Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pierre Chastain "The Immigrant" and His Continuing Influence

Elijah Webb Chastain, the fifth generation from Pierre Chastain, “The Immigrant” was noted as a military man, lawyer, and politician. He was the seventh of ten children born to Benjamin Chastain (1780-1845), who moved his family in 1837 and was an Indian agent in the area that became Fannin County, Georgia. Elijah Webb Chastain’s mother was Rebeckah Denton Chastain (1779-1872). This tenth child was born in Pickens County, SC September 25, 1813 and died in an accident in Murray County, Georgia on April 9, 1874.

His sixty-one years were notable. He married Clarissa Susan Braselton on June 18, 1838 and they had twelve children: Marian Josephine who married Dr. Judson Linton Rucker; Rev. Benton Forsyth Chastain who married Nancy Elizabeth Morris; Benjamin Perry Chastain (1841-1859); Georgia Anne Chastian (1843-186) who married Lewis Crayton Allen; Rev. Oscar Fitzallen Chastain who married Mary Zenobia Addington; Mary Jane Chastain who married John Sullivan Addington; Lewis C. Chastain (b/d February 16, 1848); Eugenia Virginia Chastain (1850-died young); Emma Maria Chastain (1853-1916) married William Dallas Smith; Judson Rucker Chastain (1855 -1920) married Emma Frances Greenwood; Ida Amanda Chastain (1858-1930) married Allen Burton Dickey; and Sidney Johnson Chastain (1860-1882) married Thomas A. Willson. Of the twelve children, nine lived to adulthood, married and eight of the nine had children. Descendants of the famed Elijah Webb Chastain are now found in a broad geographic distribution.

Elijah Webb Chastain was termed “Colonel,” receiving this designation because of his service in the Seminole War in Florida in 1838 and later his service in the Civil War. He studied law, as was the practice then, by “reading” law in the office of established lawyers. He was admitted to the Georgia Bar in 1849. He practiced in Gilmer and Union Counties and at the young age of 21 he made a memorable speech on July 4, 1835 in Ellijay, Georgia that was printed in area newspapers at the time. Gifted as an orator and persuasive speaker, this quality would be a complement to his political career. He was elected Georgia senator from Gilmer County and served in that capacity from 1839-1849. He served as a representative to the U. S. Congress from 1851-1855. Some of his speeches in Congress have been preserved: notably on Union and States’ Rights (1852), the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) and the annexation of Cuba (1855). He was a member of the Georgia Secession Convention and voted for Georgia to secede from the Union at a hotly-debated contest at the state capital in Milledgeville, Georgia on January 19, 1861. He resumed his military career at age 47 and was commissioned a Lt. Colonel of the First Regiment, Georgia Regulars and later of the Eighth Regiment, Georgia State Troops. He and Civil War Governor Joseph Emerson Brown were good friends. Many of Chastain’s Civil War letters to the governor on behalf of his constituents in North Georgia plead dire circumstances, need for salt, and rampant lawlessness from raiders and renegades. He was appointed by Governor Brown to serve as the state attorney for the Western and Atlantic Railroad in 1857-1861, a railroad very vital to the Confederate forces.

Following the end of the Civil War, Elijah Web Chastain returned to Fannin County where he continued his law practice and managed his large farm. On a legal trip to Dalton, Georgia in April, 1874, he was drowned in Holly Creek April 9, swollen and flooded from spring rains, as he and his friends Col. John B. Dickey and Senator John A. Jervis returned from Dalton, Georgia where they had pled for the Dalton-Morganton Railroad. His body was recovered the next day and burial occurred at the Toccoa Baptist Church Cemetery, Morganton, GA on land Col. Chastain had given to the church only a year prior to his death. The eulogy written by Congressman Hiram Parks Bell has been preserved and gives a lofty account of this man whom Chastain historians as well as Col. Bell and others term “the most prominent Chastain of all time.” His “magnetic personality…soldierly bearing…and aggressive manner drew him into the limelight and his magnetism and easy success kept him there.” So wrote James Garvin Chastain about Col. Elijah Webb Chastain in his “A Brief History of the Huguenots and Three Family Trees” (in The Chestnut Tree, February, 1974).

Next in our line of notable Chastains we come to a son of Elijah Webb Chastain, namely Rev. Oscar Fitzallen Chastain (1844-1906) [sixth generation from Pierre “the Immigrant”] and his notable wife, Zenobia Addington Chastain (1848-1907). We can hardly remember one of these without also recalling the other, for their careers and interests motivated them as a solid team for good. Zenobia Addington established an academy in 1868 in Morganton and was able to get funding for this mountain school from the Peabody Foundation. Oscar Fitzallen Chastain had served in the Civil War, as had his illustrious father. When he and Mary Zenobia, daughter of March and Amy Elizabeth White Addington, were married December 18, 1872 in Union County by the Rev. Thomas M. Hughes, Oscar was a clerk in a store in Morganton, the then county seat town of Fannin County. No doubt, Oscar had been attracted to the outstanding teacher of the school known as Zenobia’s Academy.

Morganton Baptist Association of Churches was organized in 1893. In 1899, the association took a bold step and organized the North Georgia Baptist College in Morganton, to be operated as a boarding school appealing to mountain students. “College” was a broad term, for classes were offered from first grade through all the grades, high school, and about the first two years of college. Zenobia Chastain, one of the best-educated women of the area at the time had graduated from a noted academy in Ellijay, Georgia headed by Professor M. C. Briant. There she had been instructed in history, the classics, mathematics, Latin and Greek. She was asked to come aboard the North Georgia Baptist College as a teacher. Her husband, Rev. Oscar F. Chastain, who had been ordained to the gospel ministry on May 17, 1884, was named business manager of the college. At one time, due to severe financial needs at the struggling college, the Chastains mortgaged their own farm and home to raise funds for operation of the school.

Oscar and Zenobia Chastain had three children, daughters Mariam, Mary and Nettie, all of whom preceded their parents in death. They took relatives and others into their home to board so they could attend the college in Morganton. In 1906 the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention began joint sponsorship with Morganton Association of the North Georgia Baptist College and named it as one of its “Mountain Schools.” Nearby Blairsville operated a similar school called the Blairsville Collegiate Institute from 1904-1930. Oscar Chastain died in 1906 at age 62 and his wife Zenobia died in 1907 at age 60. Their joint tombstone in Morganton Baptist Cemetery has this epitaph: “They loved God and their fellowman.” Many who went through the educational programs at Zenobia’s Academy and later the North Georgia Baptist College became noted teachers, lawyers, doctors, politicians and upright citizens. These two made a distinctive mark as their vision and hard work become reality. Theirs were noble lives, nobly lived.

[Next: Continuing “Learning from the Past, Shaping the Future” we will feature Jason Coward Chastain, another sixth generation descendant of Pierre “the Immigrant” Chastain.]

c2011 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 22, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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