The Great Louisendorfian Land Dispute of 1701

Town Map of Louisendorf

Town Map of Louisendorf

The second translated document from the Hessian State Archives (document 5/9838) mentions a land dispute between Pierre Chastain and Pierre Armant’s widow, Françoise. This document, a letter dated February 28, 1701, was sent from the Privy Council of the province to the Vice Chancellor in Marburg. In it, the council mentions a complaint filed by Françoise Armant. She claimed that land meant for her was stolen by Pierre Chastain. The letter only mentions her accusations. I haven’t yet found anything that details Pierre’s claim to the land or how this matter was settled. We do know that this event occurred in 1701 and that Pierre was in Louisendorf from 1692 until 1717.

Here is Ann Sherwin’s translation, which, like the last document, is a summary and not a literal word-for-word translation:

Please see from the attached that Pierre Armant’s widow of Hammenhausen has petitioned us, complaining that the land parcel left by a French refugee by the name of François Arnoux and reassigned to her husband, has now, contrary to expectations, been taken from her by another refugee, Pierre Chastain, who wormed his way in to you, unable to furnish any prior claim and without providing her with any compensation, and that this Pierre Chastain was allegedly granted permission to build there. Is it true that François Arnoux was originally entitled to the parcel and does she now have a rightful claim to it? We submit this disputed case to you and ask that you investigate and hear the testimonies of all parties concerned and send us a report of your findings and a recommendation, so that we may act accordingly.
Cassel, the 28th of February 1701

to Vice Chancellor
Vultejum in Marburg

I would love to know how this dispute was resolved. Was Pierre at fault or was it a misunderstanding? I am also intrigued by some of the language used in the letter, how Pierre Chastain “wormed his way into you”. It seems like a direct quote from Françoise, like she is accusing the council itself or some other arm of the local government of unlawfully giving Pierre permission to build on her land.

I’m going to keep searching, but we’ll most likely never know exactly what happened.

The Jahrmarkt: Merchant’s Wares and Dancing Bears

Medical treatment as entertainment at a French fair (17th century)

Medical treatment as entertainment at a French fair (17th century)

In my last post, I mentioned the annual fair in Marburg and Frankenberg, the Jahrmarkt, where Jean Pierre Chastain was eventually allowed to sell his hats. Here is what the German Wikipedia page for the Jahrmarkt has to say. I think this description adds some nice context to my previous post.

In the Middle Ages, fairs were important events in the life of a city. The permission to hold a fair came from the Emperor, King, Count or sovereign to a place. One of the oldest such festivals in Germany is the Magdeburg Autumn Fair, which has been held since 1010 AD.

Economically, the Jarhmarkt was significant because it enriched local farmers and merchants. It also brought in remote merchants and sellers, providing the market with diverse goods not otherwise available in that locale (cloth, pottery, wrought goods, etc.). These fairs increased the available money supply and the distribution of valid currencies. Additionally, those travelling from a distance stayed for extended periods of time in the market town and spent their money in hostels, shops, etc.

The fair also fulfilled social functions: they were full of news and gossip exchanged from remote areas. They often held special religious events as well as public executions.

To the fairs, showmen often came: bear trainers, jugglers, fortune tellers, musicians, and, unfortunately, cut purses. An annual fair was thus also an opportunity for pleasure such as traveling menageries and dance halls.

In the midst of this endless merry-making and money-making was my five times great-grandfather, selling hats.

Dancing Bear

A dancing bear


Mad Hatters


Believe it or not, no one has written a book on the hatmaking of late 18th-century French refugee artisans living in the Hesse Province of Germany.

I recently had two handwritten documents from the Hessian State Archives in Marburg, Germany translated by Ann Sherwin. Here is Ann’s website. I’d recommend her to anyone that needs some German to English translations done. She did a wonderful job.

Once she completed the translations, she sent me the following message:

…I managed to transcribe the documents (all but a few words), but they are in 18th-century officialese (antiquated, erratic spelling and fawningly wordy complex sentences). After spending considerable time trying to translate every phrase and then rearrange them into halfway natural English, I finally decided that you would get more out of it if I just summarized the contents…

She really did two jobs—deciphering the centuries old handwriting and then translating it into English—so she sent the literal German transcriptions along with the English summaries. The first document, dated 1791, details the response of the local Privy council to a complaint by Jean Pierre Chastain (my 5 times great-grandfather) in Schwabendorf. Jean Pierre, a hatmaker, had not been allowed to sell his wares at the annual fair. The reason? He was a French refugee. Here is Ann’s summary of the document:

[Jean] Pierre Chastain appeals to the Privy council because the hatmakers in Marburg and Frankenberg are trying to block him from selling his products at the annual fair (Jahrmarkt). The rules of the guilds are intended to exclude charlatans and unqualified hatmakers from selling their products, but Chastain is a trained hatmaker and is not a member of the guild because he is there as a refugee. Cited as precedents are other refugees, Petz of Todenhausen and Beuchat of Frankenhein were granted permission by royal decrees of August 31 and September 17, 1779. The hatmaker guilds in Marburg and Frankenberg are instructed to allow Chastain to sell at the annual fair. The document is signed by Lennep, Baumbach, Schmerfeld, Krafft, Goeddem, Motz, Manger, and Ledderhose.

Despite the fact that the French refugees had been in the area for over a hundred years at this point, it seems there was still discrimination in some quarters of society. Thankfully, the Privy council ruled justly and, overruling the hatmaker guilds, allowed Jean Pierre Chastain to sell his hats at the fair.

Privy Council records regarding the free practice of the hatmaker’s trade by the refugee and settler [Jean] Pierre Chastain

Segment of Privy Council records regarding the free practice of the hatmaker’s trade by the refugee and settler [Jean] Pierre Chastain. From the Hessian State Archives in Marbug, Germany (5/5966).