Manakintown Anglican Church


Plaque from Front of 1895 Church BuildingOne of the priorities of the new Manakintown Huguenot community, when they first settled the new land in 1700, was to establish a church. However, it was not until the next year that the building was constructed.

Desperation, survival through the winter, and disputes over funds delayed the building. But, in 1701 the church was built, and the congregation still exists after more than 300 years.

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The Huguenots
The Manakintown Church
Chastains and the Manakintown Church
Chastain-Related Persons in the Vestry
First Vestry Members
Excerpts from Restored Vestry Minutes
Excerpts from Abraham Salle's Response to Accusations

The Huguenots

2007 Reunion Attendees at 1895 Manakin Huguenot ChurchIn the 1690's London, England was overfilled with French protestant refugees, called Huguenots, who had escape from the Catholic pursecutions in France. One idea for relieveing the stress of overpopulation, job shortages, and other issues, was to send them to the American colonies.

Many Huguenots emigrated to the colonies as individuals and small family groups. Others sailed to Amereica in large groups in order to establish new towns and communities. The Manakintown Huguenot settlers were of this last sort. Our article on the Manakintown Huguenots provides an excellent background to a better understanding of this article. You may consider going there first.

In England, Huguenot leaders Marquis Olivier de la Muce and Charles de Sailly petitioned King William for support in sending a group of Huguenots to establish a new town in the Americas. They investigated several locations, and King William provided tremendous financial assistance including funds for transportation, supplies, Bibles and books of Common Prayer, building of a church, and lodging for two ministers. Twenty pounds were provided for the surgeon, Dr. Castaine, to make up his chest of drugs and instruments.

On April 19, 1700 the first ship, Mary and Ann, set sail for the Americas, arriving at the James River on July 23. Among the passengers were Pierre Chastain, his wife, Susanne Renaud Chastain, and their five children, Jean Adam, Marie Susanne, Jeanne Francoise, Pierre Samuel, and one-year-old Susanne.

The timing and location were not good. It was too late to grow crops for the winter, and the Huguenot settlers had to acquire what food they could from their distant English neighbors. More ships arrived before the end of winter, and the French refugees were in dire trouble. Some of them died during the first year.

Among the dead were Pierre Chastain's wife, Susanne, and three of their children.

Manakin Church Building 1895

The video to the right is of the interior of the fourth sanctuary built in 1895. It is no longer used for services. This video was shot by the Brothers of Chastain Central at the 2007 Pierre Chastain Family Reunion in Manakintown, Virginia. If the image is not correctly positioned in the vidoe screen, refreshing the page should correct the problem.

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The Manakintown Church

Information board at 1895 Manakin Huguenot Church

On December 5, 1700 the Virginia House of Burgesses at Williamsburg passed an act stating that the French settlers on the Virginia frontier constituted a "distinct parish themselves" which would be called King William Parish. The French were given the freedom to determine their own ministers and set their salaries, but as an Anglican church they followed the Anglican order of worship.

Records of the earliest years of the Manakintown Church are lost, but records of vestry meetings are continual from December 20, 1707 to December 28, 1750. The clerks of the vestry maintained a separate record of births and deaths, which survives covering the period from March 25, 1721 to July 21, 1754. We do know some facts prior to the 1707 vestry records. We know that Benjamin de Joux was the first minister of the church, and we know the names of original vestry (church council), which included Pierre Chastain.

Two hundred thirty pounds sterling were budgeted for the rectory and the first church, which was constructed of logs near the bluff of the James River in 1701; it was small, octagonal, and unornamented. That church building was replaced by a second log structure in 1710. The third church was built in 1730 further south away from the river. The 1730 church served the congregation over 160 years, though it was burned during the Revolutionary War and rebuilt in 1789.

Benjamin de Joux served as the first minister of the church until his death in 1704, followed by minister Claude Phillippe de Richebourg until de Richebourg relocated to North Carolina in 1711. De Richebourg's wife Anne Chastain may have been a sister to Pierre Chastain. De Richebourg came over in the first ship, while de Joux was aboard the second, but de Joux had Anglican ordination and was considered the more appropriate minister for a new Anglican congregation. Jean Cairon was the third minsister of Manakintown Church and served until 1716. After that, the Manakintown Church did not have a full-time minister, but contracted with nearby French-speaking clergy for a set number of sermons each year.

French and English in Manakintown

Manakintown was established in an isolated spot, but as time passed, English settlers surrounded the 10,000 acres and even settled in Manakintown itself. One result of this was that many Huguenot boys growing to adulthood had to migrate further west into Virginia's new frontier in order to find land. Another result was an increasing number of Enlish surnames appearing in the Manakintown church's tithe rolls.

On December 26, 1718, Robert Jones (note the English surname), requested that the service be read in English once every six weeks. His request was approved by the vestry. In a period of what appears to be October 1, 1731 - August 12, 1732, the clerk records that Minister Marye preached 24 sermons, 6 in English and 18 in French. The vestry contracted on September 1, 1739 for Rev. Mr. Gavin to preach 17 sermons for the next year, including 4 in French. His next year's contract was 10 sermons, with 4 in French. 1741 was again 17 sermons, including 4 in French. In 1747 it was agreed that the service would be half in English and half in French. Then, in 1750, it was decided that the service would be two-thirds in English.

The clerks wrote the extant vestry book records in French right up until it ends in 1750. However, on December 10, 1748, vestryman Stephen Mallet entered a financial commitment into the vestry book in English. Another interesting French-English phenomenon is the spelling of given names. The name of a person might be written Jacque in some cases and James in others; Pierre could be Peter; Estienne could be Stephen, Jean could be John. A good example is Jean Chastain who was vestry clerk for many years. Usually, he signed his vestry entries as Jean Chastain, but on occasion he wrote John, and there seems to be no pattern to it. It is completely arbitrary. After his son, Jean Jr., joined the vestry, we have interesting entry in which Jean Chastain, the clerk's signature appears, followed immediately by the Church Wardens including John Chastain, his son. Soon after that, there was a list of vestrymen that included both John Chastain and Jean Chastain, Junior. The spellings were just the opposite of the previous entry.

Church Fight

On May 25, 1708, Church Warden Abraham Soblet resigned from the vestry, along with the other church warden and another vestryman, apparentlly due to strife between the minister, Phillippe de Richebourg, and some of the church members. After de Richebourg left the parish before June 30, 1711, the vestry re-entered notes from March 27, 1707 and April 7, 1707, which de Richebourg had erased. In the first, the vestry decreed that vestryman Ammonett protest before the congregation that the minister's personal arrangement with various members of the parish was inapporopriate. The vestry made it clear that it would not make the order arranged by de Richebourg nor would it lay taxes for its payment. The second entry describes the tumultous March 30 church service in which vestryman Ammonett began to read the protest concerning de Richebourg's actions. The minister then threatened the vestry clerk with excommunication for not relinquishing vestry records of christenings to the minister's possession, and declared that he did not recognize the vestry. More argument and confusion erupted, and vestryman Abraham Salle, who was also Justice of the Peace, tried to quiet the uproar, without success.

On September 2, 1707, Abraham Salle wrote an interesting memo to The Honourable President and Council referring to this conflict. Salle answers complaints against him by Phillippe de Richebourg and describes the unbelievable scene in which the minister, angry with the vestry for not giving him his way, threatened to excommunicate the clerk. When Abraham Salle stood to the vestry's defence, de Richebourg became angrier and declared that he did not recognize the vestry. One of de Richebourg's supporters pressed through the crowd and grabbed Salle by the coat and threatened him. It is in this memo that we learn the names of the original vestry.

It seems that the problem continued for more than three years until the Lieutentant Governor of Virginia intervened successfully to bring peace to the group. According to his arrangement, the three vestrymen who resigned were permitted to rejoin the vestry. The other two did so, but Abraham Soblet stated that he was not interested in re-qualifying for the office. As of December 30, 1710, Abraham Soblet had still not paid his required levy from 1709; he was the only delinquent parishioner listed.

Later History

After the Revolution, the Anglican Church in America became the Episcopal Church, but it was no longer the established or official church of Virginia or any other former colony. That coupled with the massive growth of Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches caused a sharp decline of Episcopal churches in many places. A scene from a church service at Manakin Episcopal ChurchOne nearby example was in Buckingham County, Virginia, where the Episcopal church properties were completely abandoned and eventually came into the possession of the Baptist movement. By 1895 the Manakintown church was in disrepair and was much too large for the dwindling membership, so the 1730 building was torn down, and a new, smaller building was constructed from the salvaged materials (see outside photo and interior).

The current brick church was constucted in 1955. It was modelled after Governor William Byrd's church at Westover Plantation in recognition of the help Byrd provided to the early Manakintown settlers. On the pew doors of the 1955 church are plaques honoring many of the early leaders of the Manakintown church and community, including Pierre Chastain and Abraham Soblet. In 1967, The Reverend Lawrence Mason became misister for both the Manakintown church and St. Luke's nearby. During his thirty-year tenure, the Manakintown church grew and became a separate parish again. As of 2007, the Manakin Episcopal Church serves over 300 parishioners.

Manakin Church Building 1955

The video to the right is an exlpanation of the altar kneeling cushions in the current church by a member of the church. This video was shot by the Brothers of Chastain Central at the 2007 Pierre Chastain Family Reunion in Manakintown, Virginia. If the image is not correctly positioned in the vidoe screen, refreshing the page should correct the problem.

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Chastains and the Manakintown Church

Pierre Chastain Plaque in the 1955 Church BuildingDuring the first years in Virginia, a number of French refugees died, including most of Pierre Chastain's family. Only Pierre, himself, and his eleven-year-old son Jean survived. After Susanne's death, Pierre married a second wife, Anne Soblet, in 1701. She was the daughter of fellow Huguenot Abraham Soblet of Manakintown. Anne was born about 1675 and died in 1723. All Pierre Chastain descendants, except for those of Pierre's eldest son Jean, are from the union of Pierre and Anne Soblet. This means that we, for example, the Brothers of Chastain Central, are ninth generation American Chastains, we are also tenth generation American Soblet's, descended from Abraham and Susanne Brian Soblet.

Huguenots Abraham and Susanne Brian Soblet were from Dedan, Lorraine in France. Abraham Soblet Plaque in the 1955 Church BuildingDuring the persucutions, Abraham escaped from France into Germany. Eventually, his family arrived in London, England. Abraham and his two oldest sons sailed to Virginia on the Mary and Ann, while his wife and other children followed aboard the Peter and Anthony.

Estienne Chastain was a passenger on the Mary and Ann, along with Pierre Chastain and Abraham Soblet. Many speculate that Estienne and Pierre were close relatatives, but Cameron Allen is unconvinced. First, their roots were in parts of France distant from each other. Chastain is a fairly common name in France. Secondly, they escaped from France into different countries, though eventually they both arrived in London, England along with other Chastains. Finally, though the two families lived together for years in the small community of Manakintown, there was almost no interaction between the families in such things as witnessing wills or deeds or godparenting children.

Leadership in the new community can be seen in part by the voting results for the first vestry of the church, which included both Pierre Chastain and Abraham Soblet. The two church wardens were usually elected for a one year term, but the vestry was elected for terms of several years. Pierre Chastain was a member of the original vestry, but we have no additional records until the end of 1707, when the extant Vestry Book entries begin. When the book opens with the entry for December, 1707, we find that Abraham Soblet is one of the two church wardens. Pierre is not listed among the vestry. Also listed on the vestry is Abraham Salle, a strong, long-term leader in the community as Justice of the Peace. His son Guillaume Salle would marry Pierre's daughter Mary Magdalene Chastain around 1740.

The Vestry Book, written in French, was the responsibility of the clerk, who may or may not have been a vestry menber. The clerk's poition did not change frequently. From 1707 until 1753, there were only four clerks: Etienne Reynaud, Abraham Salle, Jacque Soblet, and Jean Chastain, son of Pierre Chastain. Jean Chastain was clerk for at least 26 years from 1727 until 1753 - just about half the period of the existance of the church to that time. Many Chastain and Chastain related men served on the vestry during the years listed in the vestry book.

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Chastain-Related Persons in the Vestry

Partial Photo of Manakintown Vestry BookThe Church Vestry (or church council) took care of church business such as contracting with ministers, renting out the glebe lands, and arranging for church construction, but they attended to more than just the life of the Church. As the established church, the Anglican vestry had responibilies for the community as a whole. The care of the poor, the very sick, and of orphans was within their purview and was considered in determining the annual church tax (tithe) to each family in the parish. They also arranged for the ferry crossing the river, and on occasion they were asked by the Virginia Colony to re-survey and report on the various parcels owned by the settlers. Church government and secular government were not very distinct.

Vestry work was very hard work. The individual vestrymen were responsible for collecting the tithe, escpecially the two wardens. At least in one case when a new church was being built, the vestry was to provide finished materials for the job. It was not unusual for a vestryman to resign befor his term was out, and that did not necessarily indicate doctrinal or political dissatisfaction.

This list indicates how Chastains and connected families related to the church vestry. It is as accurate as possible, though the records are not always entirely clear.

Pierre Chastain
Vestry 17011-before 17082
Vestry 1718-1727/28/293
Church Warden 1718-1720
Church Warden 1726-1727

Abraham Soblet, Pierre Chastain's father-in-law and maternal ancestor to most Chastains.
Vestry 17011-17084
Church Warden 1707-1708

Abraham Salle, Justice of the Peace and father to Guilliame Salle who married Pierre Chastain's Daughter, Mary Magdalene Chastain about 1740. Salle almost never missed a vestry meeting.
Vestry 17011-17204
Clerk 1715-1719/20 (first acting, then official)
Church Warden 1718-1719

Jacob Amonnet, father-in-law to Jean Chastain 5.
Vestry 17011-17304 ~ 6
Church Warden 1710-1711
Church Warden 1725-1726

Estienne Chastain, a passenger on the same ship as Pierre Chastain. He did not produce any male children to carry on his Chastain name.
Vestry 1718-1739
Church Warden 1720-1722
Church Warden 1728-1729
Church Warden 1733-1734

Pierre-Louis Soblet, son of Abraham Soblet, and brother-in-law to Pierre Chastain.
Vestry 1719-1733
Church Warden 1720-1722
Church Warden 1726-1727

Jacques Soblet, son of Abraham Soblet, and brother-in-law to Pierre Chastain.
Vestry 1719-1727?7
Clerk 1721-1725

Abraham Salle, Son of Abraham Salle, Sr., who died no later than 1720, and brother to Guilliame Salle who married Pierre Chastain's Daughter, Mary Magdalene Chastain about 1740.
Vestry 1721-1750+?8
Church Warden 1721-1723
Church Warden 1729-1730
Church Warden 1748-1749

Jean Chastain, son of Pierre Chastain9
Vestry 1722-1753+?10
Church Warden 1723-1724
Church Warden 1733-1734
Church Warden 1740-1741
Church Warden 1745-1745
Clerk 1727-1753+?10

Isaac Salle, son of Abraham Salle, Sr. and brother to Guilliame Salle who married Pierre Chastain's Daughter, Mary Magdalene Chastain about 1740.
Vestry 1729-1730/3111
Church Warden 1730-1730/31

Guilliame Salle, son of Abraham Salle, Sr. Married Pierre Chastain's Daughter, Mary Magdalene Chastain about 1740.
Vestry 1731-1750+?8
Church Warden 1731-1732
Church Warden 1738-1739
Church Warden 1743-1744

David LeSeuer, married Pierre Chastain's Daughter, Elizabeth Chastain in 1732 or 1733. He was a late-comer to Manakintown, having immigrated alone as a young man. In 1736, he was listed as a constable.
Vestry 1733-1750+?12
Church Warden 1734-1735
Church Warden 1740-1741
Church Warden 1746-1747

Rene Chastain, youngest son of Pierre Chastain. This places three Chastains on the vestry again.
Vestry 1737-1744?13
Church Warden 1737-38

Jean Chastain, Jr. son of Jean Chastain. He is a third generation Chastain vestry member.
Vestry 1748-1750+?12
Church Warden 1748-174914

  1. He was on the first vestry, which may have been established in 1700, but more likely in 1701.
  2. Pierre was not on the vestry list at the end of December, 1707, when the records begin. We do not know when he left the vestry.
  3. Pierre Chastain died in late 1729, but he does not appear in vestry meetings after 1727, though there was no mention of his being replaced.
  4. There may be gaps in his vestry service between 1701 and when the records begin in late 1707. We are assuming no gaps.
  5. Jacob Amonnet was the father of Charlotte Judith Amonnet who married Jean Chastain in 1726.
  6. Jacob Amonnet is last listed in attendence on the vestry on July 18, 1730, though there is no record of his resignation. His last mention on the tithables list is 1731, so he seems to no longer be in the community - probably deceased.
  7. Jacque Soblet was replaced as clerk in September, 1727 and is not listed among the vestry after that date.
  8. He may have still been in office at the close of the record in 1750.
  9. At Jean Chastain's first vestry meeting, ten wardens and vestry were present; seven of those were Chastain-related in some way: Pierre Chastain, Jean Chastain, Jacob Amonnet, Estienne Chastain, Abraham Salle, Louis Soblet, and Jacques Soblet. Jean would have been 32. Jean married Charlotte around 1726. She was the daughter of Jacob Amonnet, a member of the first vestry and a player in the church fight incident.
  10. He was still in office at the close of the record of christenings in 1753.
  11. Isaac Soblet died about 1730; he was last listed in attendance on October 24, 1730.
  12. He was still in office at the close of the record in 1750.
  13. Rene is last listed in attendence on the vestry on January 7, 1744, though there is no record of his resignation.
  14. This Church Warden seems to be Jean, Jr., though it is possible it is his father. One entry for this year is signed as usual by Jean Chastain the clerk, and immediately below are the signatures of the Church Wardens, including John Chastain. It was not uncommon for new vestrymen to be voted in as wardens. Perhaps the older vestrymen knew how much work it involved! By the way, this John Chastain is not the same as Rev. John Chastain, the son of Pierre Chastain, Jr. Rather they are first cousins, though Rev. John Chastain was not raised in Manakintown, but farther west into the Virginia frontier.
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First Vestry Members

The list of members of the first church vestry is found in a letter from Abraham Salle, located on page 70 of R.A. Brock, Huguenot Emigration to Virginia, 1886, 1979 reprint.

Jacob Amonner
Abra. Soblet
Jacques Brousse
Louis Outartre

Jean Guerin
Jacque Lacaze
Abra. Remy
Andre Aubrey

Pierre Chastain
Jean Farcy
Jean Foniuelle
Abra. Salle

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Excerpts from Restored Vestry Minutes

During the church friction of Spring, 1707, the minister, Claude Philipe de Richebourg, erased the minutes of two vestry sessions, as they were very unfavorable toward him. After he left the church in 1711, the vestry included them again into the record. See Church Fight for the context of the church trouble. These excerpts are taken from pages 426-429 of the printed English translation of the Vestry Book of King William Parish, Virginia 1707-1750, 1988.

Incedently, this section refers to the old register of the vestry, so we know that records were kept in a separate volume prior the one which now exists, and these two entries are the only ones salvaged from that lost volume, unless the list of the origninal vestry members also comes from that work.

March 27, 1707 Excerpt

It was decreed that in the view of the indirect methods and the unusual and irregular conduct displayed at the sessions by Mr. Philipe, the minister, that Mr Ammonnet, vestryman, signify and protest in the presence of the congregation to the said S' Philipe that the arrangement and agreement which he has made with several parishioners is entirely disapproved by the vestry, being made contrary to the laws and customs established in Virginia and without the participation of the vestry, that therefor the vestry will make no order nor lay no tax for its payment.

April 7, 1707 Excerpts

Regarding the report which has been made us by Mr. Jacob Amonnet, that Sunday, the 30th ultimo, after the devine service, having wished to proceed to the reading of the declaration which we had made against the bad conduct of Mr. Philipe, Jacque Lacaze and some others, he was interupted by the said S' Philipe, who addressed himself to S' Reynaud, clerk of the church and of the said vestry, warning him with much heat that if he would not give over to him the book of christenings he would exclude him from communion...He declared publicly that he did not recognize any vestry and that the people ought not to recognize it. The above Jacque Lacaze, Michel Michel and several others opposed the reading with an uproar and extraordinary confusion, tending to bring about dangerous trouble...when Abra Salle commanded them in the name of Her Majesty, saying this was neither the place nor the occasion, the said Michel approaching the said S' Salle with much rage and in a threatening manner. This was done and transpired in our presence, and we attest thereto.

The vestry posted a note stating that they were surprised upon investigating the minutes of the old register to discover two entries that had been erased by Claude Philipe de Richebourg, those being the two entries of March 27 and April 7, 1707, which were subsequently restored to the new register sometime in 1711. In addition to vestry members, the note was signed by the new minister, J. Cairon.

The same combination of one warden and seven vestry were in attendence at both of the erased meetings: Church Warden Andre Aubrey; vestrymen Jacob Amonnet, Abraham Sobler, Francois Ribot, Jean Fonuielle, Jean Farcy, Louis Dutartre, and Abraham Salle. Compared to the the list we first encounter in the second register, on December 20, 1707, the missing persons are Abraham Soblet (warden), Gideon Chambone, Jean Maseres, Timothee Moret, Pierre Massot, and Anthoine Trabue. However, rarely do the vestry meetings have all the players in attendence, so there is no need to speculate that the missing vestrymen were in sympathy with de Richebourg. In addition there was likely an election between the April 7 and December 20 meetings as in December, the church wardens were Abraham Soblet and Louis Dutartre, while Andre Aubrey was simply a member of the vestry. Francois Ribot was not in attendence at the December meeting, so he may have been elected afterward or have been simply absent.

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Excerpts from Abraham Salle's Response to Accusations

These excerpts are taken from pages 69-71 of Brock, Huguenot Emigration to Virginia, 1886. An on-line version is also available. Paragraphing has been added for easier reading. See Church Fight for the context of the disagreement.

To the Honourable Presid't and Council:

Sept. 2d, 1707

The answer of Abraham Salle to the Petitions of Mr. Philipe, humbly Sheweth,

That whereas the s'd Philipe Complained that I affronted him on the 30th day of March last, while he was in the Pulpit, by calling him seditious, and the cheif of ye seditious, I beg leave to represent to your honnors the whole fact as it happened...

When Mr. Philipe had finish'd the service of the day, he continied in the Pulpit as his custom is where there is any Parish business to be done, the first thing he did, was to demand the Register of Christenings to be delivered up to him out of ye Clerk of the Vestry's hands, and in case he refused to do it, he would excommunicate him...I assur'd him that the Vestry had no intention either to encroach upon his Rights or to give up their own, and therefordesir'd to inform themselves more fully of that matter;

Upon this, he flew out into a gretter pasion than before, and frankly told us that he acknowledg'd no Vestry there was, neither would he have the people acknowledge any...sevarol of his party, and particularly Lacaze and Michel, stood up, and in the Church took the liberty to utter many injurious things against me; and the last prest thro' the whole congregation to get up to the place where I was, and then catching me by the coat, he threatened me very hardly, and by his Example, several of the crowd were heard to say, we must assassinate that damn'd fellow with the black beard, and that Bougre de Chien ought to be hanged up out of the way...

I thought it prudent to withdraw, and when I came to the Church door, I told Mr. Philipe 'twas visible that he had fomented that sedition, and therefore was a seditious person, and even the Chief of the Seditious. This is the naked fact as it happened, which I am ready to prove to your honours by sufficient testimony.

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