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.

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