Rev. John Chastain


Pioneer Baptist * Patriot * Patriarch

Oolenoy Baptist Church MarkerRev. John Chastain was a player in the explosive growth of the Baptist movement which began in the mid-1700s; he was also a patriot of the Revolutionary War, recognized by the DAR; and because of his many children and grandchildren, he is ancestor to a great many Chastains.


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The Baptists
Sinking Creek Baptist Church, Tennessee
Oolenoy Baptist Church, South Carolina
Revolutionary Patriot
Family Patriarch
A Rev. John Memory
Notable Descendants
Rev. John's Will
Illiterate Preachers
Late Obituary
Major Sources
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Rev. John "Ten Shilling Bell" Chastain
(ca 1743 - 1805)


John Chastain was born about 1743 in the Huguenot settlement of Manikin, Virginia that his grandfather Dr. Pierre Chastain helped establish. John was a third generation Chastain; his father was almost certainly Peter Chastain, Jr., son of Pierre Chastain, the immigrant. Unfortunately, Buckingham County, Virginia records were destroyed in 1869, so the only child of Peter, Jr. that is absolutely certain is Rene, who is often designated in Buckingham documents as the son of Peter to distinguish him from his cousin, Rev. Rene Chastain who lived in the same area.

There has been much discussion among researchers about Peter's possible children, and a number of lists have been proposed. The most definitive Chastain genealogy, Pierre Chastain and His Descendants (PCD), lists ten progeny, but titles them as Known or Speculated Children. However, Rev. John appears in every list, including Cameron Allen's early list of only three: James, John, and Rene. The evidence for Peter, Jr. as John's father is very strong and is the consensus of researchers. There is only one discordant voice; one of the earliest Chastain researchers, James Garvin Chastain, assigns Rev. John to Peter's older brother, John (Jean) as: (6) John ("Ten Shilling Bell"), b. 1740, d. 1806. Rev. John's HeadstoneHe gives no reason. Perhaps he confuses Rev. John with Jean's son, Jean, Jr. (John, Jr.), who was born in 1721 and died around 1807. Although James Garvin Chastain provides us with much valuable genealogical information, he made a number of such errors as often happens in pioneering research.

John married Mary O'Bryan (ca 1765-ca 1797) from Ireland around 1763, and they had 11 children who survived to adulthood. After Mary O'Bryan died, John married Mary Robertson (ca 1759-1847). In the early nineteenth century, many of John's descendents and collateral relatives occupied the Cherokee lands of North Georgia, abandoned when the Cherokees were forced to march to Oklahoma. There has been a high concentration of Chastains in this area since that time.

John died in Pendleton District (later Pickens County), South Carolina in 1805. According to PCD, he is buried next to his first wife, Mary O'Bryan. The site is west of Greenville, Couth Carolina, three miles south of Table Rock and two miles north of Pumpkintown. Their graves are 200 yards west of the mill on Carricks Creek which flows south into the Oolenoy River. His will is interesting in that he signed with his mark, suggesting that he was illiterate. This is in contrast to his grandfather, who was quite educated, and to his cousin, Rev. Rene Chastain, who was raised in the same area as John, but was literate non-the-less.

John's descent from Pierre is:
  1. Pierre Chastain
  2. Peter Chastain, Jr.
  3. John "Ten Shilling Bell" Chastain

The Baptists

Pierre helped establish the Anglican (Episcopalian) Church in Manakintown. It was the official church of England and of Virginia colony. However, John broke with his grandfather's Church. He and his brother James Chastain, along with their cousin, Rene Chastain, and their brother-in-law, James Edens, were pioneers in the explosive growth of the Baptist movement after the mid-eighteenth century. John's preaching voice was so clear that he was nicknamed Ten Shilling Bell, after the purest, clearest-sounding bell available. It is said that Rev. John's preaching could be heard more than a mile away.

One of the leaders of the Baptist movement was Shubal Stearns, who had been converted under the preaching of George Whitefield. Stearns came briefly to Virginia from Connecticut in 1755. He moved on to the central part of North Carolina and organized the Sandy Creek Church, which he pastored for the rest of his life. The Sandy Creek Church soon grew to over 600 members and became the center for dynamic growth of Baptist churches in Virginia and the Carolinas as evangelists, including Stearns, traveled, preached, and planted Baptist churches. In January, 1758 the Sandy Creek Association was established to serve these churches, and for twelve years all the Separate Baptists in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina were members of this Association. After 1770, the area of Virginia south of the James River experienced wave after wave of revival with many Baptist churches planted amid great persecution.

Sinking Creek Baptist Church, Tennessee

The influence of Sandy Creek extended to Georgia and was felt in what would soon be Tennessee as Baptists moved into western North Carolina. An entire group of Sandy Creek members established a congregation at Buffalo Ridge in 1779 pastored by Tidence Lane, who had been converted under Stearns. When the Holston Association was formed in 1786, Lane was the first Moderator, and another of Stearn's converts, William Murphey, was Clerk.

Sinking Creek Baptist ChurchHowever, John Chastain seems to have preached and lived here with his family periodically from 1772 until at least 1782, when he received a grant of 400 acres on Little Creek. The website of the Sinking Creek Baptist Church in Johnson City, Tennessee states that it is the oldest church of any faith in the state of Tennessee, founded in 1772, with Matthew Talbot as its first pastor. John Chastain was co-founder of Sinking Springs Baptist Church, along with Matthew Talbot. Carter County, Tennessee history says:

Sinking Creek Baptist Church is the oldest church in Tennessee. It was organized about 1772 in Washington County (now Carter County) and is the oldest church in Tennessee still in existence at its original location.

About December 20, 1772, John and James Chastain, Baptist preachers from Virginia, came to the Watauga Settlement to visit their sister who was the wife of James Edens Sr. On December 25, 1772, in a tenant's house on the property of Charles Robertson, near the location of the church, the Chastain brothers began a great revival. This may have been the first assembly that met to worship God in what is now the state of Tennessee.

Matthew Talbot abandoned the Anglican Church to become a minister in the new Baptist movement in Virginia. His close neighbors included James Edens, brother-in-law and close companion to Rev. John Chastain. A Baptist minister, himself, James Edens became the second pastor of the Sinking Creek Baptist Church. A big event in the history of Sinking Springs Church was the 1778 revival brought by Rev John Chastain and his brother Rev. James. After the revival, the church had to be rebuilt and enlarged. MAP

Oolenoy Baptist Church, South Carolina

Oolenoy Baptist Church Marker: click to enlargeOolenoy Baptist ChurchThe movements of the Reverends John and James Chastain correlate closely with Stearns' influence and the spread of the Baptist movement in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Tennessee. John moved his family to Pendleton District, South Carolina and pastored the Middle Saluda church for a number of years beginning in the late 1780s, then he helped in founding the Oolenoy Baptist Church in Pumpkinville in 1795, of which he was the first and long-time pastor.

Chastain researcher Bill Fenn suggests that Rev. John was encouraged to establish the church by the Keith Family. This seems corroborated by Donald Daniel who says that "Three of the Keith brothers left Pickens County, South Carolina to fight in the Revolutionary War and after the war found wives in Virginia and North Carolina and settled in those states. In the late 1790's they came back to Pickens County, South Carolina to be with their father, Cornelius and siblings. In 1795 the brothers donated the land for the founding of Oolenoy Baptist Church."

According to Pumpkintown, Cornelius Keith was the first settler in the area. He, "came down from Virginia in 1745 [most records indicate 1743--Chastain Central] with his wife and daughter. At that time, the Indians had a small village nearby named UWharrie. Cornelius traded one of his ponies with this village's chief, Woolenoy, for a piece of land he could call his own." As noted, several of his sons were Revolutionary veterans. Cornelius Keith (d. 1808) is perhaps the most prominent person buried in the Oolenoy church cemetery. The cemetery was listed in the National Register on October 14, 2003.

The communion table and pulpit used by Rev. John in the Oolenoy church can still be seen. Baptisms were performed in Oolenoy River. Unfortunately, early records of Oolenoy Baptist Church were destroyed in a fire at the home of Mr. Jesse Simmons during his tenure as church clerk (1856-1867), so much detail of that time is lost. Gwen Skelton states that Rev. John also founded the Holly Springs Baptist Church not far from Pumpkintown, and John's gravestone states that he founded the Cross Roads Baptist Church.

An historical marker was erected in 2001 by the Oolenoy Baptist Church Bicentennial Project. The front side reads:

39 7
This church, named for the Cherokee
chief, Woolenoy-the spelling was
changed to Oolenoy in 1827-was
organized in 1795 by Rev. John
Chastain, who became its first
minister. By 1797, with 50 members,
it was admitted to the Bethel
Baptist Association; it has since
been a member of the Saluda, Twelve
Mile River, Pickens, and Pickens-
Twelve Mile Baptist Associations.

To get to the Oolenoy Baptist Church from Pickens, South Carolina, take Hwy 8 North to Hwy 135 and turn right. Travel about a quarter mile to Oolenoy Church Road and turn left. The church is on the left. MAP

Revolutionary Patriot

Rev. John Chastain is recognized by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) as a patriot. He signed an oath of allegiance in Powhatan county, Virginia during the Revolutionary War. In response to a Chastain Central inquiry, the DAR replied: "A search of our Patriot Index provided the information found below."

Birth: VA Circa 1743
Service: VA
Rank: PS
Death: SC 31 Jul 1805
Patriot Pensioned: No Widow Pensioned: No
Children Pensioned: No Heirs Pensioned: No
Spouse: (1) Mary O'Bryan
Spouse: (2)Mrs Mary Robinson

Rev. John Chastain has been used by others as a point of entry into membership in the DAR. To pursue membership for yourself, your daughters, or sisters, see the DAR Website for instructions.

Family Patriarch

Three issues combine to cause multitudes of Chastains to claim Rev. John as their patriarch. First is the sheer number of his descendents. John had seven sons who lived to maturity and produced sons of their own. Together, they produced for John, at least 37 grandsons who lived to maturity and produced children we know about. This does not include a few grandsons whose descendents we do not know for certain. Thirty-seven grandsons can produce quite a number of additional Chastains in two hundred years -- and they have.

There is no way of knowing how many descendents Rev. John now has (there are likely thousands). Some of those who are known are found below. Each Chastain individual claiming descent from John must do so through one of his seven well known sons: Abner, John, Jr., Edward Brigand, Elijah, Benjamin, Joseph, or William. It is difficult to read Chastain history and genealogy without encountering some of these names. Of course, there are additional descendents through his daughters and grand-daughters whose last names are not Chastain.

The second issue that helps Rev. John to be a legitimate patriarch is that his lines of progeny are fairly clear. There is little confusion similar to that which surrounds the descendents of his brother, Rev. James Chastain. The third issue that establishes John as a patriarch is his significance in history. As a pioneer Baptist minister, he made significant contributions in both Tennessee and South Carolina, and he is a recognized patriot of the Revolution. In addition, his sons and grandsons moved en mass into the Cherokee lands of North Georgia, beginning in the 1820s, and had a tremendous impact on the development of the state of Georgia, which has the highest concentrations of Chastains anywhere. Rev. John Chastain is a genuine patriarch!

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A Rev. John Memory

James Garvin Chastain records this story on page 283 of his Huguenots:

My grandfather Rainey Chastain, near the close of his long life, stood on a pinnacle, so to speak, and looking backward for nearly 100 years, saw his grandfather, Rev. John Chastain, then turning and looking forward for nearly another 100 years, he saw me his grandson. The last time I was with him, not long before his death, he related to me the following incident:

This grandfather was very fond of children and easily made them love him. Little Rainey, three or four years old, was anxious to imitate his grandfather in everything. The old French preacher said to him, Get up early, go with me out to the spring, turn in your shirt collar, stick your head under the spout, wash all around your neck and up behind your ears, wet the top of your head." But when they went into the house, the grandmother, Mary O'Bryan, said rebukingly, "What you got this child all wet up this way for?" Her husband replied apologetically, "He wants to wash his head and neck and up behind his ears like I do."

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Notable Descendants

The Rev. John has many known descendents, far more than can be listed here. Among those we have chosen are some quite prominent Chastains and others whom many of you will recognize. Each listing includes the son of John through whom they descend.

Elijah Webb Chastain, (Benjamin) Attorney and US Congressman.
James Garvin Chastain, (Edward Brigand) Missionary, genealogist, author, centenarian.
Troy Green Chastain, (Abner) Fulton County Commissioner; namesake of Chastain Park in Atlanta.

Clark E. Chastain, (Edward Brigand) Finance professor and genealogist.
Doyle Chastain (John, Jr.) Current vice-president of PCFA.
Herschel Chastain, (Benjamin) Current librarian (with wife, Virgie) of PCFA.
J.D. Chastain, (Edward Brigand) Spouse of Carrie Chastain, current publicity chair of PCFA.
Jason Coward Chastain, (Edward Brigand) namesake of the Jason Coward Chastain Historical Society, the Jason Coward Chastain reunion, and the book Jason Coward Chastain and His Family.
Mary Avilla Abel Farnsworth-Milligan, (Edward Brigand) Genealogist.
Nelson Avery Chastain, (John, Jr.) Early Georgia land owner and deputy sheriff.
Judge Oscar Fitzallen Chastain, (Benjamin) Judge and member of Texas House of Representatives.
Susan Slape-Hoysagk, (Elijah) Current membership chair of PCFA and editor of The Chestnut Tree.
Troy Maxwell Chastain, (Elijah) Genealogist and past president of PCFA. His wife, Frances, is also descended from Rev. John, but through Benjamin.
Brothers of Chastain Central, (Elijah) Tim, Terry, and Tracy Chastain, owners and developers of the Chastain Central website.

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Rev. John's Will

In the name of God Amen

I John Chastain of the District of Pendleton and State of South Carolina Being in a low state of health but of perfect mind and Memory thanks be given unto God calling unto mind the Mortality of my body And knowing that it is appointed for all men once to Die do make and ordain this my last will and testament; that is to say, principally and first of all, I give and recommend my soul into the hand of almighty God that gave it, and my body to the earth to be buried in a Decent Christian burial at the Discresion of my Executors; Nothing Doubting but at the general resurrection I Shall receive the same Again; by the mighty power of God; and as touching such worldly wherewith it has pleased God to bless me in this life, I give, Devise and dispose of the same in the following manner and form --

First I Request that all lawful Debts be Satisfied

Item I Lend and bequeath to my beloved wife Mary half my land and half my mill and land together with all my Stock and housing furniture During her life or widowhood then to fall to my two youngest children Violet and William by name and a third Expected if they all live so Long as to enjoy them it shall be Divided between them So that my son William shall have the land and part of the mill as Mention'd above and the other two the Balance Equally Divided --

Item I give and bequeath to my beloved son Benjamin Chastain the other half of my land with one cow --

Item I give to my beloved son John Chastain half the mill and seat that is on my sd land with half of all the working tools --

Item I give to my beloved son Edward Chastain fifty acres of land adjoining where he now lives.

Item I give to my beloved son Joseph Chastain one hundred & Sixty Eight acres of land a part the said tract that my son Edward gets his fifty acres off.

Item I lend to my beloved Daughter Cloe what of my Effects she has in custody at present During her life then to fall to her Daughter Polly --

Item I give to my beloved Daughter Nancy one Iron pot that my son John has now in custody --

Item I allow the rest of my children to have no part nor parcel of my estate more than they have Recd.

And I do utterly disallow revoke & dis-annul all & every other former testament and appointing my two sons Edward & John Chastain as my Executors do rectify and set to order this my above will and testament Agreeable to the tenor thereof as I my self Likewise affirm this to be my true and Last Will testament and Disposal of my effects in witness whereof I have here-unto set my hand and Seal this 15th day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand Eight Hundred & three --

John X Chastain

Signed, Sealed & Delivered to the Executors in the presents of us --

Nathl. Reese
Abel Anderson

A true and correct copy. (seal)

I. J. Bailey,
Probate Judge.

In a post, Wm. W. McCollum states that in 1823 Mary Robertson Chastain relinquished 50 acres granted to her in Rev. Johns will:

On January 20, 1823 Mary Chastain, widow of John Chastain, signed a renunciation of dower that was recorded in the Pendleton District of South Carolina, although she actually resided at that time in St Claire County, Alabama. The land she signed away her interest in was 50 acres on Wooley Creek of the Saluda River, which John Chastain was living on at the time of his death. His provision for the land was that it go to his wife, Mary, during her lifetime or widowhood, then to their youngest son, William. The details of the document appear to allow William Chastain to sell the land to John Chastain Junior. William and Mary resided in Alabama at the time. John's residence was not stated, but appears to be South Carolina. The witnesses to the document were Peter Robertson and William Chastain. IN 1820 a John Chastain (spelled Chesteen n the census), age 16-26, and his wife, in the same age range, were recorded on page 45 of the Pendleton District census. On the same page were the Amos, Abram and Obediah Chastain (spelled Chesteen) families. I hope this information helps someone sort out their Chastain line.

See transcription of Mary Robertson Chastain's Family Bible in Chastain Historical Documents.

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Illiterate Preachers

An interesting phenomenon of American Christianity is the illiterate preacher. This should not be confused with the ignorant preacher, as many of these illiterates were well acquainted with the Bible and were clear in their theology. Within my lifetime, I have know of several of these illiterate preachers who could read nothing but the Bible! It was often considered a miracle, and was part of God's promise that "whom he called, he would ordain."

I suggest something less dramatic: focused application toward an intense goal. Of the two such men with whom I am most acquainted, one had his wife read the Bible to him constantly; the other acquired the Bible on LP. In both cases, the illiterate preacher became a constant student of the Bible-aloud and visually. Subsequently, they were able to read the Bible directly, without the outside props. In my opinion, they could have gone from there to read general literature, but that usually was outside their objective.

We learn reading and writing together, but since the dynamics of reading and writing are not exactly the same, it is possible for a preacher to read the printed Bible aloud with accuracy and still not be able to write his own name. Note that Rev. John signed his will with his mark.

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Late Obituary

In 1858, more than 50 after Rev. John's death, The Twelve Mile River Baptist Association asked a committee to produce an obituary of their early pioneer, John Chastain. It is apparent that they had little original material to help them. A lot of scriptural filler and general information was used. However, there may be a memory preserved about a time when the established Virginians planned to punish him by whip; instead, John was endowed with power from on high and enabled to speak with more boldness. His persecutors paused, one fell prostrate, and the whipping did not occur. The is was undoubtedly a common confrontation in Royal Virginia. See a similar story involving John's cousin, Rev. Rene Chastain.

It is said that his favorite baptismal song was "When John, though a man, baptizing began..."

Twelve Mile River Baptist Association 1858 REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON OBITUARIES

DEAR BRETHREN: In obedience to a resolution of our last session, we present you with a few incidents of the life of Elder JOHN CHASTAIN, the pioneer Baptist of the mountain part of our State. We have laboured under great disadvantages from the long lapse of time since his death. Our only chance to gain any living testimony of him has been from aged fathers and mothers, giving their youthful recollection of him; and the high estimation in which his memory is still held by them, is one proof of his greatness, and the well authenticated tradition which has been preserved in the recollection of friends. The subject of this notice was born in Virginia in [1743]. Little of his ancestry is known to us; yet it is known that they were subjects of severe persecution. Some of us well recollect hearing the aged H. POSEY, more than twenty years ago, treating on the persecution of Saints, and thanking God for that Providence that directed them tot his country, from whom so many faithful faithful ministers have sprung. At what age the subject of this memoir embraced religion is unknown to us; yet it is known that he did so in his youth, and like Paul, he did not confer with flesh and blood, but boldly preached a crucified and risen Saviour, though contrary to the decrees of kings and statutes of Colonies, but with the zeal of the primitive Christians, chose to obey God rather than man; yet ascribing all the work to the grace of God in him. His faithfulness, zeal and ability drew many to attend his ministry. Yet, strange as it now may seem, this course of procedure gave offense to the established ministry, yet not so strange when we learn that they were supported by legal taxation and gave themselves up to sporting and amusements. Many of them for these propensities are by the Rev. Cannybers of England, well described Nimrods, ramrods and fishing-rods. Their craft was endangered, and young CHASTAIN must be put down. They first tried threats, but his conscience said wo, is me if I preach not the Gospel. When they found that would not do, they, like the old man in the fable, concluded to try more weighty arguments, and see what effect stripes would have on him. - But glory to God for his protecting grace, in this they were disappointed: As he was preaching one day in a grove, his persecutors approached him to put their threats into execution. To use his own language, he was endowed with power from on high, and was enabled to preach with more boldness. His persecutors paused, and one of them soon fell prostrate, and like Paul their whipping propensities left them. About 1778 Elder Chastain left that country and the next place we find him is in the upper part of Greenville preaching at the Middle river Church. From thence he removed to the Oolenoy creek in Pickens District, where he spent a great part of his successful ministry, and her our living testimony begins. In his successful labors in building up Churches, and bringing sinner to the knowledge of the Saviour, Oolenoy and Cross road churches of our Association are the fruits of his ministry. And the most of our acquaintance with him are in their bounds. His ministry is described as being of a high order, doctrinal, practical and experimental, and oft times accompanied by the quickening of the spirit, and from his clear ringing voice he was well known by the [cognomen] of the ten shilling bell, and he never appeared more in his right element than when the fruits of his labors made a profession of their faith by relating an experience of grace, and then marching to some convenient water to be immersed, which he always conducted with great solemnity and decorum, usually singing this favorite song:

"When John, though a man, baptizing began, Believers in Jordan, confessing their sins."

His mind was greatly taken up in keeping up the spiritual union of the Churches in his bounds.

His manner of life was plain and frugal. He had a small productive farm on which he spent his unemployed time in the ministry, laboring with his own hands for the support of his family. And here he spent his last days in peace, and fell to sleep in the arms of his Jesus in June 1805, and here his remains now lie, waiting for his renewed spirit in the morning of the [resurrection], when a reunion will take place and then he will join all the ransomed of the Lord in ascriptions of the praise for redeeming grace through all eternity. And may we not well break forth in the language of Balaam. "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his."

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Major Sources

Robert Leishman, Pierre Chastain and His Descendents, 3 volumes, 1995-2002, Pierre Chastain Family Association
Mary Avilla Farnsworth-Milligan, Chastain Kith and Kin, 1981, self-published
Bill Fenn, personal correspondence
Josh Powell, Shubal Stearns and the Separate Baptist Tradition, Founders Journal, Spring 2001, pp. 16-31
Carter County, Tennessee Genealogy
Oolenoy Baptist Church Historical Marker
James Garvin Chastain, A Brief History of the Huguenots and Three Family Trees: Chastain, Lockridge, and Stockton, (1932).

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