In the mid 1700s, there was explosive growth among the Baptists. Rev. Rene Chastain and his cousins, Rev. John Chastain and Rev. James Chastain, were in the forefront of this pioneer movement.
While John and James traveled around the south to spread the Baptist message, Rev. Rene remained in Virginia and was a stable influence among the new Baptist churches there.
Rene Chastain was born June 30 (or 28), 1741 in Virginia, a third generation American colonist. His father was Rene Chastain, Sr., one of three sons of Pierre Chastain, the immigrant, who survived to adulthood in the colonies. It is from these three brothers that most of us Chastains, Chasteens, Chesteens, Chastines, and perhaps Shasteens descend. Rene's mother was Judith Martin Gevedon, daughter of John and Margaret Martin, and widow of Thomas Gevedon before marrying Rene Chastain, Sr. in 1732.
When Rene, Jr. was quite young, he accompanied his parents as they moved deeper into the Virginia wilderness into what would become Buckingham County. In that situation, Rene had no formal schooling, but as one writer notes: "Though his education was much neglected, his morals were of the most unimpeachable character" [Taylor].
Rene Chastain, Sr. left Virginia in the late 1700s in a migration that resulted in the establishment of the Thomas County Chastains in South Georgia, but his son, Rene, Jr., remained behind in Virginia. On October 1, 1760, when he was 19 years old, Rene Chastain, Jr. married Anne Faure, daughter of Jacques Faure and Anne Bondurant. Rene and Anne had six children, all born in Buckingham County, Virginia: Magdalene Sallie (1761), Stephen (1764), Lydia (1767), Martin (1768), Elijah (1775), and Rhoda (1776).
Rev. Rene died in 1823, at 82 years old. His death was reported as the decease of "The Rev. Rainey Chastein" in the Richmond, Virginia Family Visitor of November 22, 1823. Taylor states in Virginia Baptist Ministers, "After an illness of five weeks, he calmly resigned himself to death, in the 83rd year of his age." Anne died in 1826. Both are said to be buried in the Buckingham Baptist Church cemetery, apparently in unmarked graves. but Cook (Little Otter, page 23), says Rene "is reported to have been buried in the cemetery of New Canton Baptist Church near Buckingham."
Rene is a heritage name among Chastains, sometimes spelled Rane, Rainey, Reny, or otherwise, so there are many Rene Chastains. Rev. Rene Chastain is sometimes confused with his first cousin of the same name, but who was the son of Peter Chastain, Jr., another son of Pierre the immigrant. They lived in the same geographic area in Virginia, they were both active in the community, and both appeared in local documents. The two Renes are often designated in documents to distinguish them with indicators such as A.B. Preacher (Anabaptist) for Rev. Rene, and SP (son of Peter) for his cousin. Of course, Rene, Sr. was a third Rene Chastain in the area to add to the confusion.
Just prior to the American Revolution, there was explosive growth among the Baptists. In 1770, Rene was converted under the preaching of Elder Christopher Clark, a leading Baptist minister bringing the Baptist message to Virginia. Rene began preaching almost at once, and became pastor of the first Baptist congregation established in Buckingham County, Virginia in 1771. In May of 1771, Rene was among a group of Baptist ministers from 12 churches who organized the General Association of the Separate Baptists in Virginia. Growth was rapid. The association grew to 54 churches in two associations by the general meetings in 1774.
Because it is said that Rev. Rene had little access to formal education in the area where he was raised, and emphasis is drawn to his being a hard-working farmer all his life, without much financial support from his church, one could conclude that he was a poor, ignorant farmer who preached on the side. Such is far from the case. Rene maintained a diary that shows him to be quite literate, though his spelling is sometimes non-standard, a common trait among the literate of the day. This is in contrast to his cousin, Rev. John, who sometimes signed with his mark.
The diary shows him to be more than just a simple farmer-preacher. He was a tailor as well, and derived continual income from that work. Most popular among the custom items he provided were broadcloth coats, broadcloth britches, and leather britches (he dressed the leather himself from deer skins). He also made silk waistcoats (vests), silk handkerchiefs, full suits, fur hats, and shoes. Rene was also a property owner. 1782 records show him with 300 acres, two slaves, six horses, and twelve cattle. He owned a mill as well, for which he sometimes hired others to manage for him.
Two early Baptist works contain valuable information on Rev. Rene Chastain and Buckingham Baptist Church: Robert Baylor Semple, History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptist Churches in Virginia, 1810, and James Barnett Taylor, Lives of Virginia Baptist Ministers, 1837. Chastain Central does not have access to these texts, and the quotes below are collected from a variety of sources, some of which are not identical in wording and punctuation.
Quotes from Semple:
It was not long before Mr. Chastain, their present pastor, commenced preaching. He has been their Pastor, their only one, from the beginning. Surely no people need ask to be more blessed in a pastor. Under him the Church has prospered almost uniformly . . . Under the prudent management of this venerable pastor, they have not passed through such severe conflicts as some other churches. Mr. Chastain is now an old man, and ripe for the crown that awaits him. As a preacher he is held in high esteem for soundness, simplicity and usefulness" (pp 215-16).
Rene had "...an incisive mind, and dedicating himself to his Bible, he became 'a man of one book' and mighty in the scriptures. He was spared to a long life of great usefulness and was held in sound esteem for soundness, simplicity, and piety.
"Minutes of the first separate Baptist association held at Craig's meeting house in Orange County, second Saturday in May 1771" record "Rane Chastain, Jr." as a delegate from "Buckingham, a new church" (p. 49).
"Buckingham, a mother church in the county of the same name, is one of the largest and most flourishing in the Appomattox Association."
Quotes from Taylor:
"Under the (Baptist) preaching of elder C(hristopher) Clark, (he) was awakened to the exercise of pungent conviction for sin . . . in August 1770 he was baptized . . . and immediately began to preach Christ to the people. In April 1772, Buckingham Church (Baptist) was constituted, at which time he was ordained. He was at once chosen their Pastor, and continued in this office as long as he lived, a period of 53 years." (pp 205-207). [Actually, Buckingham Baptist Church was constituted on May 7, 1771 -- Chastain Central]
"Though his education was much neglected, his morals were of the most unimpeachable character."
"By his churches he was tenderly loved . . . It was much to be regretted they failed to supply him such a support for his family as would enable him to devote more time and labor to their spiritual good . . . elder Chastain would sometimes say, if the Lord will keep me humble, the churches will keep me poor. And so it was, for he would often during the week be compelled to plough until the hour for public worship, and again return to the field. He could truly say his own hands ministered to his necessities."
"After an illness of five weeks, he calmly resigned himself to death, in 83rd year of his age."
Buckingham Baptist Church was founded on May 7, 1771. Rev. Rene Chastain became its first pastor, and he pastored the church for 53 consecutive years from 1771 until his death in 1823. Unlike his pioneer Baptist cousins, Rev. John "Ten Shilling Bell" Chastain and Rev. James Chastain, who traveled considerably in promoting the Baptist message, as long-time pastor of Buckingham Baptist Church he provided stability and was a continuing influence in the Baptist movement in Virginia. Buckingham Baptist Church became the mother church for many other congregations in the area. At various times Rev. Rene supplied regularly the Cumberland, Providence, and Mulberry Grove Churches. In the period just prior to the Revolution, he became involved in the Chesterfield County anti-Baptist troubles.
In a Tuesday, June 27, 2000 RootsWeb post, Janice Chastain Lund quotes from The Huguenot, published By The Huguenot Society of Manakin, Virginia.
The Gospel was first carried to Muddy Creek by Jeremiah Walker, Rene Chastain and others. T. Nargrett and Rene Chastain founded Wreck Island Baptist Church in 1784 with 45 members. Rene Chastain was the first pastor. Rene Chastain founded Union Baptist Church (Appomattox Association) in 1786. He was the first pastor. Rene Chastain served Buckingham Baptist Church. Rene Chastain was Moderator of the Association.
Buckingham, a mother church, in the county of the same name, is one of the largest and most flourishing churches in the Appomattox Association. The first successful preacher in these parts was Christopher Clarke. It was not long before Mr. Chastain commenced preaching. He has been their pastor, their only one, from the beginning. Surely no people need ask to be more blessed in a pastor. Under him the church has prospered almost uniformly. If they have had their wintry state, from which none are exempt, yet, under the prudent management of this venerable pastor, they have not passed such serve conflicts as some other churches. Mr. Chastain is now an old man and ripe for the crown that awaits him. As a preacher he is held in high estimation for soundness, simplicity and usefulness. Buckingham church joined the association in 1832.
Elder Chastain continued their faithful pastor until 1825 [actually, Rev. Rene died in 1823 -- Chastain Central], having served them for 53 years. His remains are in the family graveyard nearby, "with nothing over the grave to mark the sacred spot."
Wreck Island was first constituted at a place called Bent Creek in 1775. But, neglecting discipline, they declined, until 1784. They were re-constituted at the place called Wreck Island of Rock Island. Mr. Chastain then attended them statedly and they prospered under his care.
Elder Chastain was born in Powhatan County, Virginia, on June 28, 1741. Most of his life was spent in Buckingham where he served the church of that name for more than a half century. Cumberland, Providence and Mulberry Grove Churches also enjoyed, at times, his ministerial supervision. Like many other early preachers, he was in straitened circumstances, and much of his life spent between the plow handles. Still when dying in old age, he could say as his last utterance "I have made full proof of my ministry."
Just a few years after Rev. Rene's death, the Buckingham Baptist Church responded to the request from the James River Association that larger churches divide in order to establish new congregations. Buckingham Baptist Church established Liberty Baptist Church on September 14, 1838 with 100 charter members. The name was changed later to Mt. Zion Baptist Church to avoid confusion with another Liberty Baptist Church in the association.
The diary of Rev. Rene gives insight into the Buckingham Baptist Church membership. For one thing, it was a well-mixed congregation. Many of the church members were slaves. For a period of years, Rene recorded the admission of new members. Slaves were listed as James Age's Bluff, Robert Cary's Sisly, James Benning's Sam, and so forth. A report submitted in the late 1780s shows a membership of 139 with 22 white males, 46 white females, 2 whites of unknown sex, 32 black males, 34 black females, and 3 blacks of unknown sex. Therefore, there were 70 whites and 69 blacks, though it is not known whether all the black members were slaves.
Rev. Rene made notes to the names as they were removed from membership. Common notes were Dismist (dismissed by letter to another church), Gone, Dead, and Excum (excommunicated). Slaves were excommunicated for offences just the same as white members. Though most excommunications do not, three carry brief explanations:
The Church of England was the established church of England. That means it was the only official church, and all others were dissenters. It was also called the Anglican Church. The Anglican Church was supported by the taxes of all the people, regardless of their own church preference. The same was true in America, where the Anglican Church was the established church of some American colonies, including Virginia.
Chastains in America were no strangers to the Anglican Church. Though Pierre Chastain, the immigrant, left France to escape persecution from the Catholic Church against Huguenots who frequently established Presbyterian Churches, he came to America as part of a Huguenot community sponsored by England, and so helped found King William Parish, an Anglican Church instead. Pierre Chastain and His Descendants (PCD), volume 1, page 3, states that:
Pierre was one of twelve men elected to serve the first vestry of newly created Parish of King William about 1701. [Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (identified hereafter as "VMHB"), Vol. 32] He was elected again 25 August 1718. On 25 November 1718, Pierre Chastain and Abraham Sallee were elected church wardens, both taking oath of office on 18 December 1718. In April 1720, church wardens were replaced by Estienne Chastain and Pierre Louis Soblet, but Pierre continued on the vestry. In July of 1726, he was serving both as church warden and on the vestry. [VMHB, 12:28-30 and 12:376]
Pierre's older son, Jean, was also quite involved in the King William Parish Church in Manakin. PCD, volume 1, pages 9-10 show that Jean was serving on the vestry by July 30, 1722 and was elected one of the Church Wardens on April 16, 1723. Jean was elected Clerk of the Church on September 23, 1727 and held that position until 1750. Pierre's younger son, Rene, Sr., was elected Vestryman and Church Warden on September 23, 1737 and attended his last vestry meeting on January 7, 1744, apparently moving along the James River deeper into the Virginia wilderness soon after (PCD, volume 1, page 19).
However, many Chastains of the third generation abandoned the Anglican Church of Pierre, Jean, and Rene for the growing, dissenting Baptist movement in the 1770s.
After the Revolutionary War, the Anglican Church was no longer the established church anywhere in the new United States of America. The Anglican Church in America was reorganized and renamed The Episcopal Church, but there was quite an issue about how to treat the properties of the Anglican churches paid for by the taxation of all the people. Those of other churches wanted the Anglican resources sold and funds distributed to all as needed, while the Episcopalians wanted everything transferred to their denomination. The Virginia legislature accommodated the Episcopalians.
The action of the Virginia legislature prompted a number of petitions from the Buckingham County, where Tillotson Parish Anglican Church had been the established church. The first was the Petition of November 10, 1786 (see text below). The first of many names on this petition is Rane Chastain Min. On page two we find Rane Chastain [another], Stephen Chastain, Martain Chastain, and ranah Chastain. Other petitions followed on October 17, 1787 (including signatures by Rane Chastain Min, Rane Chastain, Martin Chastain, and Stephen Chastain), and on November 15, 1794 (including Rane Chastain, Stephen Chastain, and Joseph Chastain).
The argument of the 1787 petition was that the glebe lands should be sold and the funds either applied to the State debt or distributed among the citizens of Buckingham county. A glebe was land belonging to a parish, meant to produce revenues to help support the parish. A glebe-house was a rectory built for the parish priest, vicar, pastor, or rector. Glebe land was often farmed or rented out by the by the church rector to cover living expenses. The petition points out that there was no Episcopalian minister in the parish at all, and requests that the Episcopalian churches there either be sold or opened to all for worship, and that any properly licensed minister be allowed to preach in them.
The 1794 petition revisits the question of the glebe lands which were in disrepair. The petition ends:
And whereas the Minister in the Said Glebe has long Since dec'd & the parish hath been ever since without a Minister, & whereas the Buildings on the said Glebe are much out of repare, Your Petitioners Conceive that it will be productive of good consequences to Dispose of the Glebe Lands aforesaid before the Buildings thereon are Intirely Decayed,
Therefore your petitioners Humbly pray that an Act may pass to sell the Said Glebe Lands & apply the Money arising from the Sale thereof to the payment of our Parish Levies or any other Use that your Honorable Body may think propert.
The Buckingham Baptist congregation eventually acquired the building which had housed the Tillotson Parish Anglican Church (Church of England). There is an historical marker to this effect which reads:
F 56 Old Buckingham Church. The original or southwest wing of this structure was erected about 1758 as a church for the newly-formed Tillotson Parish. It was abandoned following the disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Virginia in 1784, and thereafter was acquired by the Buckingham Baptist Congregation, organized in 1771. It continues in use as the meeting house of the Buckingham Baptist Church.
The Buckingham Baptist Church still exists and it is said the original section of the Anglican church building is preserved. See Pictures of the Church.
In Colonial America, it was illegal for anyone to preach without a license from the church of England. Enforcement of this law was difficult and spotty. My 4g grandfather, Rene Chastain was a Baptist minister in Buckingham County, VA from about 1770 untill his death in 1823.
Buckingham was somewhat on the frontier at that time and the powers did not do much to enforce that law. But, in neighboring Chesterfield County, all the Baptist ministers were jailed for preaching without a license.
Rene received a message from Chesterfield asking him to come down and baptize some believers since all their local ministers were in jail. He got on his horse, went to the neighboring county, baptized the new believers in the river and then proceeded to conduct an out-door preaching service. When threatened by a bully with horsewhipping and threatened by the sherif with jail, he replied, "I am never tedious (long winded) - as soon as I finish, you can do what you want". Evidently, the sherif was a little nervous about arresting a minister during a service.
When he finished, the sherrif and the bully had both left, so he got on his horse and returned home. Shortly, thereafter, the sherif released the jailed ministers.
From Warren, Buckingham County, Virginia, pp 18-19
To the Honourable the Speaker & Gentlemen of the House of Delegates.
The Petition of the Inhabitants of the County of Buckingham, Humbly Sheweth --
That during the Continuance of the late Iniquitous and therefore Justly exploded establishment of the Church of England, all Denominations of Christians were Taxed for its particular Emoluments, whereby the Clergy were not only furnished with Annual Salaries, but large sums have been appropriated to the purchasing of Gleebe [sic] Lands, Parsonage Houses, Churches, Vestments, Plate, etc. for the use of the said Church,
that if it be unjust that one denomination of Christians be taxed for the Support of those who are of a different Persuasion in matters of Religion, as even the interested and the Bigoted (such is the force of Evidence) do Acknowledge; it is doub[t]less equally unjust to detain and Continue to Misapply what the Rapacious hand of Oppression has wrested from the Rightful Proprietor for the like purposes,
that your Petitioners conceive the Act for Incorporating the Protestant Episcopal Church which disposes of the property of every Denomination of Christians in the Common Wealth Indiscriminately to the use and the Benefit of the Episcopalians without the Publick Approbation and Consent is unjust for the above Reasons. --
Your Petitioners therefore move your Honourable House that the Premises may be taken into Mature Consideration and that order may be taken for the disposal of the above described Property the money arising from which to remain in each county to discharge the Parish and County levies.
1. Pierre Chastain Family Association, Pierre Chastain and His Descendants, volume 1
2. Warren, Mary Bondurant, Buckingham County, Virginia Church and Marriage Records 1764-1822, 1993
3. Doyle D. Chastain Website
4. Janice Chastain Lund RootsWeb Post
5. Marv Chastain Website