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, of whom I was unaware, 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.


Sources:

1 Notarial Records. Archives Départementales de la Drôme. Valence, France. http://archives.ladrome.fr/
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. http://archives.ladrome.fr/
6 Vesc Parish Records. Archives Départementales de la Drôme. Valence, France. http://archives.ladrome.fr/

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. http://asherwin.com/

Hugo the Huguenot



Here is a neat Kickstarter project by Jennifer Bruntil, an employee of Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz, New York. New Paltz was originally settled by Huguenots in the 17th century, and, in an attempt to get children more involved and interested in this history, Jennifer has a written a children’s book. This is a wonderful idea. I’ll be picking up a copy for my own little Huguenot.

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.

A Case of the Hives

A French Notary

An engraving of a French notary. Artist unknown.

In a previous post, I wrote about the signature of my earliest known ancestor, Pierre Chastain. A curious symbol follows his name. And it wasn’t just his. I discovered others whose signatures also included this same symbol. Not sure what to make of this, I asked a good friend for his opinion, and he pointed out that it looked like the number 98. I agreed. And I concocted, what I thought to be, a solid theory based on it being a 98. King Henry IV of France, in 1598, signed the Edict of Nantes, which gave Huguenots a measure of civil rights and religious freedom. I believed that, when signing documents, including a 98 was a way for Huguenots to commemorate this event.

Well, thanks to the good folks at the Genealogical Circle of Provençale Drôme, I finally have an official answer. To my great disappointment (for I fell in love with my own theory), it is, in fact, not a 98.

Sig

Pierre Chastain’s signature.

This symbol is an example of a practice referred to as “ruches”. In English, this translates literally to “hives”, which isn’t that helpful. The Oxford English Dictionary is more illuminating. Ruche is defined as “a frill or pleat of fabric as decoration on a garment or soft furnishing.” It’s not hard to see how the term came to describe this ornamental custom.

Hives first appeared in France in the 7th century as the use of signet rings gave way to manual signatures. They could be personalized however the signer deemed fit and, not coincidentally, were a way of demonstrating skill with a feather pen. This practice, which vanished by the 19th century, would have been most prominent among those whose work required the signing of documents on a regular basis, solicitors and notaries being two obvious examples.

Pierre Chastain’s signature is a specimen of hives at its most basic—three interlocking loops. It simply stood for “the undersigned”. Below is a more elaborate signature, though it is, when compared to the most ostentatious examples of hives, still fairly simple.

Hives

An example of hives found in the Vesc notary records.

Manuel de Diplomatique by Arthur Giry is the authoritative work on this subject. A digital copy is available at Gallica, the digital library run by the National Library of France.

The Geography of My Heart

Vesc

A view from Vesc, in the former Dauphiné Province.

This past June, Peter Wortsman wrote a fantastic article for the New York Times Travel section. It’s titled Le Dauphiné, a French Region With a History Both Ancient and Personal. This is the ancient land where the Chastains came from.

Wortsman begins:

Driving along a winding highway in the Alps in Southeast France last August, I thought back to the Romans. When they came charging down the mountains into the Rhône River Valley in the first century B.C., how did they ever maneuver their chariots around some of the hairpin curves I was navigating? Did they ever stall, as I once did, at a pivotal juncture at the foot of the Vercors Massif, drawing the ire of Gallic motorists — or the ancient equivalent — honking behind? (As a recent convert from automatic to stick shift, it was my “baptism of the road,” as my French wife, Claudie, put it.)

One thing I knew: They braked long enough to establish the colony of Delphinatus Viennensis, which would eventually blossom into Le Dauphiné — the one-time French province where personal and ancient history are intertwined for me in a place that Claudie once lyrically called “the geography of my heart.”

My wife and I visited the Dauphiné last June. I hope to write about my own experiences eventually, but, when I do, I doubt I’ll come up with anything as evocative as “the geography of my heart”. The phrase rings true. Memories of the Alps, lavender fields, olive groves, vineyards, markets, and medieval villages are firmly lodged in my mind and my heart.

I came, I saw, I was conquered. For 31 years and counting, I have had privileged access to this charmed enclave of roughly 7,695 square miles in the southeast corner of France, ringed by the lavender fields and olive groves of Provence, the vineyards of the Rhône River Valley, and the plateaus and peaks of the Alps. On past visits we invariably dashed from Claudie’s native town, Valence, near some of the country’s finest vineyards, to arrive in time for dinner at her father’s ancestral village, Les Savoyons, in the Alps. But my beloved in-laws have died. There was no one awaiting us at table this time, so we took it slow.

The French Revolution divided the royal province into three departments — the Drôme, Isère and Hautes Alpes — and though the geography varies from fertile plains to rolling hills, to highlands and vertiginous summits, the regional identity remains distinctly Dauphinois. The mood is laid-back, down-to-earth, modulated by a midday siesta and a chilled sip of pastis.

Wortsman even makes brief mention of the Huguenots in his love letter to the old province.

But behind that mellow mood lie centuries of upheaval.

The area was the Roman military and commercial corridor of choice between the Alps and the Rhône; the Punic general Hannibal passed through with his elephants up from North Africa to challenge Rome, allegedly leaving behind the pintade (guinea hen), a succulent cousin of the turkey, traditionally raised in the Drôme. (It also became our favorite holiday fare, best roasted with chestnuts from Ardèche, across the Rhône.)

In the Middle Ages, the Dauphiné was a quasi-independent principality. Its rulers were called Dauphins, until the impecunious Dauphin Humbert II sold his holdings to the King of France in 1349, when the title fell to the king’s eldest son. The rugged terrain made it an optimal refuge for French Huguenots fleeing persecution during the Wars of Religion in the 16th century. In the 20th century, Jews fleeing the Nazi army and the Vichy Regime hid out here. It is hard for a visitor to square the scenic splendor of gorges like Grands Goulets and Combe Laval with the turmoil that took place on the Vercors where the French resistance made a valiant stand.

Read the whole thing.

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.

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(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.

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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.

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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 North East Meehls Part VIII: The Mill on the River Zorn

King Louix XIV Receives Strasbourg City Key

Louis XIV receiving the keys of Strasbourg on 23 October 1681 by Constantijn Francken. Oil on canvas. Strasbourg Historical Museum.

Geudertheim is famous for its watermill on the River Zorn, a tributary of the Rhine. Mühl, a German surname meaning one who lives near a mill, can be traced back to the 1500s, where we find the earliest written records in Geudertheim. From the prevalence of the name in these early records, we can conclude that the mill has been a central part of the community since, at least, the late middle ages. We can also conclude that, in Geudertheim, the Mühls have ancient roots.

Geudertheim Mill on the Zorn
The Mill on the Zorn (photo from the National Library of France)
Geudertheim Mill Wheel
Geudertheim Mill Wheel (from the National Library of France)

Geudertheim, just nine miles from the Rhine (the current border between France and Germany), resides in the Bas-Rhin (Lower Rhine) Department of France. This is the northern half of the former province of Alsace. The general area that now makes up Alsace was conquered by the Roman Empire in the first century B.C. (The Romans were partial to its rich agricultural lands and, in particular, its vineyards.) After the fall of the empire, Alsace traded hands between the Alemanni (I’ve never heard of them either) and the Franks before becoming a part of the Holy Roman Empire until the 17th century.

During the Reformation, in the 16th century, Alsace became a prominent Protestant stronghold. When King Louis XIV took Alsace and its capital, Strasbourg, for the Catholic Kingdom of France in the late 17th century, he did not, thanks to the Treaty of Westphalia, interfere with their religion. The same cannot be said for the rest of France. In 1685, King Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes which had given Huguenots, the French Protestants, the freedom to worship in 1598. All over France, the Huguenots had to either renounce their religion, worship in secret, or flee, but the Lutherans and other Protestants of Alsace were, for political reasons, spared this fate. Otherwise, the Lutheran Mühl family would have been forced to flee Geudertheim or give up their faith long before they sailed for America in 1831.

Alsace remained part of France until the Franco-Prussian War when the victorious German Empire annexed it in 1871. After World War I, as part of the Treaty of Versailles, Alsace was given back to France. World War II saw it fall back into German hands, but it was liberated by the Allied Forces in 1944 and has remained under French control since.

After the Napoleonic Wars at the start of the 19th century, Alsace faced severe economic and demographic woes. Emigration to America picked up steam in the 1820s and continued well into the latter half of the century. The typical Alsatian emigrant’s path to America was from the French port of Le Havre to New York City. Once they arrived in New York, many gained passage on the newly opened Erie Canal to Western New York and the Great Lakes.

The Mühls can be found following this path. They sailed from Le Havre, France on the ship New Orleans and arrived in New York City on July 15, 1831. Steam ships were not yet used in Atlantic crossings, so they would have been on a sailing ship. The journey was likely a month in length.


Mühl-Passenger-List


There is some confusing information on the above passenger list for the Mühl family. First, the ages of the children are off, and, second, it lists Switzerland as the place of origin. These are most definitely clerical errors. If you look closely, you’ll notice it lists George, Anne, Michael, Anne, George Jr., Eva, Maria, and Catherine. These are all of the surviving Mühls from Geudertheim listed in their exact order of age. This record also fits into the family timeline perfectly. The last time they are mentioned in the Geudertheim records is 1828. The first time they are mentioned in the American records is post-1831. The odds are astronomical that this is any other family.

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.

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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.

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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…

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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.