Mary and Martha (Robbins) Chastain and Their Families

As these two daughters of Jacob and Mary Robbins didn’t have descendants in Decatur County and because I haven’t personally done much research on them, I wasn’t going to write a post about Mary and Martha at first.  But then I decided, for completeness, I could not leave them out and should at least provide what little information I have about them.

The first thing to know about Mary and Martha is that they married probable brothers, named Chastain, and the Chastain family has had lots of genealogical research done and even has a family association that has been in existence for a long time:  The Pierre Chastain Family Association.  This association is so well organized that when they have had family reunions in the past they’ve sent out flyers to just about every library in the country (I’ve received them at my library on the Oregon coast!).

Many years ago I acquired the book, Little Otter to Lost River: A History of the Chastain Family of Washington County, Indiana, by Claude E. Cook (1976).  Most of my knowledge of the Chastains comes from this resource, as does the specific names, dates, and locations I write about here.  If interested, you can obtain a copy of the book, along with other publications, from the Chastain Family Association’s publication page.  Cook admits that some of the information in his book is based on his own research with some speculation.

There are some Robbins-Chastain ties among descendants of William, Absalom, James, Jacob, and Margaret Robbins, but they are too convoluted to go into here.  However, some of us do have DNA matches with descendants of the various Chastain cousins.  Note that the name Chastain is sometimes spelled Chasteen, Chastine, Shastine, Shasteen, and many other alternatives. 

Mary (Robbins) Chastain

Mary Robbins was born about 1774 in Guilford (now Randolph) County, North Carolina, the eldest daughter of Jacob and Mary Robbins.

She was married to Valentine Chastain on 24 September 1791 in Franklin County, Virginia, with Valentine and her brother William Robbins as bondsmen.  Jacob and Mary Robbins and William and Sary Chastain gave consent for their children to marry, which was witnessed by Mary’s brothers William and Absalom Robbins. 

Valentine Chastain was supposedly born about 1768 (though as his parents gave consent for his marriage I’d suggest a birthdate closer to 1770).  The Chastains were likely of French Huguenot origin.  He was a taxpayer in Franklin County, Virginia, up to 1802 whereupon he moved to Shelby County, Kentucky, and then on to Henry County.  The Robbins and Chastain families seemed to have traveled the same path from Franklin County, Virginia, to Kentucky and then on to southern Indiana, though they separated in their final destinations.

According to author Claude Cook, Valentine Chastain entered land in Scott County, then part of Jefferson County, Indiana, in 1816.  In 1818 the Scaffold Lick Baptist Church was organized at his and Mary’s home (about one mile west of the village of Blocher in Scott County) and I was provided copies of some of these early church records a number of years ago (it would be nice to have such records for the Decatur County churches!).  Valentine was also involved in setting up the Coffee Creek Baptist Church in next-door Jennings County in 1822.

Cook discusses the death dates for both Valentine and Mary and I will include his conclusions here:

“Chambers, in his “History of the Scaffold Lick Church,” gives a death date of October 9, 1843, for Valentine Chastain; however, two entries in the Minutes of the Records of the Church give the date as October 6, 1843.  These Church Minutes were written by Nathaniel Robbins, a son-in-law of Valentine Chastain and it is felt by me that they should be considered the more accurate  The first entry (1843 in the context of the records) reads as follows:  “Be it remembered that on the 6th day of October 1843 our beloved Father Valentine Chasteen departed this life, aged 74 years.”  The second entry (1844 in the context of the records) reads:  “Be it remembered on the 6th day of October 1843 that our beloved father Valentine Chastain departed this life at three P.M. aged 75 years and also Mary his wife died the 16th day of July at 10 o’clock aged 73 years.”  It is my opinion that Mary died in 1844.”

In an article in the Spring/Summer 2013 issue of Connections:  The Hoosier Genealogist, author Timothy Mohon lists death notices from the Coffee Creek Baptist Church, which notes about Valentine:  “He was a man of great piety and goodness of heart.”

In listing the children of Valentine and Mary (Robbins) Chastain, I only include spouses where they have married Robbins’:

  • Rebecca Chastain (c1794-c1870) – married a Richard Robbins and lived in Scott County, Indiana.
  • Martin Chastain (c1795-1845) – lived in Scott County, Indiana.
  • Frances (“Franky”) Chastain (c1796-c1845) – possible daughter.
  • Harmon Chastain (c1798-c1877) – married a Lovila (“Vila”) Robbins and lived in Scott County, Indiana.
  • Elizabeth Chastain (c1801-1878) – married a Nathaniel Robbins and lived in Scott County, Indiana.
  • Sary Chastain (c1800-1805-c1847) – possible daughter.
  • Mary Chastain (b. c1806-c1838/39) – lived in Scott County, Indiana.
  • Valentine Chastain, Jr. (1808-c1866) – married a Martha “Massey” Robbins and lived in Scott County, Indiana.

Martha (“Massey”) (Robbins) Chastain

Martha Robbins, referred to as “Massey” or “Massy” in records and in this post, was born about 1779 in Randolph County, North Carolina.  Randolph County was formed that same year out of Guilford County, so depending on Massey’s actual birthdate, officially she could be listed as being born in either location.

Massey Robbins married Rene Chastain, sometimes spelled as “Renny”, on 17 September 1795 in Franklin County, Virginia.  Rene and Massey’s brother William were bondsmen, with Jacob and Mary Robbins giving consent for her to marry, witnessed by William again and Rene’s brother Valentine Chastain.  The marriage was performed by Randolph Hall, preacher for the Pigg River Baptist Church.  Interestingly, Hall has been named as the minister officiating at William Robbins and Bethiah Vickery’s marriage in North Carolina but I’ve never found any documentation to support this.  Perhaps Hall was also following the same North Carolina to Virginia path as the Robbins family.

Rene Chastain was born about 1776 in Virginia.  After his marriage Rene appears on the Franklin county tax lists for 1796 and 1797 but owned no land there.  He first appears in Shelby county, Kentucky, in 1806, then moved on to Henry county, appearing in the tax lists there until 1814.  Claude Cook first found Rene in Washington county, Indiana, in 1820 when he purchased land next to Lost River.

As there is no record of a will for Rene or Mary, nor any probate records, Cook identified their possible children through quit claim deeds, as Rene divided his land into eight parts.  In the list of their probable children below, I have only included spouses where they married Robbins’:

  • Absalom Chastain (1797-1853) – lived in Washington county, Indiana, and then moved to Clay county, Illinois.
  • Elizabeth (“Betsy”) Chastain (c1802-c1865/70) – lived in Washington county, Indiana.
  • Margaret Chastain (c1804-?) – lived in Washington county, Indiana.
  • Rene Chastain Jr. (1806-1898) – lived in Washington county, Indiana.
  • Valentine Chastain (1809-1893) – lived in Washington county, Indiana.
  • Hannah C. Chastain (c1810/1811-1876) – married a Valentine Robbins and lived in Washington county, Indiana.
  • Abner Chastain (c1812/1813-1898) – lived in Washington county, Indiana.
  • James Chastain (c1818-?) – lived in Washington county, Indiana.

The two Robbins-Chastain sisters lived in Washington and Scott Counties, Indiana, to the south and southwest of Decatur and Jennings Counties. For reference, here is a map showing the relative locations of those counties.

Washington and Scott Counties, relative to Decatur and Jennings

[Jacob Robbins-Mary and Martha Robbins]

What do we know about Jacob Robbins?

Jacob Robbins, and his wife Mary, are important to our family history as they are the progenitors of all of the Robbins’s that eventually settled in Decatur County, Indiana. 

I have not spent a lot of time in recent years researching the Robbins family before their arrival in Virginia and Kentucky from North Carolina in the 1780s, 90s, and early 1800s.  Early North Carolina records are fairly sparse, at least as far as our Robbins family goes and drawing conclusions can be difficult.

While DNA evidence shows our connection to Daniel Robins of New Jersey, the intervening generations are unclear.  Rather than going out on a limb without the supporting documentation to even build a circumstantial case for our descent from Daniel, I have long since turned my attentions to what I could document.  And our earliest “documented” ancestors are Jacob and Mary Robbins.  This post will examine what we know about the couple and summarize existing records (or at least those found by me to date). 

We know from these records that Jacob’s wife was named Mary.  We do not know for certain her surname.  The most frequently found surname listed in online family trees for Mary is “Wells” or “Welles.”  I have found no documentation confirming that but perhaps other family researchers have (and, sorry, dozens of online family trees simply listing “Welles” as her maiden name do not count).  Their oldest child, William, was born, by all accounts, in 1761 in what is now Randolph Co., North Carolina (Randolph County wasn’t established until 1779 and at this time it was still part of Rowan).  Assuming that Jacob and Mary married soon before and in North Carolina, no marriage record has been found for the couple.

The records that I have identified for Jacob and Mary fall within a 17-year range: 1787 to 1804.  This is a brief period for which there are a limited number of Jacob Robbins who could be confused with this ancestor.  After 1804 it becomes more difficult to differentiate between Jacobs, as younger ones have come of legal age and may start to be found in official records.  We’re lucky if a record lists the Jacobs as Sr. and Jr., which helps us differentiate between them.

If my outline of the early family line is correct, we have our progenitor Jacob, we have his son Jacob II (born about 1767, reaching the age of 21 in 1788, and married in 1790), and we have Jacob II’s son Jacob (born 1809).  The only other Jacob during this time period was a grandson Jacob (1786-1873) son of William, who came of legal age in 1807.  Legal age was 21 years for males in early Virginia and Kentucky.  Therefore, only father and son could be confused during this time period.

Here’s an outline of the Jacobs, showing that only Jacob II could possibly be confused with our progenitor prior to 1807.

The records we have consist of land records, marriage bonds, and tax lists.  This is a chronological order of the documents I have found so far, with commentary:

16 July 1787 Botetourt Co., VAJacob Robbins received a land grant for 108 acres adjoining lands of Nicholas Allee on the waters of Little River   Nicholas Allee was the father of Keziah who married Daniel Robbins, a son of Nathaniel and Ann Robbins, with Nathaniel being a brother of Jacob. Botetourt, Montgomery, and Franklin counties are all located in southwestern Virginia. 
(see map below for geographic orientation) 
1804 Virginia map showing location of Botetourt, Franklin, and Montgomery counties
15 Nov. 1790 Franklin Co., VAJacob and Mary Robbins gave consent for son Jacob Robbins to marry Rachel Robbins, daughter of Nathaniel and Ann Robbins.   Jacob Robbins II and Rachel Robbins were first cousins.  
Jacob and Mary Robbins give consent for son Jacob Robbins, and Nathaniel and Ann Robbins give consent for daughter Rachel Robbins, to marry
1790 Montgomery Co., VAJacob Robbins is listed as owner of taxable property “in the district of John Robinson, Commissioner, formerly the upper district of Botetourt County and now the lower of Montgomery County.”  
24 Sept. 1791 Franklin Co., VAJacob and Mary Robbins gave permission for their daughter Mary Robbins to marry Valentine Chastain; witnessed by William and Absalom Robbins.   While not stated in the marriage bond, witnesses William and Absalom Robbins, both over the age of 21, are brothers of Mary.  
Jacob and Mary Robbins give permission for daughter Mary to wed Valentine Chastain
25 May 1795 Montgomery Co., VAJacob Robbins received a land grant for 500 acres on Little River adjoining a survey made for Hercules Ogle   Hercules Ogle was the father of Mary Ogle, wife of Absalom Robbins, Jacob’s second oldest son.  
17 Sept. 1795 Franklin Co., VAJacob and Mary Robbins gave consent for daughter “Masey” Robbins to marry Rene Chastain; witnessed by William Robbins.   “Masey” or “Massey”) was a nickname for Martha Robbins.  Again, while not stated directly in the marriage bond, witness William Robbins was a brother of Masey.  Valentine and Rene Chastain were brothers.  
Jacob Robbins gives consent for daugher “Masey” (aka Martha) to marry Rene Chastain
9 March 1797 Montgomery Co., VAJacob Robbins, as assignee of Zachariah Stanley, received a land grant for 225 acres adjoining his own land “on top of the mountain” including some of the waters of Piney Branch Waters of Little River and some of the waters of Pig River.   This is the final land record found for Jacob Robbins.  Unfortunately no sales of land by Jacob Robbins in Franklin or Montgomery counties have been found so far.  
16 June 1800 Shelby Co., KYJacob Robbins is listed in the county tax list, with white male over 21 (Jacob), and one horse/mare.   Jacob Robbins is not found in tax lists for Shelby County, Kentucky, prior to 1800, giving us a rough estimate of 1799 for his emigration to Kentucky. (See map below for geographic orientation)
Example of tax list entry: 1800 Shelby County, Kentucky, listing Absalom, James, and Jacob Robbins
7 May 1801 Shelby Co., KYJacob Robbins is listed in the county tax list, with one white male over 21 (Jacob), and two horses/mares.    
1804 Kentucky map showing location of Shelby and Henry counties
30 March 1802 Shelby Co., KYJacob Robbins is listed in the county tax list, with one white male over 21 (Jacob), and three horses/mares.  
23 April 1803 Shelby Co., KYJacob Robbins is listed in the county tax list, with one white male over 21 (Jacob), and one horse/mare.  
9 May 1804 Shelby Co., KYJacob Robbins is listed in the county tax list, with one white male over 21 (Jacob), and one horse/mare.  
25 October 1804 Shelby Co., KYJacob and Mary Robbins gave consent for daughter Margaret Robbins to marry Thomas Robbins; witnessed by Absalom and James Robbins.   This is the final record for which we are sure it is the eldest Jacob Robbins that is being mentioned.   
Jacob and Mary Robbins give permission for daughter Margaret to marry Thomas Robbins

The marriage records are very useful in establishing relationships that might otherwise have to be guessed.  They tell us specifically that Jacob and Mary were the parents of Jacob II, Mary, Martha, and Margaret.  We do not have a marriage record for oldest son William, and the marriage records for sons Absalom and James do not have parental consent attached.  It was common in this family for older brothers to be witnesses and/or bondsmen, once of age, so these records provide good circumstantial evidence that William, Absalom, and James are sons of Jacob and Mary Robbins.

I have not identified any earlier nor any later records specifically for this Jacob Robbins, though it’s possible one of the Jacobs in later records is this individual.  I believe it is likely that our earliest Jacob died in Kentucky, sometime not long after 1804.  There is no evidence he ever left Kentucky for Indiana with his children and grandchildren, and certainly no evidence he arrived in Decatur County after its establishment in 1822.  Unfortunately, because many women were invisible in the records of this time, we can’t say whether his wife Mary survived to move on to Indiana with other family members.

Perhaps others have found traces of Jacob Robbins the eldest?

How Many Absaloms?

We sometimes find that the story that gets passed down from generation to generation is incorrect.  One of the stories that I have seen passed down in family notes was there were three generations of Absalom Robbins – who I will call: Sr., Jr. and III.  I have found evidence that this is incorrect and this post is a report of my research.

The Story

Family notes state that Absalom Robbins Sr. was born in 1765, was married to Mary Ogle in 1787, had eight children, with the second eldest being Absalom Robbins Jr.  Absalom Jr. was married to an unknown woman, had one child, Absalom III who was born in 1810.  Absalom Jr. later married an Elizabeth Anderson in 1823, and then he died early, perhaps around 1839.  His son, Absalom III, married Jemima Hanks, and moved to Breckinridge County, Kentucky, where his grandfather Absalom Sr. joined him in the 1850s.

Three Absaloms in Oral History

The Records

We know that Absalom Robbins Sr. was born on 11 September 1765 as he stated so in his sister-in-law Bethiah’s application for a pension for William’s service in the American Revolution.  We know from the marriage record that he was married to Mary Ogle on 13 March 1787 in Franklin County, Virginia.  In letter from Ogle researcher William McIntosh, the year of 1824 is given for the death of Mary.  There is no other record to confirm this date.  Absalom was married to Susannah Huffman on 20 August 1842 in Hendricks County, Indiana.  According to the 1860 Mortality Schedule of the U.S. Census, Absalom died at “age 100” in June 1859 in Breckinridge County, Kentucky.

Absalom Robbins III was born, according to census records, in approximately 1810.  He was married to Jemima Hanks on 28 December 1831 in Decatur County, Indiana.  He died sometime between 1885 and 1893 in Breckinridge County, Kentucky, where he and his family moved before 1840.

The story of an Absalom Jr. (between Sr. and III) indicate he was born about 1789, which would have made him 21 years of age in 1810, when his single child was born.  As such, you would expect to find a marriage record by or before 1810, and you would expect to find him as an adult in the tax records of Kentucky where the rest of the Robbins family were living.  We do not.

Tax records list one Absalom Robbins living in Shelby County, Kentucky, from 1800 to 1805.  He then appears in Henry County, Kentucky, beginning in 1806 and continuing until 1829.  There are a couple of years in the 1820s where there is more than one Absalom Robbins listed in the tax records, which could support an intermediate Absalom.  There are two listings for Absaloms in 1825 and 1828, and in 1826 and 1827 there is a listing for both a Sr. and a Jr.  Absalom Robbins III was only 16 and 17 in the latter two listings, so theoretically was not to be listed.  However, there are no earlier or later tax listings for another Absalom.  Absalom Jr. should have shown up by 1810 and continued on, either to his death, or his later appearance in census records, as his father and the rest of his siblings do.  Only one Absalom appears in the 1820 Kentucky census and that is Senior.  No Absaloms appear in Indiana or Illinois, where other family members were living or had lived, either.

We have a marriage record in 1823 in Shelby County, Kentucky, for an Absalom Robbins to an Elizabeth Anderson.  If the year of 1824 for Mary (Ogle) Robbins’ death is correct, then this could not be for Absalom Sr.  But if the undocumented year of death is wrong, could Absalom have remarried after Mary’s death?

The marriage record and the very few tax listings for two Absaloms could still provide doubt as to how many Absalom’s there were.  But we have further information, found in an unlikely source.

Affidavit (portion) by Jemima (Hanks) Robbins in support of the mother’s pension application of Elizabeth Robbins

In 1862 a young man named Thomas F. Robbins died while serving in the Union Army during the Civil War.  His parents were Hardin and Elizabeth Robbins, and his mother later applied for a pension based on his service.  Elizabeth provided a number of affidavits from relatives stating the relationship of Thomas to her and she and her husbands dependence on him for support.  One of the affidavits was written by Jemima (Hanks) Robbins.  Jemima states that Hardin Robbins, Elizabeth’s husband, was the son of Micajah Robbins, the brother of Jemima’s husband Absalom.  We know that Micajah Robbins was the eldest son of Absalom Robbins Sr. and this statement indicates that Jemima’s Absalom was not Seniors’ grandson, but his youngest son.  This statement negates the existence of an intervening Absalom.


Absalom and Mary (Ogle) Robbins were the parents of eight children, the youngest son being Absalom Robbins, born about 1810.  There was no older Absalom born about 1789 and having a son Absalom III born in 1810.  The tax records suggest the presence of another Absalom but that could have been two listings for the same person, a totally different Absalom (though no other Absalom Robbins appears in any records at that time in Kentucky or Indiana), or a listing for the young Absalom, named before he reached the age of maturity.

Two Absaloms Documented

As for the two years a Senior and a Junior are listed, I believe the young Absalom was recorded.  We don’t know when Mary (Ogle) Robbins died but I suspect it was before 1824 and that the 1823 marriage of an Absalom to Elizabeth Anderson is a second marriage for Absalom Senior.  He has not been found in the 1830 census so we cannot check for any older females counted in his household.

The surprise affidavit in a Civil War pension application, in the absence of any contradictory evidence, concludes that there were only two Absalom Robbins, Senior and Junior.

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins Sr.-Absalom Robbins Jr.)