Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fort Chastain and Indian Removal

Last week's column traced the movements and family of Benjamin Chastain (1780-1845) who served in Georgia's state legislature from Habersham County before he moved to the large Cherokee Lands and settled near the Toccoa River and Star Creek. He had been appointed an Indian agent. He established the Tuckahoe Post Office on March 15, 1837.

An interesting fact I did not mention in last week's article was that Benjamin Chastain and his wife, Rebeckah Denton Chastain, moved into a hewn-log house vacated by a Cherokee Indian family with an English name. According to information furnished by Brett Riggs, archaeologist, "spoliation claims filed from 1838-1847 indicate that Benjamin Chastain commandeered the home and farm of George Owens, Sr., a Cherokee, of Tuckahoe Town." The location of the cabin and Fort Chastain built on Chastain farmlands is now under the waters of Blue Ridge Lake. This departure point was once a gathering place for those removed westward on the Trail of Tears.

When gold was discovered on Duke's Creek in Habersham County (now White) in 1828, and in other north Georgia locations, a virtual gold rush started. Greed was the name of the game. By 1829, gold rush fever was rampant and prospectors poured in with get-rich quick schemes. Unscrupulous in their dealings with the Indians, the white men confiscated lands.

To Georgia's discredit, the state was a moving force in Indian removal. In 1828, a bill passed the Georgia Legislature which put all Cherokee under state law and declared their government and customs null and void after 1830. Georgia guards were sent to patrol and bring to court Indians who infringed on restrictions set in the 1828 law.

In 1830, the Removal Act passed the U. S. Congress.

After that law passed, when President Andrew Jackson was in office, many Indian Agents were appointed to deal with the Cherokee on terms of removal. Negotiations were made for purchase of Indian lands, but at inferior prices. Thirty-seven treaties signed by 1828 between the Cherokee and government had to do with "a tract of land ceded to…" with white settlers as recipients. It was thus that Benjamin Chastain, Indian Agent, received the farmland and home of George Owens, Sr, Cherokee, of Tuckahoe (or Taccoa) Town.

President Jackson's successor, President Martin Van Buren, continued to push for Indian Removal. In 1836 he appointed General Winfield Scott to commandeer the removal. He ordered his army to be humane and to appeal to Indians to go voluntarily to collection points—the forts that were quickly built in various locations in the Cherokee lands.

Fort Chastain at Star Creek on the Toccoa River was one of the collection points. How long the Indians had to wait there before being removed over the long Trail of Tears is uncertain. Their life in the forts was not easy. Forced to vacate cabins and possessions, the Indians were allowed to take only the barest necessities with them. They lived in very crowded conditions in the forts. Sanitation was poor and hunger and sickness prevailed. Being herbalists in medical applications, they no longer had available to them the natural herbs and cures for the illness that beset them. Many, especially among the elderly and very young, died before they left on the Trail of Tears.

One of the soldiers with General Scott's army wrote in his memoirs: "I later fought through the Civil War and have seen men slaughtered, but the Cherokee Removal was the cruelest work I ever knew."

Benjamin Chastain on whose land Fort Chastain was built was of the fourth generation of Chastains in America from Pierre, Sr., Pierre, Jr., John "Ten Shilling Bell" Chastain, the famous preacher, and then Benjamin himself. Benjamin's great grandfather had left Europe because the Huguenots endured bitter persecution. The Chastains had followed the paths of freedom, with Benjamin's father, John, pledging his support to the American Revolution. Circumstances occur in the rush of history that, when we look back upon them, fill us with mixed emotions. Such were the times in the 1830s when Benjamin Chastain, citizen of Georgia, state legislator, pioneer farmer, and Indian agent, due to circumstances in which he lived, had to make some hard decisions.

c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 25, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Focus on Benjamin Chastain (1780-1845)

This series of articles on various Chastain family members who settled in North Georgia in the nineteenth century and made a difference here in politics and way of life are necessarily tied together. In the first article June 4, I listed the first Chastains who settled in Union County in the 1830s. In the June 11 article, I retraced the Chastain lineage back to Dr. Pierre Chastain (1659-1728), French Huguenot settler and planter who settled in Manakin, Virginia in 1700.

This article will focus on Pierre's great, great grandchild, Benjamin Chastain, ninth child of the Rev. John "Ten Shilling Bell" Chastain and John's first wife, Mary O'Bryan Chastain.

Benjamin Chastain was born July 6, 1780 when his father, the Rev. John Chastain, lived in North Carolina in a section that later became Sullivan County, TN. A migration from that section saw the Chastains, with others of their neighbors, move to the Pendleton District of South Carolina. There he grew up, met and married a lady named Rebeckah Denton.

Old land deeds often give information of the whereabouts of a person. Benjamin was still in the Pendleton District in the 1800 census. By 1812 he owned land there. He sold 153 acres on Chasteen's Mail Creek at the Woolonoy Fork of the Saluda River for $50 to William Allen. The land Benjamin sold had been willed to him by his father, the Rev. John Chastain.

Benjamin and Rebeckah Chastain had eight children born to them before they left their South Carolina home: Mary, Jonathan Davis, Jeremiah S., John Bunyan, Benjamin Franklin, Nancy B., Elijah Webb and Rebecca Denton.

Land was opening up for settlement in Habersham County in North Georgia, and Benjamin and Rebeckah Chastain moved their family there about 1817. Their last two children were born in Habersham County, Jeremiah on June 10, 1818 and Martha Denton on June 16, 1821.

Being a leader in his community, Benjamin Chastain followed his desire to make a difference by entering politics. He represented Habersham County in the Georgia State Legislature in 1826, 1827 and again in 1832-1834.

With much turmoil occurring about Indian lands and negotiations with the Indians, Benjamin Chastain was appointed an agent to the Cherokee. That necessitated another move for his family. This time, they located near the Toccoa River. He opened the first post office in what would later become Fannin County. First called Tuckahoe, subsequently named Tocoah and still later Morganton, this post office was opened on March 15, 1837.

Another task assigned to Benjamin Chastain, former legislator and current Indian agent, was the building and operation of a fort at the intersection of the Toccoa River and Star Creek, on land now under the waters of beautiful Blue Ridge Lake. At that fort, the Cherokee were gathered together to await the long journey westward to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.

Benjamin Chastain died January 1, 1845 at his homestead in Old Gilmer County, bordering Union, prior to Fannin County being established in 1854. His wife, Rebeckah Denton Chastain, who was born August 28, 1779, died January 1, 1872 in Fannin County, Georgia. I find no cemetery markings for them listed in Cemeteries of Fannin County (2003). The Pierre Chastain Family History book states they were buried in the Old Antioch Cemetery near the Toccoa River. Perhaps unidentified, unmarked graves mark the final resting places of these pioneer settlers.

The account of Fort Chastain is another story. That article is forthcoming, as well as Benjamin Chastain's part in its location on his property in 1838.

c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 18, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Where Did Union County Chastains Originate?

The federal census of 1834 for Union County reveals that John B., Edward and Abner Chastain had established households in the county early in the county's history.

Where did these Chastains originate? What is significant about their ancestry?

Tracing these Chastain settlers in Union back to Pierre Chastain (about 1659 - 1728), known to subsequent generations as Dr. Pierre Chastain, the Immigrant, we find that this first of the line in America came to Virginia in 1700 because of religious persecution in France. Pierre was a son of Estienne Chastain and Jeanne Laurant Chastain. They were members of what became known as the French Huguenots. They were adherents of the French Reformed Church (also called Calvinists because of their leader, Jean Cauvin, English name John Calvin [1509-1564]).

With other Huguenot immigrants, Pierre Chastain and his first wife, Susanne Renaud, settled on land at Manakin, Virginia near present day Richmond. Pierre had multiple occupations. First and foremost, he was a physician (surgeon). It has also been noted that he was a perruquier (the French term for barber and wig maker). He was a planter and plantation owner.

After the death of his first wife, Susanne, by whom he had eight children, he married Anne Soblet, whose family had also escaped France under Huguenot persecution. Dr. Pierre Chastain and his wife Anne had eight children, making a total for The Immigrant Chastain of sixteen. Three of his children with Susanne died young, for in February, 1700, he was listed with five children and no wife in the Manakin area census. Dr. Pierre Chastain's third marriage was to Mary Magdalene Trabue, widow of Antoine Trabue.

Pierre Chastain was active in the Manakin Town Episcopal Church where present-day visitors are told of the Chastain pew, third from the front on the left side of the church. Descendants of The Immigrant also take pride in visiting the home of Dr. Chastain, a two-story white frame house in Manakin Town, Virginia. The gravesite of Dr. Chastain and his three wives and some of his children has been identified and marked. The Pierre Chastain Family Association, organized in 1975, has for its aim the development and preservation of Chastain family records and information. Many places dear to The Immigrant and his descendants have been marked and identified as they spread out from Manakin Town, Virginia to surrounding areas and moved to other pioneer regions of the country as migrations occurred.

The book of genealogy, Pierre Chastain and His Descendants, Volume I: First Five Generations in America was published by the Association in 1995 and has become a much-sought after volume for history on the Huguenot settlers in Virginia and their dispersion throughout America.

In more recent years, the Chastain Family website posts additional genealogical and historical information, and The Chestnut Tree, the Association's quarterly newsletter, keeps interest in the Chastain family alive and well.

As I studied and read the Chastain family history book, I was interested in how names were passed down through generations. There were many with the name Pierre, to honor The Immigrant. But in subsequent generations, Pierre became anglicized to Peter. Jean became John.

As mentioned in last week's article, one of the Johns was John Chastain (1743-1805) the famous John "Ten Shilling Bell" Chastain, noted Baptist minister and church planter. This John was a son of Pierre Chastain, Jr. (1707- after 1775), third child of Pierre and his second wife Anne Soblet. The records on the second Pierre are somewhat fuzzy as courthouse fires in Buckingham County, Virginia where the family lived took major records.

Pierre, Jr.'s son John's first wife was Mary O'Bryan (1765-1797), born in Ireland and died in Pendleton District, South Carolina. Following his first wife's death, he married second, Mary Robinson, a widow, whose maiden name is unknown. It is through this John Chastain that many of the North Georgia Chastains descend. For those who can trace their lines back to John "Ten Shilling Bell" Chastain, they can claim a Revolutionary War patriot, for he signed the oath of allegiance in Powhatan County, Virginia.

A brief listing of John Chastain's children by his first wife, Mary O'Bryan show Abner (1764-1846) who died in Pickens County, SC. John, Jr. (1766-1844) who died in Pickens County, SC. Martha (1768- 1794) who married John Blythe and died in South Carolina. Edward Brigand (1769- about 1834) who lived in Union County, GA, died in what is now Fannin County. Mary (1771-?) married John O'Dell. Elijah (1776-1853) died in what is now Gilmer County, GA, married Hannah Adams, Anna Middleton and Catherine Carson. Elizabeth (1777-after 1850) married Samuel Denton, Jr. Cleo (or Chloe) (1799 - ?) married John Denton. Benjamin Chastain (1780-1845) was in Union County, died in what is now Fannin, married Rebekah Denton. Nancy Chastain (1783-?) married John Robinson. Joseph Chastain (1783-after 1850) married Nancy Young, went to Missouri.

John Chastain's children by his second wife, widow Mary (maiden name unknown) Robinson were Violet (1798- ?) married William Akins. William (1801-after 1860 and before 1875) married Margaret Dobbs, died in Habersham County, GA. Mary Lavina (1803 - 1845) died in Franklin County, Tn. She married three times.

From Pierre the Immigrant to the generations cited here, the Chastains migrated to many sections of our country and became involved citizens in the life and growth of their communities.

c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 11, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Some Chastains Were in Union County by 1834

Chastain is a surname heard often in the mountain region of North Georgia. It is a steadfast family name and people who bear it (spelled variously Chasteen, Chastaine and other ways) have been solid citizens contributing in areas of farming, education, politics, Christian ministry, medicine, business and merchandising.

The earliest census of Union County in 1834 reveals three families of Chastains living within the bounds that became the county in 1832. These were John B. Chastain with three males and three females in the household; Edward Chastain, also with three males and three females counted; and Abner Chastain, with three males and four females registered.

By the 1840 census, the Chastain households had grown to seven in Union County, namely John, Abner B., Edward, Benjamin, James, Joseph C. and Abner. This increase in population of Chastains did not mean necessarily that four more families had moved into the county, but that some of the children of the three families in Union in 1834 had married and established homes within the decade.

The 1850 census reveals nine Chastain households with the following named as heads of families: John, J. B., Withrow, James, Jason, Calvin, William, Martin and Edward. One of the Chastain family historians, M. A. McGraw, in his book entitled Jason Coward Chastain and His Family (c1976) gives insight to how we find early Chastain settlers in Habersham, Union, Gilmer, Fannin and other mountain counties: "As these families came to Georgia, they all settled in the same area on Cherokee lands which became Cherokee County in 1831, Union County in 1832, and Fannin County in 1854. Their homeplaces were the same, but as the large area was subdivided, the records would seem to indicate they lived in different places." (page 12)

Returning to some of the Chastain families found in the early Union County censuses, we will trace more on their origins and contributions.

John Chastain (listed in a separate household in 1840 census) was born in Haywood County, North Carolina in 1791 or 1792. He had a nickname, "Hootchie," to distinguish him from another John Chastain, his uncle, who was known as "Blind John." The name "Hootchie" was given to this John because they settled in a bend of the Chattahoochee River when they first came to Georgia.

John Chastain married twice, first to Nancy Coward and second to Nancy Withrow. By his first wife he had one son, Jason Coward Chastain (1818-1900). By his second wife Nancy Withrow, John had eight children: Withrow, James, Joseph DeKalb, Malinda, Susanna, Hannah, Benjamin Nelson, and John. Evidently John and Nancy Coward Chastain divorced after Jason Coward was born. She later married a Kelly. When she was elderly, she returned to the home of her son Jason Coward Chatain at Dial in Fannin County. He cared for her in her dotage and she was buried in the family cemetery on the rise above the commodious Chastain house. John Chastain and his wife Nancy Withrow Chastain lived in the Ivy Log section of Union County where their eight children were born and reared.

John's father was Edward Brigand Chastain, born March 29, 1769 in Buckingham County, VA and died in 1834 in what is now Fannin County, GA. His mother, Edward Brigand's wife, was Hannah Brown (1771- about 1837). They were believed to be the parents of sixteen children, but records have been found of only fifteen, namely: Delilah, Jemimah, John, Rainey, Hannah, Mary, Griffith, Cyrus, Jehu, Abner, Elisabeth, Nancy, Martha, Edward Bruce, and Joseph Carleton. Perhaps one of their children died in infancy.

Hootchie" John Chastain's grandfather was the famous John "Ten Shilling Bell" Chastain (1743-1805), a Baptist preacher who worked with other famous pioneer ministers such as Rev. Shubael Starnes to establish churches on the frontier in Virginia, North and South Carolina. The "Ten Shilling Bell" nickname came for the elder John Chastain because of his resonating and clear ringing voice. It was reported that he could be heard, when preaching, "for a mile or more" on a still, clear day or night. Rev. John Chastain was declared a patriot when he signed the oath of allegiance and pledged his support for the American side in the fray against Great Britain. He and his family were in Powhatan County, Virginia at that time.

The other two Chastain households in Union County in 1834 were that of Edward Chastain and Abner Chastain. The Edward is believed to be Edward Brigand Chastain (1769- 1834). It seems he was enumerated in the 1834 census before his death later that same year. His partial family history is given above.

Abner Chastain was a son of Edward Brigand and Hannah Brown Chastain. Born in 1803, Abner was ordained to the gospel ministry prior to the Civl War. He married, first, Susan Pemberton O'Kelley in Habersham County, GA. This Rev. Abner Chastain served as pastor of the Choestoe Baptist Church before moving west. He led a wagon train going west, with some 250 people from Union County in the massive move. His wife, Susan, died on this trip west. Abner later married Amanda D. Elzy. Arriving in Colorado, Abner Chastain settled on the Huerfano River east of St. Mary's. There he established a Baptist Church and baptized the first convert in the Huerfano River in the fall of 1870. (Subsequent articles will trace more of the Chastain story. - EDJ)

[References: Union County census records, 1834, 1840, 1850. Books: M. M. McGraw, Jason Coward Chastain and His Family (1975). Pierre Chastain Family Association, Pierre Chastain and His Descendants Volume I (1995)]

c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 4, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.