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.

5 thoughts on “The Arrival of Athena: The Chastains Come to America

  1. Interesting story. I am not knowledgeable about the types of ships making transcontinental trips back in 1860, but I don’t believe the Athena was a “steamer”. It was a sail ship. My family’s ancestors came over on the Athena from Bremen to New York, arriving June 15, 1857. Dietrich Schilling was her captain. Your paragraph above only indicates that the Athena later collided with a steamer, not that she herself was a steamer. I believe somewhere in my electronic abyss I have a drawing of the Athena. Multiple huge sails. Elsewhere I have an account from some Mormon passengers on a later journey of the Athena describing how strict Capt. Schilling was, especially when they were becalmed. I have a photo of Capt Schilling and his family after he had retired.

    1. I found the following from a translation of a German book about the Hannoverian Weser fleet on a Web site (http://www.allelementsdesign.com/schilling/company/shipping/ships.html):

      “The Athena was a downeaster bought in North America and then sailed under the Bremen flag. She was a frigate, built for J. Taylor of Boston for the foreign trade by George Thomas in Quincy, Massachusetts. Captain Diedrich Schilling bought her in New York for himself and the shipping firm of Konitzky & Thiermann in Bremen. Captain Trentwehl, Diedrich Schilling and Andreas Stark in turn commanded the ship. The last Master’s Certificate of Diedrich Schilling was issued in January 1865.”

  2. Hi Ken,

    I believe you are right. Thanks for the information. I will add an update with a correction to my post as soon as I get the chance.

    If you are able to find the drawing of the Athena, I’d love to see it! Also, I’m very interested in the account of the journey from the Mormon passengers as well as the picture of the captain. I very much appreciate your comment. Thanks!

    Joe

  3. My great-great grandfather came across on the Athena in 1857. Would love to learn as much as I can about the vessel and the captain.

    1. Hi Bill,

      Ken sent some good information that led me to a book that has a section on the Athena, including a painting! The book is called “Ships, Saints and Mariners: A Maritime Encyclopedia of Mormon Migration, 1830-1890”. There was a particularly trying transatlantic crossing of the Athena where Captain Schilling threatened to lock up some passengers and even throw them overboard. Some Mormon travelers were on board and wrote about it in their journal. I’m planning on writing up a post with more information. I’ll let you know as soon as I do this.

      Thanks,
      Joe

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