The Manakintown Huguenots


Huguenot CrossWhen the Protestant Reformation began in Europe in the early 1500s, many in France were receptive. Those who left the Catholic Church to become protestants are known as Huguenots. Due to intense Catholic persection, the Huguenots left France to settle in many places in the world.

One of those places was a new settlement in Virginia Colony called Manakintown.

See Huguenot Cross.

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The Huguenots
The Manakintown Community
Chastains in Manakintown
Migration Out of Manakintown
Daniel Cox Agreement for Settlement in Carolina and Florida
William Byrd Letter Promoting the Manakintown Location

The Huguenots

Three books give us tremendous insight into the early Manakintown community: R.A. Brock, Huguenot Emigration to Virginia, 1886, 1979 reprint (an on-line version is also available); Allison Wehr Elterich, The Diligence and Disappearance of Manakintowne's Huguenots, 1999, 2004 reprint; and Vestry Book of King William Parish, Virginia 1707-1750, 1988 reprint. Some of the information on this page and in our article on the Manakintown Anglican Church is distilled from these volumes.

Elterich begins his work with a quote from Hugh Jones, The Present State of Virginia, 1734:

Up the James River is a Colony of French Refugees, who at Mannacan Town live happily under our Government enjoying their
own Language and Customs.

This happy and peaceful scene was true in 1734, but the initial years of the settlement were far different.

Catholic Persecution

Martin LutherThe story of Mannakintown begins with severe religious persecution in France. The protestant reformation begun by the actions of Germany's Martin Luther in 1517 spread across northern Europe. Luther, loyal to the Catholic Church, felt that the Church had introduced many doctrines and practices that were contrary to the teachings of the Bible. His published writings and news of his conflict with the church over these items caught the attention of many who also believed the Church had gone off course in these matters. Luther and his listeners wished to reform the Catholic Church and return to Biblical standards, but when the Church continued to oppose the reformers, they left the Catholic Church and became Protestants.

John CalvinMany protestants were called Lutherans because they followed the ideas of Martin Luther. An early convert to protestantism was John Calvin, who became a great leader and theologian in the movement. His followers were called Calvinists, Presbyterians, Reformed, and in France they were called Huguenots. Calvin had tremendous influence in France as well in other places in Europe.

Though many among the aristocracy became Huguenots, the royal family did not, so from 1562 to 1598 there were nine wars between the two French factions. One of the most terrible events was the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre on August 24, 1572 in which an estimated 10,000 Huguenots were killed. The wars ended in 1598 when King Henry IV signed the Edict of Nantes, giving the Huguenots a bit of breathing space.

After Henry's death, however, the rulers of France progressively disregarded the Edict of Nantes, until it was finally revoked by King Louis XIV on October 18, 1685 in the Edict of Fontainebleau. Huguenots were now required to convert to the Catholic Church. Persecution of the Huguenots became intense, but they were not allowed to leave France, and armed detatchments were placed wherever it was thought that Huguenots might try to cross the French border into neighboring countries.

Louis XIVNevertheless, 160,000 Huguenots escaped, most leaving all their property and possessions behind, and they were welcomed in such cities as Amsterdam, Geneva, Berlin, and London. The Huguenots were among the most productive people in France. They tended to be skilled craftsmen and merchants, and the loss of so many productive citizens had quite a negative impact on the French economy.

There were so many Huguenots in England, particularly in London, that eventually concerns arose of overpopulation, underemployment, fear of attack by France, and charity being diverted from local needs to the Huguenots. The idea of sending Huguenots to help colonize America was one solution. Many Huguenots went to America as small groups or individuals, so they did not esablish separate communities, though there were concentrations in places such as New York, Massachusetts, and South Carolina.

Chastain is still a fairly common name in France, so there is no surprise that the Huguenots in England numbered several of that name. In addition to Pierre Chastain and Estienne Chastain who, though probably unrelated, both came to Virginia on the Mary and Ann in 1700, we know of Demeure Chastain (1685), Jean Chastain in London (1700), and Benjamin Chastain in London (1702). A Huguenot who remained in London and founded the London Stock Exchange was John Castaing.

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The Manakintown Community

The American Colony Solution

Huguenot Emigration to VirginiaIn 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 the King approved an area in lower North Carolina along the South Carolina line. King William also 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.

Several persons with interests in the English colonies competed in promoting specific locations for King William's proposed new settlement of French refugees. The two most persuesive were competitors Daniel Coxe and William Byrd. Daniel Coxe's plan won the King's favor, but the arriving Huguenots found a surprise waiting. Governor Francis Nicholson, in consutlation with Col. Byrd and Col. Harrison, decided that Daniel Coxe's proposed land was inadequate after all and decided to settle the incoming Huguenots on William Byrd's Manakintown tract. In a letter to the King, Nicholson used some of the same arguments put forth by William Byrd in 1689. (Brock, pages 251-253)

On April 19, 1700 the Mary and Ann set sail for the Americas, arriving at the James River on July 23. Once there, they learned that their destination had been changed from North Carolina to a place further up the James River in Virginia called Manakintown, an abandoned Indian village. 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.

Dire Beginnings

Title from the Front Cover of The Diligence and Disappearance of Manakintowne's HuguenotsThe timing and location were not good. Arriving at the end of the summer meant the Huguenot settlers would not be able to grow crops for the winter, so they would have to acquire food from the more established English. In fact, the next possible harvest would be more than a year away. Why the planners of the settlement did not think of this is very puzzling. In addition, the Huguenots were merchants and craftsmen, not farmers, and before being re-directed at Jamestown expected to settle in a more populated area where they could pursue their trades. The situation was complicated by the fact that though the new settlement was on the James River, as were the English settlements, the James was not navigable that far upriver due to a falls that stopped river traffic twenty miles below Manakintown. Therefore, supplies had to be carried overland, which was laborious and costly.

The city of Richmond now stands near the falls, but it did not exist at thet time. It was founded by the son of Colonel William Byrd, and was layed out in 1737.

Throughout the next few months, leaders at the French settlement and Virginia Coliny officials sent appeals to the English for assistance. Responses of charitable subscriptions was quite generous from the settled English, who were mostly near the Atlantic coast of Virginia, but was not enough to stabilize the group.

The second Huguenot ship, the Peter and Anthony, arrived October 6, 1700, followed by the third ship two weeks later. The Peter and Anthony added about 140 more people to the already stressed Manakintown settlement, but the passengers of the third ship, arriving on October 20, hearing of the difficulties in Manakintown, refused to locate there or to relinquish supplies intended for the community.

Yet, in a November 14, 1700 report, De Sailley and De La Muce were optimistic about the success of the French settlement if they could survive their current hunger.

We Judge it soe, because we wee y't some of y'm who have not been soe sick, and are already pretty well, are encouragement to others; and sevverall told they would...settle themselves at work if we could afford them bread to maintain and strengthen them, because they have been so long sick y't they are weak still, and they cannot hope to recover their health and strength in fasting; and so for ye present, their conditions being very poor, deserves his maj'tie's charity...because for want of lands upon Nanstsmund river, where they thought to be settled and set down by the Ship altogether w'th their goods without any charge, they have obliged to goe up about 150 miles into ye woods 25 miles from ye plantations, and to bear great and extraordinary charges for their transportation and of all their goods and victualls, besides the loss they suffered at James town by ye sinking of their sloop, where they had their goods lost...these 4 months, having been above 150 sick at once, w'th soe little help and assistance in a place where provisions are so scarce and dear, y't they have been forced for some small relief and supply to sell their arms, clothes and other goods after having spent what money they had. (Brock, pages 49-51)

A message, dated December 27, 1700, was drafted for the King by the Virginia Council meeting at the royal William and Mary college to discourage the settling of additional French protestans at Mannakintown.

It is the opinion and advice of the Council that it is for his majesties's service, and the Interest of this, his Maj'ties's Colony and Dominion, that his Excellency do represent in his Majesty the present state of ye ffrench protestant Regugess, and the poverty and disability of the Country, and to address his Majesty that no more of them may be sent in. (Brock, page 37)

Never-the-less, the fourth Huguenot ship, Nasseau, arrived on March 5, 1701, and about fifty of the 191 passengers went on to Manakintown, bringing the total number of settlers to about 330.

As minister Benjamin de Joux arrived in the contingent from the second ship, a power struggle erupted between him and Manakintown leader Marquis Olivier de la Muce. Finally, de Joux and his followers left Manakintown to settle a few miles away, but he continued to serve as Manakintown's minister. De Joux's followers were not the only ones to abandon the troubled community.

The number of inhabitants at Manakintown was also reduced through a sadder development. Due to the dire circumstances, quite a number of the French refugees died during the first year. Pierre and his elder son, Jean, and possibly baby Susanne, survived, but among the dead were Pierre's wife, Susanne, and three of their children. Jean would now be eleven years old. Little Susanne seems to have died young.

Better Times

William Byrd and other leaders visited the settlement on May 10, 1701, about a year after re-location.

Wee visited about seventy of their huts, being, most of them, very mean; there being upward of fourty of y's betweixt the two Creeks, which is almost four miles along ye River. and have cleared all ye old Manacan ffields for near three miles together...Indeed, they are very poor, and I am not able to supply y'm w'th Corne (they being about 250 last month), having brought up all in these two counties, and not haveing received one month's provision from all ye other Countyes...Tho' these people are very poor, yet they seem very cheerful and are (as farr as wee could learne) very healthy, all they seem to desire is y't they might have Bread enough. (Brock, pages 42-44)

Indeed, the situation did improve in Manakintown. In 1702 Francis Louis Michal, of Berne, Switzerland wrote of the settlement:

Things that are grown there in such abundance that many Englishmen come a distance of 30 miles to get fruit, which they mostly exchange for cattle. Gardens are filled there with all kinds of fruit...The country is full of game and fish...There are more than 60 [French] families there.

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Chastains in Manakintown

Pierre Chastain seems to have been a leader in the Manakintown communitly. His being a doctor would indicate that, as well as his associations with prominent persons and his land holdings.

It is thought that Anne Chastain, the wife of the second Manakintown church minister, Claude Phillippe de Richebourg, was Pierre's sister. De Richebourg was on the first ship with Pierre. Their being brothers-in-law was speculated early, and is now even more likely as we have learned that Pierre did indeed have a sister named Anne.

Pierre Chastain and his family were very involved in the establishment and leadership of the Manakintown Anglican Church. Pierre was on the first vestry (church council) about 1700, and over the next fifty years two of his three sons, Jean and Rene Chastain, and one grandsons, Jean Chastain, Jr., also served on the vestry.

Other members of the vestry, some of them quite influential, were connected to the Chastain family by marriage. Abraham Soblet was Pierre Chastain's father-n-law, and Soblet's sons, Louis and Jacque, were Pierre's brothers-in-law. David LaSeuer married one of Pierre's daughters about 1732, about the same time he began his vestry activity, thopugh Pierre had been deceased a few years by this time. Another vestry member, Guilliame Salle, also married a daughter of Pierre about 1740, during the time Guilliame served the vestry. This connected the Chastain family to the very powerful Sallee family of Manakintown. Guilliame's father, Abraham Sallee, was Justice of the Peace and also an influential, long-term member of the vestry. Isaac Salle, another son of Abraham Sallee, also served on the vestry. Vestry member Estienne Chastain may have been a relative of Pierre as well.

Susanna Chastain, another daughter of Pierre Chastain, married James Robinson about 1730. In the vestry book, James Robinson, sometimes designated as Jacque Robinson, is listed on tithables records from 1732-1738. Oddly, in 1734, 1735, and 1736, he is listed with 0 tithables. This is very unusual. The answer may be found on the 1736 list, where he is shown to be a constable. This is the only place in the entire vestry book that a constable is mentioned, but in it David LeSeuer is also shown as a constable, and he has no tithables. Apparently, constables were among those officers excempt from assessment.

Ten thousand acres were set aside for the Huguenots at 133 acres per family. The land was released in two groups of patents called the first 5,000 and the second 5,000, which was made available in 1710. Once the land was granted, the owners were free to buy and sell their land as they pleased. In a list of lands owned in 1727/8, many of the family acrages were reduced, most likely by selling or perhaps inheritance. The amount of land owned by most families ranged from 33 to 211 acres, but there were larger properties of 296, 402, 444, 582, and two at 909 acres. One of the 909 acre properties belonged to Estiene Chastain.

But the largest landowner of them all was Pierre Chastain with 1063 acres. His property was broken up soon after that, though. When his will was executed in November of 1728, the land, then 1154 acres, was divided among his heirs. His son Rene received the largest tract: 379 acres; Peter received 111, and Jean received 90. The four surviving daughters received 574 acres to be divided equally, which would be 143.5 each.

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Migration Out of Manakintown

The French Huguenots were not farmers when they first settled in Manakintown, but they became farmers of necessity. When the second 5000 acres were distributed to them in 710, the total of ten thousand acres was already too small for the families to expand their farms and for the upcoming generation to establish large farms of their own. Over the next few years, matters became worse as English settlers began moving toward Manakintown and surrounded the French area. Manakintown was no longer the frontier. Now, sons could not even get land near the outskirts of Manakintown. As a result, they began moving farther west into the new Virginia frontier.
Map Courtesy of Digital Map Store

On the map, below the large island off the coast of Virginia, you can see the mouth of the James River. Going upriver, you will see on the north side of the river a green county with a line pointing to the county name, James City. This is where the early English settlements of Jamestown and Williamsburg are. Following the river past Charles City County, you will come to Henrico County. The big red spot in Henrico County is Richmond, Virginia, but it did not exist at the time of the Manakintown settlement. Manakintown is along the western portion of the red spot of Richmond.

Around 1744, brothers Pierre Chastain, Jr. and Rene Chastain moved to the frontier area of Virginia that would later become Buckingham County. They were joined by their sister, Mary Magdalene, and her husband Guilliame Salle. On the map, you will find Buckingham county by looking due west of Richmond past Powhatan and Cumberland Counties. It was in Buckingham County where three third generation Chastains would grow up and become pioneer Baptist ministers: brothers John and James Chastain, sons of Pierre, Jr., and Rene Chastain, Jr., son of Rene Sr.

After the Revolutionary War, Chastains continued to migrate. Rene, Sr. moved on to South Carolina. Some of Pierre, Jr.'s grandchildren through his son, William, moved to Indiana. The families of Rev. John and Rev. James populated north Georgia. By 1840, there were only two Chastain families in the Virginia census.

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Daniel Cox Agreement for Settlement in Carolina and Florida

Several persons with interests in the English colonies competed in promoting specific locations for King William's proposed new settlement of French refugees. One of the key players was Daniel Coxe who offered land near the Appalachee Bay in Florida or a section in Carolina. A third proposal was an area near the Nansemond River in Virginia.

Excerpts of the May 2, 1698 indenture agreement follow.

Indenture made 2nd day of May, 1698, between Daniel Cox, in the Couty of Middlesex, Proprietary of Carolina and fflorida, on the one part, and Sir William Waller, Knight, Oliver, Marques de la Muceand Monsieuer Charles de Sailly, of the other part: Whereas a discovery being made of a region or Territory in ye parts of America between ye degrees of 31 and 36 North latitude inclusively...and also all those Islands of Veanis, Bahamas, and all other Islands or Islets there or neare thereto...Of this land Daniel Cox sells to the above nam'd parties 500,0000 acres...Dr. Cox also reserved for himself the selection of 2 or more places of Ports or Harbours, with a competent Tract of land adjoining; also stipulates for certain royalties on all mines, quarrys, or pearl fisheries discovered. (Brock, pages 52-53)

Dan'll Coxe

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Colonel William Byrd Letter Promoting the Manakintown Location

In the same year, 1698, Colonel William Byrd countered Coxe's plan by recommending the tract at Manakintown on the James in Virginia. Below are excerpts from his letter and his arguments. (Brock, pages 5-8)

Whereas, His Majesty has been pleas'd to refer your L'ps the care and Disposal of a Considerable number of French and Vaudoios Refugees that have had ye hard fortune to be driven our of their Country on account of their Religion, and some Proposals have been offered to your L'ps for ye sending 'em to a small Tract of Land lying betwixt Virginia and Carolina...I humbly conceive it will appear that Territory is upon no account so fit a Place for this small Colony as the upper Parts of James River in Virg'a...

1. Because that part of the lower Norfold claim'd by No., according to its name, for ye most part, low Swampy ground, unfit for planting and Improvement, and ye air of it very moist and unhealthy, so that to send Frenchmen thither that came from the dry and Serene Clymate were to send 'em to their Graves...on ye contrary, ye upper part of James River as good land and as wholesome as any place in America...

2. In that part of Virginia they will not be put to so many difficulttys and distress'd at the first Settlem't as of necessity they must in the dismal part of Carolina, Provisions being there much Cheaper and Assisstance of all kinds nearer at hand...

3. There is a Dispute betwixt the Government of Virginia and ye Proprietors of Carolina about the Tract of Land which they call Lower Norfolk...if there poor People shou'd go to settle there they would be under a perpetual Vexation, both from the Proprietors and from Virginia, and in a little time would grow uneasy under these and a hundred other hardships that those who surviv'd would be forct to disperse themselves into Virg'a and Carolina for which reasons 'twill save them a great deal of Inconvenience to wehd 'em directly to Virginia...

6. If these People shoul'd settle in the Fog end of N. Carolina under the proprietors, all our Criminals ans Servants wou'd run away thither for protection, as those of Maryland do to Pensilvania, and those of New York to ye Jerseys...

So I hope your L'ps, upon Consideration of all these particulars, will please to determine this matter in favour of Virginia, which prides it self on being ye most advantageous to ye Crown of England of all its Dominions on the continent.

W. Byrd

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