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.)

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