Connie Chastain’s Family Heritage: A House Divided

Although Connie Chastain has changed the status of her Facebook group to closed, she continues to provide ample opportunity for readers of this blog to comment on her views … because she’s a frequent visitor and commenter here (it’s as if she’s never gone away).  Recently she brought attention to her Cherokee ancestry, much as she’s in the past highlighted her family ties to Elijah Webb Chastain, a member of Congress from 1851 to 1855.

There is, of course, more to the story.

Elijah W. Chastain’s father, Benjamin Chastain, was born in North Carolina, moved to South Carolina, and then moved again to Georgia, where he served in the Georgia state legislature intermittently between 1826 and 1834.  He also served as an Indian agent in the Toccoa Falls area.  Fort Chastain was named after him: it was established to assist in the removal of the Cherokee from Georgia along the Trail of Tears.  As one source put it, Benjamin Chastain “worked to help round up the Indians for the Trail of Tears.”

Connie Chastain delights in telling us of her Cherokee heritage.  But she’s declined to reveal the role of some of the members of her family tree in deporting other members of her family tree … or perhaps she never knew about it.  Now she does.  Who do you think you are, Connie?

This is what we call history, not heritage.

By the way, some family members suggest that another Elijah in the Chastain family had a Cherokee mistress.

Update: Connie Chastain’s reaction to this was to claim both that this did not bother her and that it took advantage of a painful family history … evidence that she just can’t make up her mind.  Then she tried to disprove it, but that didn’t work too well.  I note that she passed quickly over the following information:

In 1838 the Cherokees were removed from their lands in Georgia and marched along the Trail of Tears to be relocated in what is now Oklahoma. Their lands were made available to white settlers, and many Chastains took advantage of the situation. In fact, this area still has the largest concentration of Chastains anywhere. But the settling of the Indian lands is a story for another time. Here we deal with the removal. Even before the deportation, forts and encampments were established to gather and hold the Cherokee as illegal settlers began filtering in. One of these was Fort Chastain in present-day Fannin County, Georgia. Chastains served in the East Tennessee Cherokee Removal Militia which escorted the Cherokee to the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

It appears that it was Chastain’s ancestors who took advantage of a tragic situation.


23 thoughts on “Connie Chastain’s Family Heritage: A House Divided

  1. Robert Baker April 17, 2012 / 8:40 am


  2. Brad April 17, 2012 / 9:52 am

    All I can say is “Incoming!” 🙂

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 17, 2012 / 9:56 am

      Trust me … I have an even more explosive revelation yet to come. 🙂

  3. John Foskett April 17, 2012 / 12:01 pm

    Not surprisingly, facts get in the way of a good family tradition. Or “heritage”. Connie started off okay in the “Southern and Romantic Fiction” category. It’s when she branched into “heritage” that things began to unravel. Once you depart the realm of fiction you need to get a good grasp on facts. That hasn’t happened here, all too obviously.

  4. Ricky Washburn IV April 17, 2012 / 12:48 pm

    Who cares if you have family divided against each other though? Sounds like she still has that “native” Heritage. If I had a Grandpa who fought for the Germans and one for the French could I not celebrate the French?

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 17, 2012 / 1:01 pm

      She can celebrate whatever her little heart desires. But surely you would not want us to overlook the truth of the matter, right? That’s the difference between heritage and history.

      • Mike Moore April 17, 2012 / 1:43 pm

        So Comrade Simpson…can you elaborate on just where she has spoken or written an untruth about this issue?

        • Brooks D. Simpson April 17, 2012 / 11:19 pm

          I’m simply providing a more complete historical context.

  5. Margaret D. Blough April 17, 2012 / 1:21 pm

    I don’t have any common CW “House Divided” family history. According to family history, I had a direct ancestor on my father’s side who fought on the American side of the American Revolution (my dad belong to SAR; of course, since his family is Brethren/Mennonite, this ancestor must have been the family black sheep) and a family member who fought for the Crown with the Black Watch (Mom’s family comes from Fife, Scotland). The Black Watch, surviving as the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, refuses to display battle honors won in the Revolution because it was fighting family over shared ideals. Coming as I do from a long line of pacifists (Dad served in the ?Army in WW II but his first cousin went CO) on one hand and from one of the most warlike ethnic groups ever on the other hand (only real competition in modern times, IMHO, include the Zulus and the Gurkhas), I came to the only possible compromise: I study military history/

  6. Neil Hamilton April 17, 2012 / 1:37 pm

    Professor Simpson,

    Perhaps posting about another’s ancestry is taking a personal confrontation just a bit too far? Especially if it is intended as a form of insult or belittlement?


    • Brooks D. Simpson April 17, 2012 / 11:24 pm

      Neil–if posting a more complete story about the actual heritage of someone who has posted much about heritage is a form of insult or belittlement, then I find that assessment curious. Would you rather be misled by fantasy masquerading as “heritage”?

      Connie’s brought her heritage into the discussion. She’s also brought into the discussion heritage versus ancestry, and it was she who mentioned her Cherokee ties. She opened the door. Presenting a fuller historical context helps illustrates the practical complexity of certain claims. History’s messy that way.

      But there are some people who would prefer to evade that issue by making every disagreement or discussion into a clash of personalities.

  7. Forester April 17, 2012 / 6:05 pm

    What difference does that make? According to family lore, my great-grandfather Nicholson shot and murdered a black man point blank for trying to shake his hand during Reconstruction (the white men standing around cheered). We ALL have some dark stuff in our family closets, but we prefer to focus on the positive aspects of our heritage. This seems like a very silly ad hominem.

    Even though he ended up being a murderer after the war, I’m still proud of his service in the Confederacy. It’s heritage AND history (I’m proud in the war service, ashamed of the murder — it’s not rocket science). But in Connie’s case, her relative she takes pride in isn’t even the same man who did the atrocity.

    Even Connie herself wrote a blog about how we’re different people not perfect clones of our ancestor. But we can still be proud of what they did right.

    • MikeD April 17, 2012 / 11:23 pm

      Starting and fighting a war to preserve and expand slavery was hardly “right.”

      • Forester April 18, 2012 / 11:31 am

        The USA has just as much baggage. So does England and every other nation in our collective heritage. Our culture owes heavily to Greece and Rome which were also violent, slave-owning cultures.

        When I say “what they did right”, I am more referring to the courage of standing in an open field with no cover trading volleys with a larger or more skilled enemy force. That takes some cast iron balls, no matter what the war is about. Even enemies respect that.

        • Brooks D. Simpson April 18, 2012 / 12:01 pm

          I would think that it would be better to seek cover and fire from there. As Patton said, the objective of war is not to die for your country, but to make the other fellow die for his … even if he said it in more colorful language.

        • MikeD April 18, 2012 / 5:50 pm

          But see, Forester, I don’t deny that the USA has negative baggage. And I’m just as quick to point it out when someone denies it just as I do when Confederate apologists deny the Confederacy’s dirt.That is not at issue. You will not find me defending the USA, right or wrong.

          And I have no illusions about any period in history. Slavery and Confederate apologists love to bleat the line, “Their own people sold them into slavery.” Leaving aside the question of exactly *who* are whose people and the fact that not all Africans were involved in the slave trade, AND the fact that slaves were also acquired by white raiders and white breeding “programs,” I continue to ask, “so what?”

          I’m not going to look you in they eye and say, “Well, the kings of Dahomey built a great empire and civilization and were courageous warriors and accomplished artisans and, well, the slave thing is unfortunate but it was a way of life then.” I’m going to say damn them for doing it, damn white men for buying into it, and a plague on both their damned houses.

          But that’s just me.

      • Elizabeth Del Greco July 16, 2013 / 3:09 am

        Starting a war to free slaves that you sold into bondage in the first place is somewhat hypocritical, is it not, Mr MikeD. Glory Hallelujah?

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 17, 2012 / 11:31 pm

      And that’s the difference between heritage and history. Some people are all about heritage, which, as Connie freely admits, she shapes to serve her own personal agenda. I prefer to explore history, and one of the results of that exploration is to show the complex relationship between heritage and history … including the dark stuff in the closet, which includes the Trail of Tears. As Connie opened the door in referring to her Cherokee connections, I found it remarkable to observe the history involved. If one would rather embrace the whitewashed fantasy known as made-to-order heritage, then to each his or her own.

      And there’s an even more interesting twist yet to come … since Connie wants me to continue this exercise in genealogy. I hope you won’t be upset if I accept her invitation.

  8. Sid April 18, 2012 / 4:27 am

    Brooks…me thinks you have a lot of spare time on your hands.

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 18, 2012 / 7:27 am

      Not at all. It was a very simple piece of research. I am just efficient. You, on the other hand, must have a lot of time on your hands to read and respond. 🙂

    • Mark June 5, 2012 / 10:40 am

      Because you’re the best judge of what’s interesting or useful to know?

      • Mark June 5, 2012 / 10:41 am

        I don’t get the threading alignment here. My reply above was to Sid but it doesn’t look like it.

        • Brooks D. Simpson June 5, 2012 / 11:20 am

          Every blog format has its own challenges when it comes to threading answers (precisely because they are not discussion groups, which have their own threading issues). I don’t think “Sid” is going to mind.

          In this case, both you and I responded to Sid, and the threading alignment reflects that. I simply responded first.

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