geneva, Switzerland from their hometown of Die in France. (Update December 2016: The Chastains came from Vesc, France, just 41 miles from Die. Not bad for a semi-educated guess if you ask me.)

The Schwabendorf Chastains

Church in Schwabendorf, Germany. (Photo by Hydro.)
Church in Schwabendorf, Germany. (Photo by Hydro.)

Well, I heard back from the German Huguenot Society. Unfortunately, they don’t have any records on the Chastain line prior to Pierre Chastain (boooo). However, they did send me some more information about him and two of his sons (yay). There are more details than what I list below such as dates of baptisms, godparents, and miscellaneous items that I can’t translate yet (the notes are in German and French). But here is what I can gather relatively easily.

Pierre was a master surgeon. He was married on February 18, 1717 in Schwabendorf to Anne Marie Gautier. She was born in 1701 in Schwabendorf, so it appears that Pierre moved from Louisendorf because of his marriage to Anne. Anne’s parents were Claude Gautier, a merchant, and Janeton Martin. Pierre died in February, 1731. Anne died on April 11, 1755.

There are also records for two sons of Pierre and Anne. The oldest was named, you guessed it, Pierre. Pierre the Younger was born on December 29, 1718. He was also a surgeon like his father. He married Jeanne Marie Laube in 1760. She was the daughter of Claude Laube and Catherine Gourand. Pierre died on June 9, 1767, and Jeanne died on March, 26 1794.

Pierre the Elder and Anne’s second son, Alexandre, was born on February 5, 1727. He was a farmer and hat maker. On June 5, 1750, he married Anne Marie Grisail, the daughter of Isaac Grisail and Judith Girard. He died March 7, 1793.

I don’t know whether Pierre the Younger or Alexandre is my direct ancestor. Once I receive the Schwabendorf Book of Families, I should be able to trace a direct line from the first Pierre in Schwabendorf, Pierre the Elder, in 1717, to the last Pierre in Schwabendorf, Peter Alexander Chastain I, who left for America in 1860.

The Last Chastain of France

Vineyards near Carcassonne, France
Vineyards near Carcassonne, France

The gentleman from Schwabendorf whom I have been corresponding with has recommended two sites to continue my research. The first is the website for The German Huguenot Society. The second is the Archive of the Evangelical Church of Kurhessen-Waldeck. I have already investigated the Huguenot Society’s site and found this list of names. They have over 295,000 records. The PDF I link to shows all of the surnames in these records. Chastain is on the list.

I just finished emailing them a few minutes ago. I asked them if they had information on the Pierre Chastain who moved from Louisendorf to Schwabendorf in 1717. I’m crossing my fingers. I would love to discover where in France the Chastains came from. 1685 was the year of the crisis that led most Huguenots to flee France. That was only 32 years prior to Pierre’s first known whereabouts in Lousiendorf. It’s possible that Pierre was in fact the first Chastain of my line who fled from France. At most, he’s just one generation shy of being the last Chastain born in our ancestral homeland.

The First Chastain in America

A Huguenot Church in South Carolina
A Huguenot Church in South Carolina

There was another Huguenot Chastain family that escaped to America, via Switzerland, Holland, and England, between the years 1696 and 1700. Led by their patriarch, Pierre (Peter) Chastain, they settled in Virginia, and their descendants quickly spread throughout the South. This is not my direct line, but I believe Pierre did have some brothers and uncles (so perhaps cousins?). It’s my pet theory that our lines are connected somehow, but I have no evidence for this yet. It may just be wishful thinking on my part since this is the Chastain line with by far the most information available. (Update December 2016: It is extremely unlikely that our branches are connected. Chastain arose as a surname independently throughout France. There was not one original Chastain from whom all Chastains are descended.)

James Garvin Chastain published a book in 1933 titled A Brief History of the Huguenots and Three Family Trees: Chastain, Lochridge, Stockton. I’m waiting for my copy to come in from the library (I had to request it from the inter-library loan system), but this book mainly covers the family tree of the above mentioned Pierre Chastain (a.k.a Pierre the Immigrant), the first Chastain in America.

One thing of note regarding the Chastain family tree that James Garvin Chastain uses in this book – it has some spurious ancestry. He received some information from a supposed genealogist who traced Pierre’s direct line back to 1084 (almost a thousand years ago!). Subsequent research by other genealogists has debunked these bogus claims as documented in this article.

The furthest back I’ve seen this particular line go is 1598 with the birth of Pierre’s grandfather, Jacques. These Chastains lived in Charost, France throughout the 17th century before fleeing to America. They may not be my direct ancestors, but at this point I’d like to acquire as much information as possible. There may be some connection that I stumble upon later because of it. (Update December 2016: There is no connection.)

Beginner’s Luck

St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre by François Dubois.
St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre by François Dubois.

In just one short day the knowledge of my family’s history was extended by over a hundred years. While researching information about Schwabendorf, I quickly came across several German websites. With the aid of technology, namely Google Translate, I was fortunately able to make sense of them. One of the first sites I discovered was, which is a site for a historical society in Schwabendorf. I noticed they had an email address and, after browsing the site, there seemed a good chance of them having Chastain family records. I emailed them, in English of course, with the hope that whoever received the email could translate it or, with some luck, would know English. I wasn’t sure if I would even receive a reply, but I knew it couldn’t hurt to try.

I didn’t want to sit around waiting for a reply that might never come, so I began reading about The Huguenots, the French Protestants who founded Schwabendorf. The origin of the word Huguenot is still contested, but my understanding is that it basically means “confederate” (used in a pejorative sense of course). Here is an extremely brief overview of their history. During the 16th century, Protestantism quickly spread throughout France. This led to fighting, strife, and the persecution of the Huguenot minority by the Catholic majority, including the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572 when thousands of Huguenots were killed in Paris.

Eventually, after decades of this bloodshed, the Edict of Nantes was issued in 1598 by the King of France, Henry IV. This edict guaranteed religious freedom for the Huguenots, and the persecution was temporarily quelled. Henry had been a Protestant. But to claim the throne he was forced to convert to Catholicism. He had been a strong ally of the Huguenots before becoming king, and he remained one while wearing the crown as a Catholic.

The situation was better yet far from perfect after the Edict of Nantes. Still, things remained relatively calm until the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King (who, as far as historical figures go, is up there with Oliver Cromwell in deserving contempt). Louis ignored the Edict of Nantes and did whatever he could to harass the Huguenots. Throughout the 17th century, Huguenots steadily began to leave France. However, it wasn’t until Louis completely revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685 that a crisis was reached. The floodgates opened. Hundreds of thousands fled. They went wherever they could – England, America, Ireland, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, even South Africa.

I was completely immersed in this fascinating historical narrative, wondering the whole time where the Chastains were in all of this. Had any been killed? Had some played it safe and reconverted to Catholicism? How did those who bravely clung to their religion escape?

I was jolted abruptly out of this reverie by a reply from Schwabendorf. A reply from Schwabendorf! Yes, they said, we do have Chastain family records (and yes, they said, we do know English). They confirmed Peter Alexander Chastain was born there in 1820 and emigrated in 1860 with four children. Peter’s father was Christian (born in 1792) and his mother was Catherine Elisabeth. They had 10 children, but most died young. The oldest entry for a Chastain was Pierre (another Peter!), a surgeon who had settled in Schwabendorf in 1717. He came from Louisendorf, another German colony of French refugees not far from Schwabendorf.

From 1820 back to 1717, the knowledge of the Chastain line had increased by a hundred years in just one day. I’m working on getting a copy of the Schwabendorf Book of Families. It has names and dates for the entire Chastain family in Schwabendorf between 1717 and 1860, almost 150 years. Which, now that I think about it, is as long as we’ve been in America. And now, if I’m lucky, there’s a new trail to pick up in Louisendorf.