My Name Is On A Plaque!

In 1687, Pierre Chastain was one of the original settlers of the village of Schwabendorf, Germany. (Photo courtesy of Gerhard Badouin.)

Memorial to the original Huguenot settlers of the village of Schwabendorf. Among them was Pierre Chastain. (Photo courtesy of Gerhard Badouin.)

Of the 200,000 Huguenots who fled France circa 1685, 50,000 fled to Germany. Of the 50,000 who fled to Germany, 116 found themselves in the town of Rauschenberg. The ruler of Hesse granted these refugees land to the northwest of Rauschenberg to start their own settlement. And so, on June 30, 1687, the Huguenot colony of Schwabendorf was established. Among those 116 Frenchmen, we find Pierre Chastain, and, because of this, we find the surname Chastain engraved on the memorial pictured above. It was erected in Schwabendorf in 1987 to celebrate 300 years.

Pierre wasn’t in Schwabendorf for long. In 1688, there is evidence he traveled back to Geneva, Switzerland for some unknown reason (going back to the French border to retrieve family members was not uncommon). Between 1688 and 1690-91, it appears he was living in Marburg, Germany with some relatives, Jacques Chastain and Isabeau Chastain, both from Pierre’s hometown of Vesc in France. Eventually, Pierre settled in Louisendorf, another Huguenot colony in Hesse, where he was the schoolmaster and a church elder from 1692 to 1717. In 1717, he moved back to Schwabendorf and married Anne Marie Gautier, the eldest daughter of a local stocking weaver, Claude Gautier. Pierre died in Schwabendorf in 1731, forty-four years after he was recorded as one of its founders.

Update July 2017: After leaving Schwabendorf, Pierre was living in Marburg with his brother, Jacques, his sister, Isabeau Chastain, and her family. Isabeau was married to Benjamin Gachet, a merchant from Volvent, France. Pierre left Marburg for Geneva to retrieve his mother, Lucrèce Dubrotier. She had stayed behind in France with Pierre’s ailing father, Elie Chastain. Once Elie died in December of 1686, Lucrèce began to make her way into Germany to join Pierre and her other children. She must have been a stout old lady to cross the Alps on her journey. Pierre somehow received word of her coming and traveled back toward his homeland to meet her. On returning, Pierre and his mother settled in Louisendorf, near Marburg and Schwabendorf. They lived together there until her death sometime after 1695.

List of the founding settlers of the Huguenot colony of Schwabendorf in Hesse on July 4, 1687. Pierre Chastain is the last name listed under group #4.

List of the founding settlers of the Huguenot colony of Schwabendorf in Hesse. Recorded on July 4, 1687. Pierre Chastain is the last name listed under group #4. Moyse Chabrier, with whom he is listed, was his brother-in-law. Moyse had married Marguerite Chastain, one of Pierre’s sisters. Sadly, Marguerite died somewhere between Frankfurt Germany in 1686 and the establishment of the colony at Schwabendorf in 1687 and so doesn’t appear on this list. (Source: Hessian State Archives in Marburg. Bestand 40 a XXV Paket Generalia.)

The Arrival of Athena: The Chastains Come to America

The British steamship, Persia, built in 1856.

The British steamship, Persia, built in 1856.

Before 1820, it’s difficult to find passenger lists for immigrants arriving in America. It’s more likely to find immigrant ancestors on a ship if they arrived after 1820. This was when ship captains were first required to provide a list of all passengers to customs at the port of arrival.

I’d been searching passenger lists for the Chastains without success for months. For me it was one of the glaring holes in my research. What port in Germany did they leave from? What ship did they sail on? When and where did they arrive in America? Thankfully, I’d been able to narrow down a time frame for their arrival. Peter Chastain renounced his Hessian citizenship in January of 1860 and the Chastains were living in Galloway, New Jersey in August of that same year. So they left for and arrived in America some time between January and August of 1860.

Passenger manifest for the ship Athena, sailing from Bremerhaven, Germay, to New York City.

Passenger manifest for the ship Athena, sailing from Bremerhaven, Germay, to New York City. (New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. Ancestry.com, 2010. Provo, UT USA.)

A few weeks ago, I thought I’d continue my hunt but with a new strategy. I’d seen surnames butchered often enough to wonder if that’s what was stopping my finding the record. Maybe it was best to take the last name out of the equation. Using Ancestry.com’s immigration database, I searched for immigrants named Peter who were roughly 39 years of age and were sailing from Germany to America in 1860. I don’t remember exact numbers, but there were something like five hundred results returned. I only had to scan through twenty or so when a record for a Peter “Schasting” jumped out at me. I looked closer. Peter Schasting had a wife and four children. All with the right names and ages. This was the Chastain family. I would never have found this record if I’d stubbornly continued searching with Chastain as the surname.

Peter, Catherine, and Conrad Chastain

Peter, Catherine, and Conrad Chastain. (New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. Ancestry.com, 2010. Provo, UT USA.)

Françon (Frances), Peter, and Henry Chastain.

The Chastain family continued on the next page—Françon (Frances), Peter, and Henry Chastain. (New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. Ancestry.com, 2010. Provo, UT USA.)

The Chastain family—Peter, Catherine, Conrad, Frances, Peter Jr., and Henry (with Lizzie on the way)—along with 453 other passengers, arrived in America on May 30, 1860 after a 21-day journey. They sailed on a steamer named “Athena” (after the Greek goddess), captained by Diedrich Schilling. Their port of departure was Bremerhaven, Germany, and their port of arrival was New York City.

Bremerhaven, Germany

Bremerhaven, Germany. The port of departure for the Chastains.

According to this website , the Athena was an American ship built in 1857. She was purchased by the Konitzky & Thiermann shipping firm of Bremen, Germany and regularly sailed between Bremerhaven and New York City. The ship is listed as weighing 1,057 American tons.

The site mentions two later adventures of the ship as well as its demise:

During the morning of June 1st, 1873, the Athena collided with the English steamer Stammington near Beachy Head. The captain, the mate and a sailor of the steamer jumped onto the Athena as they thought that the Stammington would sink. The steamer however had not been injured below the waterline and was brought to New Haven by the first engineer, two seamen and four of the engine crew. The lower yardarms of the Athena had yanked the mainmast and the smokestack of the steamer overboard. The Athena arrived in New York without damage.

On May 16th, 1877 she sailed from New York and ran into heavy weather in the North Atlantic. She started to leak and had to throw 150 barrels of oil overboard and return to New York. After 1880 she was again registered in Bremen. The Athena was lost in 1886 running ashore, and was a total wreck.

Announcement of The Athena's arrival in the New York Evening Express. Peter Chastain and family were on board.

Announcement of The Athena’s arrival in the New York Evening Express. Peter Chastain and family were on board.

 

The Ulster. A paddle steamer of the mid-19th century.

The Ulster. A paddle steamer of the mid-19th century.

Update (06/15/2017): As pointed out by Ken in the comments, the Athena was not a steamer, but a sailship. This is a better fit with the time it took the Athena to cross the Atlantic, 21 days, and some other details that I found. I will likely make another post in the future with more details about the Athena. I’ll post a link here when I do.