Jason Coward Chastain was born in Jackson County near Sylva, North Carolina. He went to the area along the Toccoa River in Upper Dial Community of then Union County (in 1854 this area became part of Fannin) and bought land and built his first cabin there. He returned to North Carolina where he married Mary “Polly” Rogers on Christmas Eve in 1840. They moved by covered wagon, bringing boxwoods with them to transplant at their new home. Her father gave Mary Rogers Chastain a slave named Isom to assist with the farm work. Jason and Mary had eight children, seven daughters and one son. As they prospered, Jason added to his holdings and buildings. He later built a fine ten-room plantation-type home which is still intact today.
Noting that Isom seemed depressed, his master found that it was because he had to leave his beloved named Leah behind in North Carolina. Jason went back, purchased Leah, the slave, and presented her to Isom for his wife. Jason and Mary provided well for them and treated them kindly. A story has been passed down about Mary baking fresh yeast bread and giving Leah’s children bread spread with butter and honey as they sat on her back porch steps. When the emancipation proclamation came, they wanted to remain at the Chastain farm because they had been so kindly treated. The black families did all eventually leave the Chastains and returned to North Carolina, but in 1896 some of Isom and Leah’s children visited Mary once again before her death.
One day a lamb was missing from Jason’s flock. A son-in-law felt he could find out where the lamb had gone. Suspecting Isom and Leah of stealing and killing the lamb for their dinner, Taylor Stephens slipped to their cabin and looked in at their window, expecting to see roast lamb on the table. Instead, he saw Leah, Isom and their children bowed in prayer and heard Isom praying for “Old Mastuh Jason and Ole Missey Mary, and bless Mr. Taylor and pretty Miss Mary, too.” No lamb was on the table, only the simplest fare. But in the hearts of the couple was gratitude for their blessings and prayers for their owner’s family. About three days later the lamb wandered back onto the farm.
Jason Chastain had a large farm, kept a store, had sheep and cattle, and was involved in church and community activities. A family cemetery on the hill back of his house has his monument bearing this epitaph: “I have been a soldier for the right.” In addition, these words are inscribed on his stone:
“Dear friends and neighbors,Indeed, in remembering several in the Chastain generations, we agree with Longfellow:
Come one, come all and see
Where the old man lies.
Then, dear children,
When you die
Be placed here by me
On this hill
Which God has formed.
So, on the Resurrection morn
We may rise in unison
And join that blood-washed throng
And abide throughout the cycles of eternity
In that clime of eternal bliss.
So mote it be. Amen.
“Lives of great men all remind usYes, the face of these mountains of Appalachia from Virginia where Pierre “The Immigrant” Chastain and his family settled, to these hills of North Georgia, he and his people have left giant footprints in the sands of time. As Union County poet Byron Herbert Reece wrote in his poem, “Choestoe”:
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.”
Yes, sprung from the hard earth,We have become cosmopolitan in the mountains. With our increasing population and changing culture, we should come to appreciate even more our legacy from hardy pioneers who carved out farms and built homes in a mountain wilderness. We laud their efforts to endow us with a sound work ethic and keen sense of responsibility for our environment, our family values, our religious ideals. With economic instability and political unrest, we need especially to learn from the past as we face the future. We need time to consider whence we have come and where we are going. I invite you, as does our mountain poet, Byron Herbert Reece, to take time apart and, as he says in this poem:
Nurtured by hard labor,
We know the names that built the fallen dwellings
Going to ruin in old dooryard orchards.
There is peace here, quiet and unhurried living,
Something to wonder at in aged faces.
These are not all I mean, but symbols for it,
A thing, if one but has the spirit for it,
Better, I say, than many rabbits dancing.
(published in “The Prairie Schooner, Spring, 1944)
In the Far Dark Woods Go Rovingc2011 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 29, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Whenever the heart’s in trouble
Caught in the snare of the years,
And the sum of the tears is double
The amount of youthful tears,
In the far dark woods go roving
And find there to match your mood
A kindred spirit moving
Where the wild winds blow in the wood.
-Byron Herbert Reece
from Bow Down in Jericho, 1950