The Last Will & Testament of Elie Chastain

St. Pierre’s Church and Cemetery, the final resting place for centuries of Chastains in Vesc, France.

Last summer, as detailed in this post, I finally discovered Pierre Chastain’s parents—Elie Chastain and Lucrèce Dubrotier. Up until that point, Pierre, my 7-times great-grandfather, was my earliest known Chastain ancestor. In a later post, found here, I discussed other Chastains, like Pierre, found fleeing into Germany from Vesc, France after 1685.

Below, from the Departmental Archives of the Drôme, is the Last Will and Testament of Elie Chastain, Pierre’s father. In it, along with some other fascinating passages, is proof that the other Chastains from Vesc found in Germany were, in fact, Pierre’s siblings. Two additional siblings who I was unaware of are also mentioned.

Below is the will1, transcribed and translated by Transciption Services Ltd.

Etienne NOYER, public notary at VESC

Archives Départementales de la Drôme (France)
Ref. #1 : 2E11971 (register of E. NOYER)
Ref. #2 : copy on micro-film 2 Mi 6386/R1 (2012).

Will of Ellye CHASTAIN of VESC

[Folio 153r]
In the name of God, may all know that today, 8th of November Year 1686 in the afternoon in front of me public notary and witnesses, here present Mr Elly CHASTAIN land owner residing in VESC considering that there is nothing more certain than death and nothing less certain than the hour of passing away and not willing to quit this world without setting his will so that there will be no trouble after his death due to the assets that God provided him with, being lying on his bed due to illness, hearing and understanding well

[Folio 153v]
did and required, does and requires his last will in a loud voice and in the presence of witnesses, which would include his last wish, taking into account the whole assets that God provided him with. In the first place, as a good Christian fellow, he did the sign of the Holy Cross, saying “In Nomine Patris, et filii, et spiritus sancti”, offers his soul to the almighty God, praying him that He would please when He will call him to leave this world to get into His World, that his soul would get into the Paradise by the merit of the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ,

“By the merit of the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a very Protestant thing to say. Remember, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes took place in October, 1685. This was over a year later. At the time of this will, it was illegal to be Protestant. Among other indignities, Catholic priests were often sent to the death beds of Protestants to harass them into converting. Elie, despite the pressure he was under to convert to Catholicism, was still bold in his faith.

his burial within the cemetery of St Peter’s church here in VESC, and regarding his funeral and obsequies let the process in the hands and good will of his heiress mentioned hereafter.

Built in the 12th century, St. Pierre’s is a typical example of Romanesque architecture. In Elie’s time, the 17th century, this was still the Catholic church. Why would Elie want to be buried there? Huguenots were proud Frenchmen, despite accusations to the contrary, and Frenchmen were eager to be buried in the same place as their ancestors.

During the peak of the Religious Wars, the two sides were equally brutal when it came to treatment of the enemy’s dead, “…Catholic authorities and royal courts allowed, even ordered, Huguenot remains to be disinterred and reburied or sometimes just thrown by the roadside. Protestant rioters, in their turn, dug up and burned remains that Catholics considered sacred.”2

Though this attitude and activity never fully ceased, an uneasy coexistence emerged. Or, as scholar Keith Luria has explained, “Despite long years of rivalry and bloody conflict, Huguenots and Catholics living in confessionally mixed communities intermarried, sponsored each others’ children at baptisms, worked together, shared civic responsibilities, and participated in each others’ observances. Sometimes they also buried their dead in common cemeteries.”

This attitude did not come from a modern sense of “toleration” but, instead, from a pragmatism that recognized, no matter how much each side might desire it, neither the Catholics nor the Protestants were going to free the kingdom from the presence of the other.

It also must be said that frequently family and community bonds, as well as tradition, were stronger than religious differences. So it wasn’t at all uncommon for a match to be made between a Protestant and Catholic if such an alliance was favorite to both families.

Bearing all of this in mind, there was still simmering animosity between the Catholics and Huguenots which would occasionally boil over into spasms of violence. And the persecution of the Huguenots steadily grew under the reign of King Louis XIV until 1685 when he revoked their religious freedom entirely. And so Elie’s request, made in 1686, to be buried at St. Pierre’s was likely fraught with tension. But it was made for good reason. He would have wanted to be buried in the same place as his ancestors.

The testator wishes and intends that his heiress shall give alms to the Priors of the current place (Souffretans and MONDENIER), precisely 3 silver pounds that would be delivered only once by my heiress after the death of the testator.

This passage confused me. I had begun to understand why Elie would want to be buried in the cemetery of St. Pierre’s, but why would he bequeath money to officials of the Catholic faith? My only theory was that perhaps he was bribing them to smooth over any difficulties arising from his burial.

Not wholly satisfied with this explanation, I contacted a scholar of French Protestantism and asked for his thoughts. He believes that there was a mistranslation. Instead of Elie giving 3 silver pounds to the priors of Vesc, he believes it says that Elie gave 3 silver pounds to the suffering poor of Vesc.

For further evidence, Henry Martyn Baird, a great 19th century Huguenot scholar, wrote the following about Huguenot treatment of the poor, “The poor were well cared for. There were regular gatherings for their relief at the church door. Annual collections were made from house to house. It might be said that scarcely ever was there a Huguenot will made which did not contain some gift, great or small, for the benefit of the destitute.”3

Then, the testator tackles down his particular legacies:
He gives and bequeaths 5 shillings to Jacques and Pierrot CHASTAIN, sons of the testator and of Lucresse BROTIER his wife. The amount of 5 shillings will be given to each of them, and will be delivered one year after his death, and they will not be granted permission to ask for more regarding the assets of the testator.

A quick note about Pierre’s presence in this will—Pierrot was a nickname for Pierre, a sign of affection, probably for someone younger (Jacquot would have been the nickname for Jacques, this ‘ot’ ending is similar to the ‘y’ ending in English for Joe -> Joey and Dan -> Danny). This fits my theory that Pierre was likely the youngest of the Chastain children. (My somewhat educated guess is that he was born around 1665, making him about 21 when he fled France in 1686 and 52 when he finally married Anne Marie Gautier in Schwabendorf in 1717.)

And here’s where the proof of the relationships begins. Jacques was a name I was looking for as a potential brother of Pierre. And there he was.

And, he gives and bequeaths 20 shillings to Isabeau, Marguerite and Judi(th) CHASTAINGS, daughters of the testator and of the aforementioned DU BROTIER his wife, in addition to what he has already given as dowry assets to both of her within the pre-nuptial agreement. The amount of 20 shillings will be given to each of them and will too be delivered one year after his death, and they will not be granted permission to ask for more regarding the assets and heritage of the testator.

Two other names I was on the lookout for—Marguerite and Isabeau—as potential sisters of Pierre. There they were, along with a third sister—Judith. It turns out that Judith was married to Etienne Noyer, the Royal Notary of Vesc, the very notary who wrote out this Last Will and Testament of Elie Chastain.

And, he gives and bequeaths by the means of the rights bound to a particular legacy, to Marion CHASTAIN, daughter of the testator and the aforementioned DU BROTIER his wife, still single and seeking for marriage, thus he bequeaths what would be considered as fair by his wife.

Marion is a nickname for Marie, another sibling I was unaware of. Like Judith, she had not fled with her other siblings but had remained in Vesc. Due to the nickname, I believe she was the youngest of the children along with Pierre.

So, in all, Elie Chastain and Lucrèce Dubrotier had six known children—Isabeau, Judith, Marguerite, Jacques, Marie, and Pierre. It’s likely there were more children. The mortality rates of the time points to Elie and Lucrèce likely having closer to ten or twelve children overall. But these were the six who survived into adulthood.

On this topic, William Biek, author of A Social and Cultural History of Early Modern France, writes, “One study of infant mortality shows that for every hundred babies born in the seventeenth century, twenty-eight would die in the first year, eighteen more would die between age one and nine, and four more would die between years ten and nineteen. By age twenty, 50 percent of the children would be gone.”4

[Folio 154r]
The money will be delivered by his wife and heiress mentioned hereafter.
Asks and intends that the whole shall be payed and processed as said before.

And, to any other beneficiaries of the deceased, he gives and bequeaths 5 shillings to each of them.
And because any valid will requires the testator to appoint somebody as his heir or heiress, otherwise such will would be nullified, the testator, whatever his other assets could consist of, does appoint his wife Lucresse DUBROTIER ^° , as his universal heiress. She shall pay all his pending debts so that creditors would be satisfied. His heiress shall stick to the following conditions too regarding his inheritance. He asks her to give preference to male as opposed to female for any subsequent will that she would make, provided that they will remain too within this Kingdom, otherwise they cannot be granted anything regarding the inheritance of the testator.

Anyone who fled the Kingdom of France forfeited their rights to their inheritance.

The heiress will have to pay the debts of the testator; She shall stick to the any of requirements contained within the current will. His wife and heiress will never be obliged to provide explanations to anyone about how she is handling the inheritance. Should there be some money available once all the particular heirs would have received what the testator has given and bequeathed to them, his heiress is granted permission to use the rest of the inheritance as she intends to do.

I’m not an expert on French Huguenot wills, so perhaps this is typical language, but I’m wondering since most of his children had fled the Kingdom of France already, if this language was meant to keep anyone from questioning Lucrèce’s handling of the money. That way she may have been able to discretely take their inheritance with her when she herself fled to live with them in Germany once Elie had died.

Should it be that some of the heirs would like to go to court and even if they would argue about the sharing decided by the testator, nothing of this kind is allowed, and his universal heiress shall be respected as such, and the testator requires that any of the quarrelsome will be rejected from the inheritance process as the testator has given within the current deed what any of his heirs legitimately deserve.

#° And he gives and bequeaths £ 50 to Louise CHABRIER his granddaughter, and daughter of the aforementioned Marguerite CHASTAIN his daughter, and she will not be granted permission to ask for more regarding the assets and legacy of the testator provided that she will remain within this Kingdom. The legacy will be delivered when and how the heiress mentioned hereafter will decide.

According to the will, Louise Chabrier was Elie Chastain’s granddaughter. Louise was the daughter of Marguerite Chastain and Moyse Chabrier. Pierre Chastain was grouped specifically with Moyse Chabrier when listed as one of the founding settlers of Schwabendorf in Germany, but Marguerite had died by this point so the relationship between Moyse Chabrier and Pierre was unclear. This definitively proves what I had suspected—they were brothers-in-law.

^° his beloved wife, approving along with parties and witnesses

[Folio 154v]
It is his last will, done in a loud voice and in the presence of witnesses. Thus he requires to nullify any previous will, codicil, donation and any other dispersal that he could have made before this deed. The current will supersedes any of these deeds.

The testator prays and requires the witnesses mentioned hereafter to have a perfect recollection when they will be asked to recite the current will and to state they were here present. He states that he has a pretty good and satisfactory knowledge of any of the witnesses, whose names and surnames and well listed hereafter.
The public notary granted the current deed as required by the testator.

Done in the house of the testator, in the presence of Honest Paul CANDY, Jean DUFOUR (son of deceased David), Jean AUDRAND, Piere BLANC son of Jean, David DESPAGNE, Piere AUDRAND, Jean Andre CHASTAIN, all residing in VESC and Mr Jaques NOYER from COMPS, witnesses. The aforementioned NOYER CANDY DUFOUR CHASTAIN BLANC DESPAGNE and Pierre AUDRAND signed the deed. The aforementioned Jean AUDRAND stated he is not able to write, and although required to sign, the testator said that due to he great weakness he will not sign the deed.

Being 80 years old and quite ill, Elie was too weak to sign his name. Luckily, I’ve been able to find his signature on earlier documents.

Elie Chastain’s signature from a business agreement circa 1679 in Vesc5.

We do know that Elie was, as he had requested, buried in St. Pierre’s cemetery on 10 Dec 1686, a month after making his will, and eighty years after his birth in 1606. He was born during the reign of King Henry IV, who had signed the Edict of Nantes, and he died while King Louis XIV was on the throne, the sovereign who oversaw the Edict of Nantes’ revocation.

Burial record for Elie Chastain from the Vesc Parish Records6.

A visit to Vesc in the Summer of 2015 confirmed that St. Pierre’s cemetery is filled with Chastans (see this post for an explanation of how Chastain became Chastan in Vesc), no doubt distant cousins, all. Cemeteries in Europe, unlike North America, often recycle burial plots. In Vesc, the earliest tombstones only date back to the 19th century because of this. Though his tombstone no longer exists, Elie, along with the bones of centuries of unnamed and unknown Chastain ancestors, are at rest in St. Pierre’s churchyard.


1 Notarial Records. Archives Départementales de la Drôme. Valence, France.
2 Luria, Keith P. (2001). Separated by Death? Burials, Cemeteries, and Confessional Boundaries in Seventeenth-Century France. French Historical Studies, Vol 24, Number 2, Spring 2001, pp. 185-222.
3 Baird, Henry Martyn. The Huguenots and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1895.
4 Biek, William. A Social and Cultural History of Early Modern France. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
5 Notarial Records. Archives Départementales de la Drôme. Valence, France.
6 Vesc Parish Records. Archives Départementales de la Drôme. Valence, France.

The Mayors of Schwabendorf

Dürer, Albrecht. The Adoration of the Magi. Oil on Panel. Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy. 1504.
The mayor of Schwabendorf was elected annually on the Festival of Epiphany. This holy day is on the sixth of January, the first day after Christmastide, and celebrates the adoration of Christ by the Magi.

The following, an excerpt from Die Hugenotten in Hessen-Kassel1 by Franz-Anton Kadell, translated by Ann Sherwin2, is a fascinating slice of Schwabendorf’s history circa 1750, involving, among others, Alexandre Chastain, my six times great-grandfather.

An unusual dispute arose in Schwabendorf in the year 1750 over the office of Grebe1, in the course of which the Germans and French split into two factions. In earlier times, the colony had elected or reconfirmed the Greben annually on Epiphany. Around 1734, the Rauschenberg district appointed Georg Wilhelm Keseler as permanent Grebe, with no resistance from the colony. Beginning in 1740, the Grebe of Schwabendorf was provided an annual payment of 3 Viertel2 of grain. Then tensions arose between the community, on the one hand, and the Grebe, the treasurer, and Mayor Stiglitz of Rauschenberg on the other. Pastor Riccardi, above all, spoke out in criticism of both sides. The government in Marburg finally ordered an investigation by councilman and advocatus fisci3 Hamel, which resulted in a formal declaration, on July 23, 1742, of the colony’s right to elect its Grebe annually. It stipulated that the office could also be awarded to a German and that the officeholder should receive a key to the church, for access to the clock, but that he had to see that the fire rake was stored elsewhere. Despite the government directive, Keseler did not give up, and in August 1742 he produced a character reference from the Rauschenberg mayor. It took a formal decree of dismissal dated June 28, 1743, and reconfirmation of the colonists’ right to elect their Grebe before he would step down.

In 1750 the matter was resurrected. Keseler applied to the government in Kassel for the office of Grebe once again. In his opinion, the residents had dismissed him earlier out of jealousy. In the period that followed, they had repeatedly elected merchants and businessmen as Grebe, who were always on the road and left the affairs of their office in disarray [it’s very likely Alexandre Chastain, a hatmaker, was one of the mayors facing this criticism]. Keseler therefore asked to be appointed Grebe for life, pointing out that he was bilingual and had served the office well for years. Again Keseler found support for his efforts in Mayor Stiglitz of Rauschenberg, who endorsed the life appointment. In the latter’s view, the performance of the French Greben had been unsatisfactory because of their “negligence” and frequent absence. Furthermore, they ignored sovereign decrees, failed to report revelry in fields and elsewhere, and, finally, did not collect the seigneurial taxes properly.

At the behest of the government, Frankenberg mayor J. H. Crause went into the colony, interrogated the head of every family individually, and recorded the opinions of the 16 French and 8 German men. The French unanimously favored an annual election of the Grebe. That way, they said, a Grebe could not become too autocratic and the colony would be able to reconfirm a good one. They made harsh accusations against the applicant Keseler from the time he held office. What bothered them most was his domineering nature and that “the colony had to do whatever he said.” In all community and church matters, he insisted on his own way and tried to force them to abstain from work on Lutheran holidays, even though most of them were Reformed. He oppressed the French, strove to increase the German population, and “no colonist dared open his mouth against him.” The French seemed especially incensed that Keseler had brought the fire rakes into the church, contrary to consistorial regulations, thus incurring a fine of 60 Reichstaler for the colony. In general the French were of the opinion that everything in the colony had been “much more calm and peaceful” before Keseler had come to office and that the colony had also paid less in taxes. But then quarrels often arose with the pastor, elders, schoolmaster and the other residents, because Keseler wanted to punish the poor and especially the French residents for every trifle.

The Germans were less unified. A few declared that they didn’t care whether the Grebe changed or remained permanently in office, nor whether Keseler or someone else held the office. In addition to these, there were staunch Keseler supporters. In their view, a permanent appointment would better ensure the safeguarding of sovereign interests, especially since annual election would allow people to gain office who cared little about sovereign rules. For example, they said, Alexandre Chastain and Pierre Daniel Aillaud had violated forest rules by signing over 4 cords of wood to residents who had come from elsewhere and not taken the oath of loyalty “like other manufacturers.” They said that during Keseler’s time in office taxes had been collected on time, whereas François Joubert had collected the monies but not turned them in, thus failing in the execution. An annual change would diminish the “true welfare” of the colony and facilitate embezzlement. The French would scheme anyway and reach agreement long before the election. The Germans would be outvoted every time, since the French, because of friendship and kinship, would play into each other’s hands. Keseler, on the other hand, is “a very honest man” and, because of his knowledge of German, can follow orders precisely, unlike the French. As a man of means, he has no need to “see to his sustenance more than to his office,” and therefore during his time in office, things “things went very well” in the community. According to the Germans’ view, Keseler would have more support if he were not a Lutheran and “were not accurate to a fault in the performance of his duties.”

The French reacted to the interrogation by the Frankenberg mayor with a petition to the government, in which they appeared to have been alienated by the sending of the mayor and spoke out against Keseler once again. On Sept. 1, 1750, the government put an end to the dispute by barring Keseler from the office of Grebe and confirming the right of free election.

1 mayor of a rural Hessian village (plural: Greben)
2 old unit of measure; as a dry measure in Hesse, it may have been close to a peck. It was ¼ of a Scheffel, which is usually translated “bushel” but is not an exact equivalent.
3 state attorney for financial matters

Notes and Sources:
1Kadell, Franz-Anton. Die Hugenotten in Hessen-Kassel. Darmstadt und Marburg, 1980, pgs 627-630.
2Provides translations of German text and transcriptions of old German script.

The Chastains of Vesc after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes

King Louis XIV quartered dragoons, French Cavalry, in Protestant households as a tactic to force their conversion. The dragoons were free to abuse and torture the Protestants. The dragoons were also a significant financial strain as they had to be supported by the Protestant families whose houses they were quartered in. The Chastains could very well have experienced this before their flight into Germany.

King Louis XIV quartered dragoons, French Cavalry, in Protestant households as a tactic, referred to as the dragonnades, to force their conversion. The dragoons were free to abuse and torture the Protestants. The dragoons were also a significant financial strain as they had to be supported by the Protestant families whose houses they were quartered in. The Chastains could very well have experienced this before their flight into Germany.

Along with Pierre Chastain, I’ve come across a handful of other Chastains from Vesc, France who, attempting to escape religious persecution, emigrated to Germany after 1685. It seemed probable that these Chastains were related to Pierre, but, until now, I’ve had no direct evidence. Recently, the Drôme Departmental Archives in Valence, France sent me a copy of Elie Chastain’s last will and testament, dated November 8, 1686. I was hoping that this document would, among other things, definitively prove these relationships. Before I get to the will, which I’ll cover in another post, I want to review what I knew beforehand.

Pierre Chastain is first found in Germany in June of 1687 as one of the original settlers of Schwabendorf, a Huguenot colony. He is listed in family group number four along with Moyse Chabrier and two of Moyse’s sons. There is no wife listed for Monsieur Chabrier. Right away, I assumed there must be some connection between Moyse and Pierre. Otherwise, why would they be listed together?


Family group #4 of the original settlers of Schwabendorf, Germany. Pierre Chastain is grouped with Moyse Chabrier’s family. (Source: Marburg Archives.)

For a while, I had nothing else to go on until I found the following, which shows Moyse Chabrier, of Ourches, France and his wife, Marguerite Chast(a)in, in Frankfurt, Germany on May 19, 1686. Moyse and Marguerite had 3 children. The document also notes that Marguerite was pregnant. With them is a Benjamin Gachet of Volvent, France. I’ll mention him again shortly.


Moyse and Marguerite can be found in Frankfurt again five months later on October 18, 1686. This time with five children, which would seem to indicate they had twins. Unfortunately, of these seven, only Moyse and two of the children made it to Schwabendorf by June 30, 1687. The other children and Marguerite died along the way.

For further evidence of the relationship between Pierre and Marguerite, the below is the second page of a marriage contract between Hector Grimolle and Louise Chabrier in Vesc, France. Louise’s parents are Marguerite Chastain and Moyse Chabrier. Marguerite, like Pierre, was a Chastain of Vesc. Was Marguerite an aunt? A cousin? A sister? If a sister, then Moyse Chabrier would have been Pierre’s brother-in-law.


Second page of the marriage contract of Hector Grimolle and Louise Chabrier of Vesc.

Isabeau Chastain can be found in the same general vicinity as Pierre after the flight into Germany. Below is a document from September 6, 1686 in Frankfurt, Germany. It records Isabeau Cha(s)tain and Benjamin Gachet of Volvent, France, the same Benjamin Gachet found above with Moyse Chabrier and Marguerite Chastain.


Iseabeau Chastain and Benjamin Gachet in Frankfurt. (Source: Frankfurt Archives.)

Isabeau can also be found in Louisendorf, Germany as a godmother for a baptism in 1690. Pierre Chastain and his mother, Lucrèce Brotier, were living in Louisendorf at the time. In this entry, Isabeau is the wife of Benjamin Gachet of Marburg, so Benjamin and Isabeau were living in nearby Marburg. (Pierre was a godfather at the very next baptism in the church register.)


Isabeau Chastain in Louisendorf. (Source: Louisendorf Church Book.)

I was sent a list of the children of Benjamin Gachet and Isabeau Chastain by the German Huguenot Society. The children were Lucrèce, Judith, and Marc. Marc Gachet of Marburg was the godfather of Pierre Chastain’s first son, Pierre, at his baptism in Schwabendorf in 1718. If Isabeau was Pierre’s sister, then Marc Gachet was Pierre’s nephew, and Marc and the younger Pierre were cousins.


The baptism of Pierre the Younger, Pierre Chastain’s eldest son. Marc Gachet of Marburg is the godfather. (Source: Schwabendorf Church Book.)

Finally, there was a Jacques Chastain from Vesc, France who was in Frankfurt, Germany on April 17, 1686.


Jacques Chastain of Vesc in Frankfurt. (Source: Frankfurt Archives.)

The below, from the Marburg church book, shows the deaths of Isabeau Chastain, wife of Benjamin Gachet, and her brother, Jacques Chastain, in 1691. She was 45 and he was 35. They were both from Vesc, France.


Jacques Chastain and Isabeau Chastain both died in Marburg, Germany in 1691. (Source: Marburg Church Book.)

The only explicit relationship is between Jacques and Isabeau—brother and sister. As for the others, Isabeau was likely connected to Marguerite, since Isabeau’s husband, Benjamin Gachet, was traveling with Marguerite Chastain and Moyse Chabrier. And another connection existed between Marguerite and Pierre Chastain since Pierre is grouped with her husband, Moyse Chabrier, in Schwabendorf.

The will of Elie Chastain, Pierre’s father, mentions them all. They—Jacques, Isabeau, and Marguerite—are the children of Elie Chastain and Lucrèce Dubrotier of Vesc, France. Two other children, Marie and Judith, are also mentioned in the will. The fate of Marie is unknown. At the time of the will, she was unmarried and had remained in France. Judith married Etienne Noyer, the Royal Notary of Vesc, and had also remained in Vesc. The Catholic parish records have an entry for Judith’s death in 1718. She remained true to the faith of her father. The entry states that she was buried outside hallowed ground.

Forgotten Books

Old Books

Mmm. Smell that mildew. (Photo: William Hoiles)

I’m currently devouring volume 2 of History of the Rise of the Huguenots by Henry Martyn Baird. The quality of the writing as well as the painstakingly detailed research is impressive. Baird wrote six volumes on the Huguenots (roughly three thousand pages). These books have long been out of print, but, since they’re in the public domain, they can all be found on Google Books for free. There are two volumes each for his three titles on the Huguenots: History of the Rise of the Huguenots, The Huguenots and Henry of Navarre, and The Huguenots and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Baird’s father was a Presbyterian minister, and Baird clearly has an opinion sympathetic to the Protestants. Nevertheless, he is fair and not as blindly partisan as other historians I’ve read.

Baird continues the trend of excellent Huguenot scholarship from the 19th century that I’ve encountered, including the first book on the Huguenots that I read—Reginald Lane Poole’s History of the Huguenots of the Dispersion at the Recall of the Edict of Nantes. Poole’s history holds a special place in my heart and on my virtual bookshelf since it directly led to discoveries about the Chastain family. Another laudable 19th century effort on this subject is History of the French Protestant Refugees by Charlie Weiss.

One thing I’ve learned from my efforts to research my family is how essential it is to read history. The more I read, the more I understand the lives of my ancestors. So read and read and read some more.

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.


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.


(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.


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.


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.

The Spirit of ’98

King Henry IV

Henry IV, King of France in Armour by Frans Pourbus the Younger. circa 1610. Louvre Museum. Paris, France.


Recently, in some old German records, I found for the first time the signature of my earliest known ancestor, Pierre Chastain. This discovery was exciting enough on its own, but then I noticed something curious after his name. At first, I thought it was just a fancy way of terminating the signature, perhaps a symbol of some significance to the family. Whatever it was, to me, it looked purely ornamental. For a day or two, I was focused solely on how it would have been written. I had the image zoomed in so close I could see the pen strokes, three loops connected without the pen being lifted, the middle loop created last.


The signature of Pierre Chastain from the Schwabendorf, Germany kirchenbuch (church records) from 1695. Pierre was a witness at the wedding of Noë Villang and Susanne Allard.


I sent this image to a good friend of mine to see what he could make of it. He has a PhD in history and is an all around smart guy. To him, he said, it was clearly the number 98. I looked again and had to laugh at myself. It was absolutely a 98, but I never saw it until he pointed it out. (Hey, they don’t hand out PhDs to just anyone.)

I next compared Pierre’s signature to some other Chastain signatures from Vesc, France circa 1680. Vesc was Pierre’s hometown, which he had fled in 1685. These signatures all had a 98 as well.


Three different Chastain signatures circa 1680 from Vesc, France. These signatures were found in the notarial records of Vesc from the Drôme Departmental Archives.


And The Chastains weren’t the only ones…


Other signatures circa 1680 from Vesc, France.


I even checked other towns and villages around Vesc from that period. All of the records had at least some signatures that consistently included a 98, some so ornamental the 98 was almost hidden. What was going on?

I stared at these signatures until a light bulb appeared over my head, lit up, and exploded. The 98 was actually a ’98, which represented the year 1598. What was so special about the year 1598 you ask? Not much really, except that King Henry IV signed the Edict of Nantes which granted Huguenots religious freedom and, for the most part, put an end to the religious civil wars that had ravaged France for decades.

Adding a 98 to one’s signature was a way of claiming Huguenotship. It was a proud symbol of the hard-won freedom to worship as conscience, not the state, dictated. It was a celebration of heritage.

In 1685, King Louis XIV revoked his grandfather’s edict, causing hundreds of thousands of Huguenots to flee from France. Despite this loss of freedom, in 1695, in another country, Pierre Chastain still signed his name with a 98.

This is my theory anyway. I’ve so far been unable to discover an official explanation. I’ll update this post if I am ever able to confirm or deny. In closing, I’d like to add that I’m probably the first person to ever use the word Huguenotship. Of that, I am proud.

Update (23 August 2016): I’ve heard back from some experts from France on this matter. My theory was wrong. It’s not a 98. Hives are the name given to this part of the signature in France. The three interlocking loops stand for SubScriptiS or “undersigned”. Pierre’s signature demonstrates the simplest form. They could be personalized as the signer pleased and were often used to show off their skill with a feather pen. I’ll give a few examples in a lengthier update and link to it here.

Update (5 September 2016): As promised, here is the full explanation.

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.)

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).

The Gardens of Schwabendorf

The Burgwald. Portions of it were cleared to make room for Huguenot colonies, including Schwabendorf.

The Burgwald. Portions of it were cleared by the Oberschultheiss, the chief forester, to make room for Huguenot colonies, including Schwabendorf. (Photo by Nikanos)

In my quest for understanding what life was like for Pierre Chastain and his fellow Huguenots, I’ve been reading several books which may seem irrelevant on the surface. One such book, Communal Christianity: The Life and Loss of a Peasant Vision in Early Modern Germany by David Mayes, discusses a little-known yet significant religious movement in Germany between the 16th and 18th centuries. Mayes’ geographical focus for this book just so happens to be the Hesse Province, specifically rural Upper Hesse, which is where my two favorite German villages, Louisendorf and Schwabendorf, reside.

The reason for reading books such as this one, as I’ve discovered over and over again, is simply that one piece of knowledge leads to another. One book leads to ten other books. This strategy has repeatedly steered me towards discoveries about Pierre Chastain and my family history.

Mayes introduces Communal Christianity with the following:

The present study began more by accident than intention. At the outset it was to be a project on popular religious culture in the town of Marburg. But while digging through the Marburg Consistory registers of 1611-24 to begin gathering material on the subject, I discovered the registers in fact contained a lot more information about the surrounding area of rural Upper Hesse. Intrigued by it, and by the fact that events in the rural locales were presenting a noticeable contrast to those in Hesse’s urban areas, I decided to investigate other sources on rural parish affairs from earlier and later periods. It wasn’t long before I found myself plunging with abandon into the packets and bound volumes and individual files located in the Hessian State Archives in Marburg.

I read these opening lines with growing jealousy. I wanted to be plunging with abandon into the packets and bound volumes and individual files located in the Hessian State Archives in Marburg. I’ve already discovered two documents from the Marburg Archives related to the Chastain family.  I’m confident there are more, and I’d love to get my hands on them.

Map of Upper Hesse. I was disappointed that Schwabendorf and Louisendorf do  not appear.

Map of Upper Hesse. I was disappointed that Schwabendorf and Louisendorf did not appear.

Map of Upper Hesse. After looking at this second map, I realized that Schwabendorf and Louisendorf couldn't have been on the first map, which is dated 1605, since they weren't established until 1687 and 1688. They do appear on this map.

Map of Upper Hesse. After looking at this second map, I realized that Schwabendorf and Louisendorf couldn’t have been on the first map, which is dated 1605, since they weren’t established until 1687 and 1688. They do appear on this map.

I haven’t read the entire book (I’ve learned to pick my battles) so this won’t be the most elegant or comprehensive summary, but, from what I’ve gathered,  Mayes contrasts the communal religion of the peasants in this area of Germany with the more well-known Confessional Christianity. Communal Christians identified themselves primarily as Christian as opposed to a specific sect of Christianity (e.g. Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist). They weren’t worried about how exactly justification and sanctification worked (to name just two of the many theological issues that the confessional varieties of Christianity fought over). On the other hand, the warring factions of Confessional Christianity developed increasingly complicated belief systems which sundered  each group irrevocably from the others. Mayes states:

Looking back into 1555-1648 Central Europe, one sees those groups of confessional Christianity—Lutheranism, Catholicism, Reformed—whose eccliastical systems outfitted the territorial churches, and one sees the other groups of confessional Christianity—foremost the Anabaptists—who stood as sectarians or noncomformists to those established confessional churches. While adherents in each were, on one level, Christian, the rise of combative, complex belief-systems caused them to be identified and identify themselves sooner as members of their particular, confessional group. Divisions would crystallize as each group designed its system to refute that of an opponent. Identification was then forged further through religious practice, for the form of worship was simply a manifestation of each group’s doctrinal beliefs.

But these more dogmatic brands of Christianity were not claimed by the majority of the populace in rural Upper Hesse.

Yet the known adherents of all these confessional groups totaled only a minority of the population. There was still a considerable majority, living mostly in rural settings, that cannot be automatically lumped into one or the other. It is true that a Lutheran, Catholic, or Calvinist system was installed in a given German territory’s parishes, and the territorial populace was willy-nilly attending services in the local parish church. But that religion per se did not ipso facto represent the religious orientation of the people.

This boiling cauldron of religious division was exacerbated by the arrival of the Huguenots in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Like the Huguenots, Karl, the landgrave of Hesse-Kassel, was Calvinist, but he had reasons beyond that for inviting the Huguenots to settle his lands.

The Huguenots came to Hesse-Kassel in three waves: 1685-87, 1697-99, and 1720-22.  Their arrival served simply as one more source of antagonism between the rural Upper Hessians and Karl’s policies. The landgrave generously granted privileges to these religious refugees, including status and rights equal to that of other subjects, a general decree of protection, and properties on which they did not have to pay the Kontribution. Karl hoped the Huguenots’ expertise in commerce and trade would jump-start a still struggling economy, and therefore settlements in Hesse-Kassel were first set up in urban areas of Lower Hesse. But within a few years, sites for colonies in rural Upper Hesse were selected by the Frankenberg Oberschultheiss, the chief forester, and the landgrave himself.

As stated above, the French refugees didn’t have to pay taxes for the first few decades after settling in Hesse-Kassel. More on that later. Now, on to Louisendorf and Schwabendorf.

The other six Huguenot colonies were in the confessionally tumultuous northern Upper Hesse: Louisendorf (1688) by the northern border, Schwabendorf (1687), Hertingshausen (1695), and Wolfskaute (1699) on the Burgwald’s east side, and Todenhausen (1720) and Wiesenfield (1720) on the west side. The sites were chose for obvious reasons—they constituted enough deserted or unused lands and forests whose borders were vaguely defined and therefore could be more easily sectioned off by Karl. The rural Upper Hessians and landed nobles took offense at these intrusions onto properties they claimed as their own by custom and by law. Most Gemeinden had verbal confrontations with the authorities and even physical skirmishes with the Huguenots in a vain effort to retain their lands. The Huguenot project did not provide the kind of economic stimulus Karl had hoped for, yet the landgrave’s reception of the Huguenots, the French Chancellery’s administration of their settlements, and the officials’ and foresters’ work at the local level personified the kind of ambitious, progressive policies of the state of Hesse-Kassel.

The mention of Huguenot confrontations with the native Germans confirms Poole’s accounts, of which I’ve already written. However, a particularly intriguing footnote for the above passage directly contradicts other histories.

The settlements’ organization and planning enhanced the role of foresters as well as the rationalization of early modern forest administration. An office of the government known as the French Chancellery was created to organize the colonization process, draw up laws and rights regarding the refugees, and distribute financial subsidies to them. The privileges were reconfirmed in 1731, 1765, and 1786, and the Chancellery survived until 1800, in which year both the privileges and the Chancellery were finally dissolved. The Huguenots found life in rural Upper Hesse difficult due to isolation, poorer soils, and lack of agricultural know-how. They were usually dependent on government subsidies, and some families left to find better opportunities elsewhere.

This was the first I’d seen the claim that the refugees struggled due to their lack of farming experience. In fact, everything else I’d read up to this point had claimed the exact opposite. In Weiss’ History of the French Protestant Refugees, he states:

Agriculturists, and all those who lacked means of existence, received grants of uncultivated land in various cantons of Hesse, where they created successively eighteen agricultural colonies: Karlsdorf, founded in 1686; Mariensdorf, Schwabendorf, and Frauenberg, in 1687; Louisendorf, in 1688 ; Kertiugshausen, in 1694; Leckinghausen, Frankenheim, and Wolfskante, in 1699; Karlshaven, Kelse, Schunberg, St Ottilie, Gethsemane, in 1700; Todenhausen and Wiesenfeld, in 1720; Gewissenruhe and Gottestreue, in 1722. The expatriated French were of great service to agriculture, which was singularly backward in that country. They rendered sterile lands fertile, and drained marshes, which their intelligent toil transformed into fruitful orchards, and into fields producing vegetables, most of whose sorts were unknown before their arrival. They improved the breeding of cattle, which they understood better than the Hessians. They taught them the art of gardening, introduced (for the first time in the landgraviate) artificial meadows and the cultivation of the potato. Turkeys, also, were first taken into Hesse by them. The working of coal mines, now so profitable to the whole electorate, also dates from their establishment in the country.

In Poole’s History, he quotes from Arnaud’s Protestants de Dauphiné which makes the same claims as Weiss. This left me scratching my head. Which account is true? Perhaps it’s a mixture of both. It could be that the refugees did initially struggle but then, through experience, were able to make the improvements suggested by Weiss and Arnaud. This does seem to fit what we know about the Huguenot refugees. A large percentage of them were not farmers but artisans of some trade or another.

A Strumpfstuhl?

A Strumpfstuhl? (Photo by John Beniston)

According to The Schwabendorf Book of Families, the refugees in Schwabendorf were first required to pay taxes in 1722 (Schwabendorf was established in 1687). As mentioned by Mayes, the landgrave, hoping to attract Huguenot settlers, did not originally require them to pay the Kontribution. Below is a list of the settlers living in Schwabendorf in 1724 and their taxable capital.

Translations and values of recorded property:
Haus u. Garten – House and Garden, 30 guilders
Pferd – horse, 6 guilders
Ochsen or Schubochsen – oxen, 3 guilders
Kuh – cow, 2 guilders
Schafe – sheep, 1 guilder for 10 sheep
Braulos – bull, 5 guilders
Strumpfstuhl – I’m not entirely certain, but I believe this is a stocking frame (pictured above) used for making stockings. Stocking weaving may have been the primary industry of the Schwabendorfers. 25 guilders

Book of Families 1

Monsieur Chastain (Pierre) had a house and garden. (From The Schwabendorf Book of Families.)

Book of Families 2

From The Schwabendorf Book of Families.

Interestingly, just as low taxes may have played a role in attracting Pierre to Hesse in the 1680s and 1690s, high taxes, along with exorbitant land prices, may have been a factor in the Chastains leaving Hesse for America in 1860.