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).

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