Fort Chastain

Updated
07-07-07


Fort Chastain, named for Georgia pioneer Benjamin Chastain, was one of a number of Cherokee Removal Forts, erected in the 1830's as stockades for rounding up the Cherokee prior to their removal to what is now Oklahoma.

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Benjamin Chastain

Fort Chastain


Benjamin Chastain

Benjamin Chastain was an early settler in North Georgia, and he and his sons were quite involved in Georgia politics. Benjamin was a son of the Rev. John Chastain and was born July 6, 1780 in a section of western North Carolina that later became the state of Tennessee. This coincided with Rev. John's pioneering work of spreading the Baptist faith in that area. Rev. John moved his family to Pendleton District in South Carolina before 1790, and the young Benjamin went with him. Benjamin married Rebeckah Denton on January 30, 1798, and most of their children were born in South Carolina.

Benjamin moved his family into Cherokee territory in North Georgia by 1820. He served in the Georgia House of Representatives, representing Habersham County, in 1826, 1827, and 1831-1834. Habersham County was created in 1818. He moved to the Toccoa River as an Indian agent and opened the first post office in that area. His public service was the first of considerable political involvement by his family.

Of Benjamin's five sons, four served in the Georgia state legislature. Jeremiah S. Chastain served in the House of Representatives from Lumpkin County in 1839. He was also sheriff of Lumpkin County in 1842-46. John Bunyan Chastain served in the Georgia Senate from Union County in 1835, in the House of Representatives from Union County in 1851-1852, and possibly the Georgia Senate again from Fannin County in 1875-76, and 1877. Benjamin Franklin Chastain served in the Georgia Senate from Gilmer County in 1853-54 and from Fannin County in 1855-56. Elijah Webb Chastain was the only Chastain to serve in the national congress. He first represented Gilmer County in the Georgia Senate in 1840-43 and 1845-46. Then he served in the U. S. House of Representatives in 1851-55. The fifth son Jonathan Davis Chastain was Clerk of the Superior Court in Lumpkin County in 1834 and represented Gilmer County at the 1839 convention. However, his son Joseph Pearson Chastain seems to have been the representative from Gilmer County in the 1871-72 Georgia House of Representatives. These brothers were all first cousins to Alabama's Edward Chastain.

Three of Benjamin's sons and a son-in-law also followed him in Indian affairs by participating in the Florida Seminole War. Elijah Webb Formed a company to fight the Seminoles and was elected Captain. He later became Colonel of a Regiment. Benjamin Franklin was Adjutant Major in General Nelson's Brigade. John Bunyan was a Captain in General Nelson's Brigade. James Kincaid, husband of Martha Chastain, also volunteered.

The Benjamin Chastain home on the Toccoa River is now under water. In 1930, a dam was built across the Toccoa River to create Lake Blue Ridge, which covers the site.

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Fort Chastain

We at Chastain Central were fascinated with the occasional references we found to Fort Chastain. However, there was unfortunately very little information on the fort. Most sources state that Fort Chastain was built somewhere in Towns County, Georgia and that the location of the fort is unknown. We now know this is not the case. Chastain Central was advised by Georgia historian Ethelene Dyer Jones that Fort Chastain was in what is now Fannin County, but was then Union County. She continues, "The fort was near the convergence of Star Creek with the Toccoa River in what became Fannin County. The site of Ft. Chastain was covered by the waters of Blue Ridge Lake. Benjamin Chastain, who was sent as an Indian agent, opened the first post office in 1837 in what later became Fannin County, called the Tuckahoe Post Office. The fort was named for him and he worked to help round up the Indians for the Trail of Tears. I did a good bit of research on this person, father of Elijah Webb Chastain."

Our further research turned up a detailed March 5, 2005 report, Cherokee Removal: Forts Along the Georgia Trail of Tears, by Sarah H. Hill that supports Ms. Jones' statement. This document was not yet available when Chastain Central wrote the original entry for Fort Chastain. It was produced under a joint partnership between The National Park Service and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources/Historic Preservation Division. Cherokee Removal adds additional detail to our knowledge of Fort Chastain.

"In anticipation of the 1838 removal, Ft. Hetzel was established in Ellijay and a military encampment was proposed for Union County 'near Chastain's.' Commanders of both posts were to report to the headquarters of the Eastern Command at Ft. Butler in Murphy, North Carolina. Cherokees from Ellijay and Union County were rounded up by the militias and marched along the Unicoi Turnpike to Ft. Butler, and then on to the internment camps in Tennessee." (p. 14). The Chastain of "near Chastain's" is further identified as Benjamin Chastain on page 46. Ms. Jones indicates that this was the Benjamin Chastain who was father to Elijah Webb Chastain, and thus places him solidly in known Chastain history and genealogy. The report puts Chastain's place on the east side of the Toccoa River, but indicates that archeological studies of the site are not possible because a dam was built across the Toccoa River in 1930 and created Lake Blue Ridge which covered the place where Benjamin Chastain lived (p. 46). Can you say: O Brother Where Art Thou? A 1838 Memoranda of Routes in the Cherokee Country includes the route from Ft. Hetzel to Chastain's and Ft. Butler. The commanding officer at Ft. Butler was Gen. Eustis (p. 20).

The most extensive information on Fort Chastain is found in a passage dedicated to the "Encampment at Chastain's (Blue Ridge, Union County)" on pages 46 and 47. Note that throughout the report the site is referred to as an encampment rather than as Fort Chastain. This may be quite accurate, as Chastain's is listed on page 22 as one of five posts that were not fortified. In fact, page 47 states that there is no record of any construction at Chastain's Encampment, and that the circumstances of the camp make significant construction unlikely. The late arrival of the militia there makes barracks unlikely, and there was no need for stables since the militia was infantry. Storage facilities would be necessary, but the report speculates that they may have used Benjamin Chastain's buildings for that.

The Chastain encampment may have been an afterthought. It does not appear to have been suggested until the process of rounding up the Cherokee was well underway. The first round up operation took place on May 26, 1838, and the earliest mention of Chastain's was on May 11, when three companies were ordered to go there. The encampment got a late start, and ran into considerable difficulty. One of the biggest problems was the incompetence or indiligence of the commander, Lt. Col. Benjamin Camp. In early June, "quartermaster Bush wrote that the commander was drunk, absent half the time, unable to command, and had so offended the soldiers at Ft. Buffington that they had 'presented their muskets at him.' He also pointed out that the companies did not march until the middle of the day and had already run out of rations." A cavalry party was sent to arrest Lt. Col. Benjamin Camp, and rations were apparently sent in. However, the round up of the Cherokee took only 20 days. General Scott received a June 15 report that there were no Indians left in Georgia (p. 23). Two days later, "on June 17, Eustis ordered two of the three companies to Ft. Wool and the following day he proposed sending Capt. Peake back to Chastain's to relieve the third." (p. 47). So the encampment seems to have been short-lived as well as starting late in the program, existing perhaps for only about a month.

Cherokee Removal is extremely valuable, but some information seems erroneous. Page 2 indicates that the site is submerged by Lake Allatoona, which is many miles away, instead of Lake Blue Ridge as properly stated on page 46. In addition, page 22 inexplicably places Fort Chastain in Towns County against all statements elsewhere in the document.

What is the reason for so many sources assigning Fort Chastain to Towns County? Perhaps it is partly due to the statement in Kenneth Krakow's much-quoted Georgia Place Names, "FORT CHASTAIN, Towns County. Was established for the handling of Indians as at Fort Cedartown (q.v.). Derivation of the name is not known" (p. 81). But why Towns County, when it was in what is now Fannin County? The encampment predates both Towns and Fannin Counties. At the time, it was in Union County. Fannin County was formed in 1854 from parts of Union County and Gilmer County to the west. Towns County was formed in 1856 from parts of Union County and Rabun County to the east. Since the site was originally in Union County, this may be a source of early confusion.

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