Early Settlers of
Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
Labor Day weekend has come and gone, with its stormy weather, tornadoes in a corridor area emanating from Tropical Storm Lee, more rain than we’ve had in months, a death in my family, and attendance at the Pierre Chastain Family Association Reunion in Helen to which I was invited to be “on-site historian” and keynote speaker.
Where do I begin this column after that introductory paragraph? If you read this, and are among those who sustained damages from any of the storms attendant upon Lee’s widespread catastrophe, you have my deepest concern. May you find shelter, comfort and redirection. For those who received much-needed rain without flooding and damages, be most grateful as I am. This morning my dry lawn, shrubs and flowers seem to have hope renewed.
As to the death of my nephew, Christopher Fortenberry, age 37, dear son of my sister Linda, we are all diminished and saddened by his death. Linda and Claxton, Chris’s parents, will read this, as will Chris’s brothers, James and David. Be assured that many people love you and are praying for you. You are strong people; you will never forget, and will wonder why Chris died so suddenly. But the God of all comfort will sustain you. Look up and take courage.
And now to the major subject of this article, Pierre Chastain, “The Immigrant” the first-generation Chastain to America and his continuing influence. The gathering in Helen was such a happy occasion (despite my sadness over my nephew Chris’s death). I had done much research to prepare for the speaking engagements with those gathered from various states to hold this annual PCFA (Pierre Chastain Family Association) Reunion. I had spoken at the 1998 Reunion in Hiawassee/Young Harris, GA. James Chastain, host and program planner for this reunion, had read several of my Chastain articles. Those provided the springboard for my invitation back to this notable gathering as keynote speaker. I felt humbled, indeed, for this “repeat” invitation to speak. I was honored, indeed, when, by action of the Association, they “adopted” me into the PCFA toward the end of the meeting and presented me with the official Chastain coat-of-arms. So now I have another loving family, one that has made a significant impact in American life from 1700 to the present. Because many requested that I publish the remarks I made at the reunion, I will attempt to do so. It will take more than one column; please bear with me for the next few weeks as I proceed with
LEARNING FROM THE PAST ~ SHAPING THE FUTURE
An Address Before the Pierre Chastain Family Association
Helen, Georgia ~ September 3, 2011
From the pen of the inimitable American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, came these words that seem to apply appropriately to the life of Pierre Chastain, “The Immigrant,” and his descendants to the present day:
“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.”
We learn from the past; these lessons shape our future.
Let us remember some of these great men and women of note in the Chastain line who have carved out monumental differences and left footprints in the sands of time. What can we learn from them to shape our present and future in these trying times?
We will consider and give emphasis to four areas these forebears impacted:
(1) How they sought to improve living conditions;
(2) How they led innovations in religious life;
(3) How they impacted politics and government; and
(4) How they improved agriculture and the economy.
Who better than the first generation Chastain in this line, known to us as Pierre “the Immigrant” Chastain (ca 1659-1728) as a representative of all four areas of impact on American life? We will recall briefly highlights from his story:
Conditions in Europe were atrocious at the time of his childhood, youth and young adulthood. Briefly, his ancestors were living in Bourges, Central France, at the time of the terrible massacre on St. Bartholomew’s Day, August 24, 1572. This was almost a century before Pierre’s birth. Look this up in history; you will have an account of the religious persecution that brought death and hardships. The Chastains, along with others, fled to Charost, France, and later crossed the Jura Mountains to Switzerland. These protesters, called Huguenots, seeking religious freedom, were greatly influenced by the preaching of John Calvin (1507-1564). Persecution grew. Dr. Pierre Chastain (for he was a medical doctor by then) and his family left Switzerland and went to Holland for refuge. There they learned of groups sailing to America, the new land of promise. They went to England and he and his family boarded the ship Mary and Ann, one of four ships headed for America. Enduring the hardships and crowded conditions on the ship, they landed in Virginia. In “History of the Huguenot Emigration,” Volume II, this notation was made about Pierre Chastain in August, 1700 to the City Chamberlain of London: “The Bearer, Monsiur Castayne, is going out surgeon to ye French now departing for Virginia. He wants twenty pounds to make up his chest of drugs and instruments.”
Settling in Manakin Town, Virginia, Dr. Pierre Chastain began to make his “footprints in the sands of time” that have extended to the present age.
[Next: Continuing the story of Chastains of various generations in America. Resources: Pierre Chastain and His Descendants, Volume I. PCFA, 1995. Jason Coward Chastain and His Family. Jason Coward Chastain Historical Society and M. A. McGraw, 1976]
Jones; published Sept. 8, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville,
Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
[Ethelene Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian. She may be reached at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708 Cedarwood Road, Milledgeville, GA 31061-2411.]