Pierre Chastain: Surgeon, Apothecary, Schoolmaster, Godfather


Louisendorf 1688 – 1988: Ursprung und Entwicklung einer Hugenottenkolonie

I recently discovered this great little book celebrating the 300th anniversary of Louisendorf. Since there are no copies available in the US, I had to borrow this one from Germany. The book is, no surprise, written in German. Unable to read it, I scanned it for key words instead. There are a few items of interest. (Though I’m sure there would be plenty more if I could actually read it.)

As always, bear with my translations:

On August 22, 1688, the 50 year old Claude Peloux from Combovin in the Dauphiné with his sons Jean, the age of 23, and François (15 years old) and his 17-year niece Madeleine Planel arrived. From the family of Abraham Riste and his sister Madeleine, who also belonged to this family group 14, we later learn nothing here. When and where Claude lost his wife, we do not know.

I searched for Claude Peloux in the Swiss assistance records and was able to find him. He and his wife were together in Schauffhausen, Switzerland, generally the last stop for the refugees before they reached Germany. Unfortunately, he must have lost her between there and Louisendorf.

Huguenot Colonies in Hesse

Huguenot Colonies in Upper Hesse

I’m also intrigued by Claude’s niece traveling with him. Perhaps, like her aunt, her parents were lost on the road. Or it may be they were unable to escape France in the first place, and Claude became her guardian in their absence. A sad story either way.

The book continues with information on the Peloux family:

Jean Peloux, born about 1665, soon married the 22 year old Benoîte Archimbaud from the house on the other side of the street. She was the sister of “Greben” Claude Archimbaud. Six children were born from their union. Honorable people were the godparents: Professor Gautier, who Benoîte Archimbaud knew from the manufactures, the treasurer of Hessenstein, pastor Fontaine himself and his wife Marie Quin, the schoolmaster Chastain and finally Esaie Faure, the wife of the master hatmaker in Frankenberg.

Pierre Chastain was one of those honorable godparents of the Peloux children. As a surgeon and a schoolmaster, he would have been viewed as one of the pillars of local society.

I left Claude Archimbaud’s title in the original German—”Greben”. This has been a hard word to translate. The most likely meaning I’ve found is gravedigger. (Update December 2016: The Greben was the mayor of the village.)

Professor Thomas Gautier is a name I’ve come across again and again. He was a professor of theology at the nearby Marburg University. I believe he was integral to the founding of Louisendorf, but I don’t have all of the details. Check back here in another twenty years, after I’ve learned German, and I’ll have more information. I don’t know if he was related to Anne Marie Gautier, Pierre Chastain’s wife.

There are no further details on who the treasurer of Hessenstein was. No name is given, just his title. Pastor Fontaine was the local pastor in Louisendorf.

Reading about the master hatmaker in Frankenberg reminded me that I have a few books waiting in the wings that cover how hats were made before the industrial revolution. I’m especially interested in this topic since Pierre’s son and grandson—Alexandre and Jean Pierre Chastain—were both hatmakers in Schwabendorf.

There are only two other mentions of Pierre in the book, and they are both related to the same list of schoolmasters I’ve already discussed in this post from last summer.

Finally, I gleaned a small piece of information that may be helpful in gathering more information about Pierre. Schoolmasters in Hesse, their position being subsidized by the government, had to be appointed by the Landgrave himself. It seems likely that paperwork of some sort would have been involved. I’ve already contacted the Hessian State Archives in Marburg to find out.

The French Genealogy Blog

A few weeks ago, I emailed Anne at The French Genealogy Blog. I wanted to thank her for helping me with a breakthrough in my research. A guest post on her site had led me to the discovery of Pierre Chastain’s hometown of Vesc, France. This was something I had despaired of ever uncovering.

Anne, delighted with my email, asked if she could share it. Equally delighted, I told her she could. I’m a week and half late, but I wanted to link back to her post sharing the email. It gives a (somewhat) brief summary of my research and explains how I’ve made it as far as I have. I also recommend every other post on her site. She runs a quality operation over there.


Pierre’s Schaffhausen Record


Pierre Chastain from Vesc, France received 2 fl. and 42 kr. on February 20, 1687. Pierre’s record is the second from the bottom (above another Pierre). Photo Courtesy of the State Archives in Schaffhausen (Staatsarchiv Schaffhausen, Exulanten 26, 12, 03, 20).

The generous folks at the State Archives in Schaffhausen, Switzerland have been kind enough to provide a photograph of Pierre’s records. This one is from the Expenditure Book for French Refugees for February 15, 1687 through September 6, 1687. Pierre’s entry is from February 20, 1687. This was his last stop before reaching Germany. (I love seeing that town of origin in writing—Vesc, France.)

Guilder minted in Lubeck in 1341.

Guilder minted in Lübeck in 1341. (Photo credit: Saharadesertfox.)

Curious about the amount of money given to Pierre, listed as 2 42, I’ve been doing a little digging. I believe this refers to florins (fl.) and kreutzers (kr.). If so, Pierre was given 2 fl. and 42 kr. OK. But what are florins and kreutzers? Great question.

Although I’ve found a neat old book titled The History of Currency 1252 – 1894 by William Arthur Shaw, I haven’t had the chance to read it. Until I do, we’ll have to content ourselves with Wikipedia. According to that venerable old standby, the florin, originally minted in the Republic of Florence in 1252, was the first consistently used gold coin in Europe since the 7th century. The florin was also know in some parts of Europe, especially in the Holy Roman Empire, as a guilder or gulden.

Kreutzer from 1690

Kreutzer from 1690. (Photo credit: WAJWAJ.)

The kreutzer, a silver coin used by the southern Germanic states, was worth 1/60 of a florin. According to the above article on the florin, 1 had the same value as 140 modern day US dollars. Since Pierre was given 2 fl. 42 kr., the 2 florins would have been worth $140 each for a total of $280. The 42 kreutzers were 42/60 or 70% of a florin. 70% of $140 is $98. $280 + $98 is $378. To help him on his way—presumably Frankfurt, Germany was his next stop—Pierre was given $378 by those charitable Swiss.

The Plot Thickens

Pierre in Frankfurt

Pierre Chastain’s Huguenot Assistance Record. Photo courtesy of Institut fuer Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt a. M., Franzoesisch-reformierte Gemeinde 78, p. 57 (fol. 31r). (The Archives of the Frankfurt Institute of City History, French Reformed Church.)

The above is a photo of Pierre Chastain’s assistance record from Frankfurt, Germany in 1688 (click image to see full size). I would like to thank the good folks at The Archives of The Frankfurt Institute of City History for providing me with this photo and for allowing me to share it online.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I initially overlooked this rogue record because Chastain was misspelled. Well, as you can see, it was the original clerk in 1688 who misspelled the name. Seeing the actual record also clarifies one of the mysteries I was contemplating in that post. In August of 1688, Pierre had indeed left Marburg, Germany and was headed back to Geneva, Switzerland. Thousands of French refugees were continuing to pour into Germany via Switzerland in 1688, but Pierre, after arriving in Schwabendorf, Germany in July of 1687, turned around and headed in the opposite direction. Why? (Update December 2016: It turns out that some of my earlier speculation was correct. Pierre was returning to Geneva to retrieve his mother, Lucrèce Brottier (Dubrottier, Brotier), and bring her into Hesse. Lucrèce had initially stayed behind in France with her ailing husband, Elie Chastain, and two of her daughters. Once Elie died in December of 1686, she began her journey to join Pierre and her other children in Germany.)

Pierre Chastain

Pierre Chastain in Frankfurt, Germany in 1688. Photo courtesy of Institut fuer Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt a. M., Franzoesisch-reformierte Gemeinde 78, p. 57 (fol. 31r). (The Archives of the Frankfurt Institute of City History, French Reformed Church.)

A Renaissance Man

Apothecary Shop

The Schwabendorf records for Pierre Chastain list his occupation as surgeon. The Swiss assistance records add another title along with “chirurgien”—apothecary (and don’t forget this renaissance man was also the head school teacher in Louisendorf!). Intriguingly, this tourism site for Vesc mentions an old apothecary sign on one of the buildings in town. Perhaps Pierre once prepared and dispensed medicine to his fellow villagers in that very building.

In Charles Weiss’ History of the French Protestant Refugees (one of Poole’s main sources) Weiss goes into great detail about the persecutions that the Protestants suffered in the years leading up to 1685. It’s infuriating to read and makes me truly despise King Louis XIV. I’ll dive into the gory details and summarize Weiss’ account later, but, for now, I want to highlight a relevant passage as I try to piece together what Pierre’s life may have been like in Vesc. In this section on the persecutions, Weiss discusses each of the professions that were denied to Protestants. The passage relevant to Pierre:

To physicians the exercise of their profession was interdicted under the pretext that they did not advise their Roman Catholic patients, when the moment was come for taking the sacraments. This prohibition was extended to surgeons, apothecaries, and even to midwives, who were accused, in dangerous confinements of sacrificing the child to the mother, at the risk of letting it die without baptism, and thus exposing it to eternal damnation.

Was Pierre, in the final years before he escaped, denied the right to practice as a surgeon and apothecary? If so, how did he make a living? This in itself would have been reason enough to emigrate, but it was just one of countless indignities, sanctioned by the full power of the state, that Protestants were forced to suffer in the name of religion.

The Dauphiné: A Packing List

The Vercors Mountain Range in the Dauphiné.

The Vercors Mountain Range in the Dauphiné. (Photo by Johan N)

We’re currently in the beginning stages of planning a trip to the Dauphiné region of France. Along with visiting the main attractions in the area, I want to walk the same hills and breathe the same air as my Chastain ancestors. We’ve been reading a few guidebooks to prepare. After a handful of paragraphs extolling the beauty of the Dauphiné, one book offers the following advice:

Inns and Accomodation for Travellers can scarcely be said to exist in this wild district. Travellers must be fully prepared to rough it. Not only are the inns in the remote valleys mere cabarets, but they exceed in filth and vermin those of any part of Europe, and are nearly destitute of ordinary food. Visitors should provide themselves with tea, chocolate, portable soup, biscuits; and those who intend to ascend peaks, and cross difficult passes, had better provide ropes, ice-hatchets, and a bag, coarse cloth or sacking canvas, to sleep in.

I guess I should mention that the book, A Handbook for Travellers in France: Being a Guide to Normandy, Brittany; The Rivers Seine, Loire, Rhône, and Garonne; The French Alps, Dauphiné, The Pyrenees, Provence, and Nice, was written in 1864.

New Mysteries

I’ve been having fun poking around in the charity registers that I mentioned last week. I’ve discovered three other Chastains from Vesc besides Pierre—Jacob, Jacques, and Etienne. The only other Chastain in the records is Jean Jacques, from Annonay, which is a bit further north in the Dauphiné. So it appears, based on what I’ve found so far, that there was a clan of Chastains in the Vesc area.

Another page lists some mid-17th century Chastains in Dieulefit, which is just 7 miles to the west of Vesc. I don’t think it’s preposterous to assume there is a connection. I’ve reached out to some folks in France to see if there are any records for Chastains in this area.

But, back to the charity registers, I discovered something of a mystery. A search for Chastain only reveals three records for Pierre. But when I search for Vesc, there is a fourth rogue record. Someone—either the original clerk over 300 years ago or whoever entered the information in the database recently—misspelled Chastain as Chaistain. This record states that Pierre requested assistance in Frankfurt, Germany on 08/13/1688.

This is slightly confusing since he was known to be further north in July of 1687. Perhaps the July of 1687 date is simply for when he reached Germany? As I’ve been saying, I don’t have his exact location in Germany pinned down until he was recorded in Louisendorf in 1692. Perhaps he was already settled there by 1688 but headed down to Frankfurt to get more money?

The above doesn’t really bother me too much. What is really confusing is that this record from Frankfurt states that he was traveling from Maburg (in Hesse near Schwabendorf and Louisendorf) to Geneva. So, according to this, in 1688, he was leaving the Hesse Province of Germany and heading back to Geneva, Switzerland? Is this possible? I suppose so. The refugees in Louisendorf were initially unhappy with their ramshackle houses until the Landgrave built them new ones. For a while, they considered moving on to a new country. On top of this, many Huguenots held out hope that Louis XIV would come to his senses and reinstate religious toleration. Maybe Pierre was fed up with his stone hut and decided to head back to Geneva, closer to his homeland, in case Louis did change his mind? Or perhaps he was heading back to the French Border to lead waiting friends and family to their new home in Germany? It could explain why there is an initial record of him in Germany in 1687 but then nothing for five years.

Or maybe the information is reversed. Maybe he had come from Geneva and was headed to Marburg. It’s possible that, along with the misspelling of Chastain, another mistake was made. This seems the most likely explanation to me. I’ve requested a copy of the original document from the Frankfurt archives. It may be clarifying.

One final note. This record also contains a comment, “On the recommendation of Barthelemey Schobinger”. I’d love to know what this means. The only Barthelemy Schobinger I can find is a Swiss alchemist, dead one hundred years prior to Pierre Chastain’s arrival in Frankfurt. Another mystery.


Pierre’s Journey: Some History and Some Speculation

The Rhine

The Rhine

Now that I’ve confirmed Pierre’s route to Germany, the chapters on Switzerland in Poole’s history have taken on fresh meaning. For instance:

In the Huguenot dispersion Switzerland is of chief interest as giving a thoroughfare to those who sought shelter in Germany; the actual settlement was of minor consequence. For the immediate influx was greatly swollen on account of the laxity with which the Swiss frontier, as compared with the Flemish or the seacoast, was guarded. Moreover, across the border, the fugitives were met by a people, friendly with the friendship of an intense religious sympathy, who did all in their power to counterwork the vigilance of the patrols. Thus, says the historian of the Genevese church (J. Gaberel), “among the forests of the towns of Nyon, Rolle, Morges, Yverdun, set woodmen and shepherds under cover of the labours of their estate, to watch the byways and guide the travelers through.”

How desperate was Pierre’s flight from France? How fraught with danger? Was he aided by these Swiss shepherds and woodsmen? Clearly, we’ll never know the exact details but histories like these can help us develop a general picture.

Poole goes on to mention the impressive collection of funds that were raised by the Swiss to help the refugees. (This must be where I first read about the charity registers.) According to Poole, the Huguenot inundation of Switzerland began in 1682 and lasted for forty years. For decades, the Swiss poured vast resources into aiding them. He quotes from an unknown refugee’s diary praising their generosity:

It should seem that the walls of their chambers dilated at will, so ready are they to entertain new-comers, come though they may in dense throngs, and though they must be put up twenty in a room. Sickness and the sufferings of the road make sad havoc among us, and the wards of the hospital will not contain all our comrades, few of whom dare hope for recovery.

Geneva, the Rome of the Reformed movement, was one of the most generous of the Swiss cities. At one point, after many of the more prosperous Protestants of Lyons had fled to Geneva, Louis XIV, wanting his citizens back, ordered this foreign city to expel the refugees. Geneva responded by moving the Huguenots outside of the city for a day but then allowing them back in that same night (hey, technically they did expel them). Not amused, Louis harassed Geneva with threats of war, but he soon learned that Geneva was backed by Bern, Zurich, Basel, and Schaffhausen, bringing with them 30,000 soldiers. This, along with other foreign entanglements at the time, prevented the French king from responding to Geneva’s show of contempt.

It wasn’t long before Switzerland became overwhelmed by the mass exodus of the French Protestants. The below is a passage from the journal of Jacques Flournoy, a Huguenot, while in Geneva.

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.

Again, I wonder where Pierre was in all of this. Surely he experienced similar scenes of confusion.

The overwhelmed Swiss began seeking assistance from other countries. In response, the Landgrave (or Prince) of Hessen-Kassel in Germany sent representatives inviting some of the refugees to settle in his lands.

When the fugitives left, on the road to Germany, they were taken charge of by the protestant cantons, who had made an arrangement by which Bern, Zurich, Basel, Schaffhausen, and Sankt Gallen, should meet a certain proportion of the charges of relief. From Schaffhausen they were supported down the Rhine until they reached Mainz. But here began the great confusion. Who was to pay for the six hours’ sail to Frankfurt, which had the effect of thoroughly disorganizing all the good arrangements of the previous voyage (to Mainz). The immigrants moreover came in such numbers and in such rapid succession, that it was really impossible to feed them, much less to give them conveyance into Hessen-Cassel…

Pierre was in Schaffhausen in early 1687. Did he follow this route and sail down the Rhine on his way to the Hessen-Kassel Province? Was he among those immigrants who lacked food while waiting for the authorities to organize the continuation of their journey? Did he meet any of the other refugees who eventually settled with him in Louisendorf and Schwabendorf? Did he know of the Gautiers from l’Albenc in the Dauphiné whose daughter he would marry?

Below, I quote passages from the chapter on the refugees once they reached Hesse, Germany (of which I also quoted from in a post last Summer, lest you think, in my old age, I’m repeating myself unknowingly). (Footnotes of interest are included.)

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 gardening. 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.

Although Pierre was first know to be in Hesse, Germany in 1687, I have no definite record of which village until 1692, when he was residing in Louisendorf. Was he there when the colony was first established in 1688, living in a stone hut? Was he among those who considered moving on to another country before the Hessian Prince built houses for them?

Events could have unfolded much differently. If Pierre had been captured fleeing France, I wouldn’t be here. If he had moved on from Germany to another country, his ancestors, escaping high taxes and looking for cheaper farmland, may never have emigrated to America in 1860.

These are just a few of the countless thoughts and questions that develop and overwhelm me as I read. My eyes, riveted to the pages of Poole’s book, scan eagerly for familiar town names, locations, and events. What may have, a few years ago, been just a dry bit of history is now a vivid story inextricably linked with my family. Family history is history. Our ancestors didn’t live in a vacuum. They were shaped by, and their paths largely determined by, the whims of history. I’ve never fully grasped that until now.

The Royal Galleys and a Digital Library

A Collision Between a Burning Vessel and a Galley. Engraving by G. Callot.

A Collision Between a Burning Vessel and a Galley. Engraving by G. Callot.

One of the tools I use when looking for books of interest is the HathiTrust Digital Library. When I find a book that may be helpful in my research, I can usually find it on here. What the HathiTrust Library allows me to do is to search a book’s contents for certain keywords. Due to copyright restrictions, they won’t show the actual contents of the book, but they will display how many results are returned for those keywords and on what pages they were found.

As you can probably guess, one of my most frequently used keywords in these searches is “Chastain”. Recently, I discovered a French book titled Les Galères de France et Les Galériens Protestants Des XVII et XVIII Siècles, which translates to The Galleys of France and the Protestant Galley Slaves of the 17th and 18th Centuries. After 1685, Protestants who were captured fleeing the country could be, like slaves, forced to row on Louis XIV’s royal galleys. I entered “Chastain” into HathiTrust’s search and was surprised when it returned two results. One on page 11 and one on page 56. I requested the book from my library via interlibrary loan and waited patiently for its arrival.

The Virtual Museum of Protestantism has a short but informative article about these Protestant galley-rowers. Here’s a segment.

The 1685 Edict of Fontainebleau, or the Revoking of the Edict of Nantes, made provisions to sentence to the galleys those Protestants who attempted to leave the country or who publicly practised their faith in the banned Reformed Church .

Among those who were sentenced :

  • 22% for leaving the country
  • 53% for illegally gatherings of « Churches ofthe Desert »
  • 11% for possession of firearms or gunpowder
  • 1% for protecting or sheltering a pastor

Very few pastors were sentenced to the galleys because they were generally sentenced to death instead.

The life of these rowers is described as follows:

The rowers were kept tied to their bench twenty-four hours a day on the uncovered single deck of the galley, sitting on both sides of a gangway, at the end of a 12-metre long oar. Two teams rowed at the same time at a pace of twenty to twenty-five strokes a minute ; sails could sometimes be used instead to propel the boat.

They served at sea for roughly two to three months ; the rest of the time, the galleys remained in Marseilles ; a large number of the convicts were hired by the port craftsmen. They seldom escaped because a huge reward was promised in the event that they were caught. The others, who had remained on board, had to hand-make stockings.

Jean Marteilhe, who was sentenced as a rower in 1701, lived this life for 12 years. He later wrote a book, Memoirs of a Galley-Rower at the Service of the Sun King. It turns out he was one of the lucky ones. Approximately 550 Protestants served for up to 30 years.

When The Galleys of France and the Protestant Galley Slaves of the 17th and 18th Centuries finally arrived the other day, I immediately turned it to page 11. Here is what I saw.

du 1 octobre 1685 , amenés de Grenoble par Benoist de VAux, commis au greffe crimineul du Parlement de Dauphiné:

Racolet, Jean

6886. — Jean Racolet, de Noyon, près Arcis-sur-Aube, tonnelier, âgé de 45 ans, de moyenne stature, poil chastain, roux, le visage et le nez long, les yeux gris, condamné par arrest rendu au Parlement de Paris le 28 mars 1685, pour les cas résultant du procès.

à 5 ans.

This translates roughly to:

October 1, 1685, led by Benoist Grenoble Vaux , clerk at the Criminal Registry of the Parliament of Dauphiné:

Racolet , Jean

6886. – Jean Racolet , Noyon , near Arcis-sur-Aube, cooper, 45 years old, of medium stature, chestnut colored hair, red face and long nose, gray eyes, condemned by decree made ​​to Parliament of Paris, March 28, 1685, for cases arising from the proceedings.

5 years.

(There’s also a note saying that he died in one of the prisoner hospitals in April of 1690.)

Chastain means chestnut in Old French. In this case, it was used to describe the prisoner’s hair color. I found the same on page 56. Contrary to appearances after searching the book at HathiTrust, there were no Chastains rowing as slaves on the Sun King’s galleys, just two unfortunate souls with dark brown hair.

Vesc: An Introduction

Vesc, France

Vesc, France

Today, France is organized much differently than it was in the 17th century. Vesc, no longer in the Dauphiné Province, now resides in the Department of Drôme. Each department in France is further broken down into districts and cantons. Vesc (red on the map of Drôme below) is in the District of Valence (yellow) and the Canton of Dieulefit (green).

Department of Drôme

Commune of Vesc, Canton of Dieulefit, District of Valence, Department of Drôme

With a population of less than 300, Vesc is a small town or commune (communes in France are roughly equivalent to townships in the United States). The earliest official population records are from 1793 when residents numbered 1,006. The population peaked in 1806 at 1,153 but then declined rapidly until World War II. It has since held steady. The commune consists of around 16 square miles of land, making it one of the largest but least densely populated communes in the area.

The location of the Department of Drôme within France

The Department of Drôme, France

One of the first known references to Vesc is from the year 1113 A.D. Before 1790, it resided in the Diocese of Die, a commune to the north east (and, coincidentally, the town of origin for most of the Huguenot refugees who settled in Louisendorf in the Hesse Province of Germany). Speaking of the Huguenots, (as I mentioned in my last post) by the late 17th century, 78 of the Protestant families in Vesc had converted back to Catholicism but 13 families chose to flee. There is a bit more detail about the history of Vesc on this page, but it’s in French, and I can’t quite figure it out even with the help of Google Translate.

Vesc Coat of Arms

Vesc Coat of Arms

Located within a largely rural area, Vesc is about halfway between the French Alps and the Mediterranean Sea. There is the slightest hint of both in the surrounding countryside with its gentle mountains and, in the summer months, its fragrant fields of purple lavender so common to Provence. A small stream, Ruisseau de la Rabassièrre, flows through the town. The “stream” de la Rabassièrre then merges with the river, La Veyssanne, to the south. La Veyssanne itself joins the Rhône as it flows down past ancient Roman ruins, former Papal residences (Avignon), and picturesque wine vineyards to eventually reach the Mediterranean.

Map of Local Area

Map of the local area

Records from the middle of the 19th century indicate that oats, nuts, and rye were grown in the area. Economically, Vesc is still largely rooted in agriculture, including the raising of cattle, sheep, and goats. Goat cheese from this area, known as Picodon de Dieulefit, is particularly famous (it’s 45% fat). A few of the local farms give tours for those curious about how it’s made.

Highlighting the importance of sheep to the local economy, one of the main news stories coming out of Vesc in recent years was a wolf attack from last September. Eight sheep were found dead and 120 went missing. Here is a link to a regional news site, Le Dauphine. Unfortunately, you can’t read the articles without a subscription, but if you scroll down the page, you can see some of the headlines related to the attack.

According to the tourism sites I’ve found (and verified by the pictures I’ve seen), Vesc is surrounded by beautiful walking and cycling trails. Here is a brochure for the surrounding area created by a local tourist office and here is a map of the same area.

St. Peter's, Vesc

St. Peter’s, Vesc

Beyond the beautiful countryside, there are a few notable sites within the cozy village itself. The 12th century Church of St. Peter still stands despite being damaged. In 1638, the bishop of Die noted that some villagers had removed stones from the church and used them to build fortifications around the town (I’m guessing he wasn’t pleased). I also found the below picture of a Protestant cemetery in Vesc. Who knows, maybe some Chastains are buried there.

Old Photo of a Protestant Cemetery in Vesc

Old Photo of a Protestant Cemetery in Vesc