William Howell "Cobb" Chastain


William Howell "Cobb" Chastain


Cobb Chastain HeadstoneWe are working on a descendants chart for William Howell "Cobb" Chastain, our great-grandfather. We will post it when we have a satisfactory amount of information. Contact: Tim@chastaincentral.com with data on your family's descent from Cobb Chastain or stories about Cobb and his family.

Cobb was born in Georgia on May 20, 1850. He is a sixth generation Chastain, and his descent from Pierre is 1. Pierre; 2. Peter, Jr.; 3. John "Ten Shilling Bell"; 4. Elijah; 5. Edward; 6. William Howell (Cobb).

Cobb's real name was William Howell; Cobb was his nickname. He was probably named after the Georgia politician, William Howell Cobb. William Howell Cobb was speaker of the House in the United States Congress, Governor of Georgia, and Secretary of the Treasury under President Buchanan. He was a leading Unionist in the South, but once South Carolina seceded after the 1860 election, Secretary Cobb resigned his cabinet post and went home to Georgia to urge secession.

William Howell Chastain's birth in 1850 was before William Howell Cobb's Governorship and Cabinet position, so Cobb must have been a popular congressman (1843-1851) even before his rise in office. He became Speaker of the House on December 22, 1849, just five months before William Howell Chastain was born.

Cobb Chastain moved to Thorn Hill in North Alabama with his father, Edward, and his family in 1859, leaving some of his older married siblings in Georgia. The next few years were sad ones for the family. When the southern states seceded from the union and the Civil War began, Cobb's family in Alabama sympathized with the Union, while his brother, Martin, in Georgia fought in the Confederate army. When the Civil War started, Cobb was only nine years old. He was much to young to fight, but three of his older brothers did go to war. Martin fought for the Confederacy, while James and David served in the Union army. Martin and David both died from war related problems.

We discover from other research that this area of Alabama was indeed sympathetic to the Union and a haven for deserters from the Confederate Army. It was said that a number of Confederate recruiters entered the area and never returned. In 2002, Don Umphrey released a very novelized history based on records from his great-grandfather who lived in the area during the war and also had Union sympathies. Edward and members of his family are referenced several times. See Alabama Chastains in the Civil War.

Apparently, those sentiments persisted through generations. I recall my grandfather, Silas Chastain, setting me on his knee and asking, "Are you a Democrat or a Republican?" The first time I did not understand the question at all, but later when he asked other children the same question, I could coach them, "You had better say Republican." It was some years before I realized that everyone else in the south seemed to be Democrat, and I did not understand our Republican heritage until I learned about this pocket of resistance in Alabama.

The 1860 census has 10 year old Cobb in school. The 1870 census shows Cobb at 19 living with his widowed mother along with a 17 year old Simpson Ward. Both boys worked the farm.

The next year, Cobb married Clarissa Agileet Dodd. She was 15 years old unless they were married after her March 3rd birthday. However, their first child was born on October 8th of the same year, so they must have been married before March unless she had a "short" pregnancy. "Clirey" (or "Leety") was said to be a very large woman who did not leave home much because her size made it difficult to get around.

Census records state that he was literate, but a sample of his writing requesting a marriage license to be given to Martha's sister, Sarah, suggests that his literacy was incomplete: "Please issue to Sarer marage licens for my daughter MC Chastain if called on and oblige. Your friend, W. H. Chastain."

The community of Thornhill was rather small, and apparently most of the population was attached in some degree to the Christian Church there (now Thornhill Church of Christ). Cobb and Clara had a large family. A number of the children married siblings of the Bates family, so that our father, Robert, had many double-first cousins. Cobb was reputed to have a good Bible knowledge, but never joined the church.

Cobb farmed corn and cotton. The 1900 census shows that he owned his farm free. Most of his farm was in Buttahatchee Valley, though he lived in Thornhill within walking distance of the church. His son, Bill, lived about a half mile away, and Jim live about a mile beyond that. Cobb was also a fiddler, and was a popular player at local square dances that were held home-to-home. He would fiddle and his wife, Clirey, would "beat the straws."

When Cobb died, Bill bought the home, moved in, and rented out his old home. When Bill died in 1940, his wife, Emmaline sold the property. The Cobb Chastain homestead was destroyed when the land was strip-mined for coal. The earth was replaced, but of course the original features were obliterated.

In his later years, Cobb lived with his son, Silas, and Silas' wife, Lillian. Clara died in 1916. Silas and Lillian were devoted to Cobb, even though he began to wander off. It was Lillian's job to keep up with Cobb, and it was often exhausting. One day he disappeared, and in their search they crossed the creek and found a dead rattlesnake on the other side. Cobb had killed it with a stick.

Silas and Lillian were very protective of Cobb, but one day two of Silas' siblings persuaded him to allow Cobb to visit with them. Instead, they place him in a sanatorium without Silas' knowledge. Cobb died there about three days later on April 13, 1923. Silas was furious and did not speak with his brother and sister for many, many years.

Cobb and Clarissa are buried at the Cemetery of the Thornhill Church of Christ Church along with may other Chastains and Bates.

The children of Cobb and Clara are:

  • 1. William Edward (Bill), October 8, 1871; married Emmaline Haley
  • 2. James F. (Jim), October, 1873; married Zelia Louderdale
  • 3. Sarah E. (Betty), March, 1876; married Tom Green
  • 4. Martha Clem (Clem), June, 1878; married William Self
  • 5. Silas C. (Silas), September 7, 1880; married Lillian Bates
  • 6. Homer Lincoln (Homer), December 15, 1882; married Belle Bates
  • 7. Ally (Ally), June, 1885; married Fayette Henson
  • 8. Earnest (Earnest), December, 1887; married Virginia Bradford
  • 9. Lillie Pearl (Lillie), September 20, 1890; married Willie Bates
  • 10. Didmus (Did), December, 1895; married Oat Howell
  • 11. Maude (Maud), April, 1899; married Claude Bradford
  • 12. Harvey Emmett (Emmett), c. 1902; married Rhoda Morris

    We are interested in further information on any of these families. Contact: Tim@chastaincentral.com.

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