My Earliest Known Ancestors: Elie and Lucrèce Chastain of Vesc

Vesc from Above

Vesc, France, the ancestral village of the Chastains, as seen from above. Award-winning photographer: Me. June, 2015.

The genealogy gods are good. A few months ago, I found mention of Pierre Chastain’s mother in the Louisendorf church records. Before this, I had found no evidence for either of Pierre’s parents. Pierre was the end of the line for my Chastain branch. The records for Protestants in France from the 16th through 18th century are, to put it mildly, incomplete. Many were destroyed. Some have been lost. Most are missing. I’ve had better luck with the German records after the Chastain family emigrated from France.

This record from Germany is for the baptism of Elie Relincourt on 9 September 1695 in Louisendorf. The godparents were Pierre Chastain and his mother. To my great frustration, her name was not recorded. It simply says, “Mrs. Chastain, his mother”. I thought that this would be the end of it, and that I would have to be content at least knowing that Pierre had family with him after leaving his homeland behind.

From the Louisendorf Church Book from 1695

The baptism of Elie Relincourt from the Louisendorf Church Book.

In the earliest records I have for Pierre, there is no mention of his mother. He is first found fleeing from France through Switzerland in 1686 and 1687. In June of 1687, Pierre Chastain was in Schwabendorf, Germany as one the original settlers of this Huguenot colony. By August of 1688, he was in Frankfurt, Germany heading towards Geneva, Switzerland—back towards France. Then he shows back up again in Germany by 1690. I had often wondered why he went back to Geneva.

Recently, I’ve been poking through the records available at the Hessian State Archives in Marburg, Germany. One document that came in the mail two weeks ago has triggered an avalanche of discoveries. It is a list of citizens of Louisendorf (then called Hammonhausen) from 1690. In it, we find Pierre Chastain and his mother. But this time her name is given—Lucrèce. The last name is more difficult to decipher but looks like “Broucier”. This record also states that she was a widow.

Test

Pierre Chastain and his mother, Lucrèce “Broucier”, from the list of citizens of Hammonhausen (Louisendorf), Germany taken in 1690 by Abraham Fontaine, pastor. (Source: Marburg Achives. 5/9832 Bl. 389.)

Broucier does show up as surname in certain places. But it’s rare, and it can’t be found in Vesc. However, a very common name in Vesc is Brottier, Brotier, or Dubrotier. And, in Vesc, I found a Lucrèce Dubrotier, widow of Elie Chasta(i)n. (Elie is French for Elijah. Old Testament names were much more common among Huguenots than Catholics.)

The following is from the article Religionnaires fugitifs du canton de Dieulefit (Dauphiné): Sources Notariales by Jean Sambuc in the Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français. This article reviews information in the notarial records for religious refugees from the Canton of Dieulefit, where Vesc resides.

Temp

(There was an entry for Brotier but it simply stated “see Dubrotier”.) So, here we have a Lucrèce from Vesc, a widow of a Chasta(i)n, who left the Kingdom of France as a religious refugee. The Lucrèce “Broucier” found in Louisendorf is, in fact, Lucrèce Dubrotier of Vesc, wife of Elie Chastain. These are Pierre’s parents, and my eight-times great-grandparents (that’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents) or, to put it another way, ten generations ago. Like I said, the genealogy gods are good. I’m not worthy.

What was Pierre up to when he left Germany for Geneva, Switzerland? He had gone to retrieve his mother and bring her back into Germany with him. Lucrèce was living with a daughter, Marie, in Vesc after Elie died in December of 1686. Some months after this she fled France to, presumably, find her son and other children.

Geneva was the Rome of the Huguenots, and most refugees passed through on their way to other destinations. Lucrèce probably thought it wise to begin her search there. Perhaps, while staying in Geneva, she sent messages on ahead with refugees traveling further into Switzerland and Germany. Or maybe the family somehow remained in contact as some emigrated to Germany and others stayed behind. Perhaps Pierre and his other siblings sent letters back home, notifying Lucrèce of their progress and where they finally settled. Then, once Lucrèce made the decision to follow them, they made plans to meet in Switzerland. Either way, somehow receiving word that his mother had left France and was in Geneva, Pierre is found traveling that way in August of 1688.

The below is a record for Lucrèce Brottier (Brotier, Dubrotier) of Vesc and one son, two months later, receiving aid in Schaffhausen, Switzerland in October of 1688, on their way into Germany, after their reunion in Geneva.

temp

Lucrèce Brottier and Pierre Chastain in Schaffhausen. (Source: Staatsarchiv Schaffhausen, Exulanten Mappe 26, Nr. 14.)

Here is a rough timeline:

  • 1685 or 1686: Pierre flees Vesc, France.
  • November, 1686: Pierre is in Neuchâtel and then La Neuveville, Switzerland.
  • December, 1686: Pierre’s father, Elie Chastain, dies in Vesc.
  • February, 1687: Pierre is in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, next to the German border.
  • June, 1687: Pierre is in Schwabendorf, Germany.
  • 1687 or 1688: Lucrèce, then living with her daughter, Marie, leaves Vesc and arrives in Geneva, Switzerland. Marie stays in Vesc.
  • August, 1688: Pierre is in Frankfurt, Germany heading toward Geneva.
  • October, 1688: Lucrèce and Pierre are in Schaffhausen.
  • 1690: Lucrèce and Pierre are in Louisendorf, Germany.

The same article that mentions Lucrèce and Elie, also has an entry for Pierre Dubrotier, Lucrèce’s brother and Pierre Chastain’s uncle. He was an apothecary in Vesc. It’s likely that Pierre Chastain apprenticed under him (and was perhaps named after him). Further research has shown that Pierre Dubrotier and Lucrèce’s father, and Pierre Chastain’s maternal grandfather, Estienne Dubrotier (married to Clairette Marseille), was also an apothecary in Vesc. It appears that Pierre Chastain was continuing the family business. Pierre Dubrotier died in his attempt to flee the Kingdom of France.

Temp

Pierre Dubrotier, apothecary of Vesc. Brother of Lucrèce and uncle of Pierre Chastain.

The above also mentions some of Pierre Chastain’s aunts and uncles, as well as two sisters, Judith and Marie Chasta(i)n. Judith was married to Etienne Noyer, the royal notary of Vesc. Marie was unmarried. Pierre had three other siblings who left the Kingdom of France for Hesse—Jacques Chastain, Isabeau Chastain (wife of Benjamin Gachet of Volvent), and Marguerite Chastain (wife of Moyse Chabrier of Ourches). Judith and Marie stayed in Vesc facing the imminent persecution.

Huguenot Families Leaving France.  (Immigration of French Huguenots in Berlin  in the 18th Century. Woodcut after a contemporary etching (1771) by Daniel Chodowiecki from the book "Deutsche Geschichte (German history)" by L. Stacke (Volume 2). Published by Velhagen & Klasing, Bielefeld and Leipzig, 1881)

Huguenot Families Leaving France.
Immigration of French Huguenots in Berlin in the 18th Century. Woodcut after a contemporary etching (1771) by Daniel Chodowiecki from the book “Deutsche Geschichte (German history)” by L. Stacke (Volume 2). Published by Velhagen & Klasing, Bielefeld and Leipzig, 1881

Making Music on the Huguenot Trail

The above is a teaser for an event taking place on the Huguenot Trail starting on Sunday, August 28. Eric Longsworth, a cellist, is hiking from Le Poët-Laval, France to Geneva, Switzerland. He will stop along the way to collaborate with other musicians and artists. What a wonderful project.

While watching the video, it struck me that I was admiring mountains and valleys in France that no Chastain had set eyes upon since Pierre Chastain in 1686. Maybe someday I’ll get to hike the Huguenot Trail myself, starting in Vesc of course, and finishing in Schwabendorf and Louisendorf.

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 December 2016: Pierre left Schwabendorf 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 went to retrieve her. They lived together in Louisendorf until her death sometime after 1695. Jacques and Isabeau Chastain of Marburg were siblings of Pierre.)

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.)

Page 2 of the list of origin settlers of Schwabendorf.

Page 2 of the list of original settlers of Schwabendorf recorded in 1687.(Source: Hessian State Archives in Marburg. Bestand 40 a XXV Paket Generalia.)

Pierre Chastain: Surgeon, Apothecary, Schoolmaster, Godfather

Louisendorf

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.

Pierre’s Schaffhausen Record

a64

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.

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.

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.)