The History of Estienne Cheneau/Stephen Chenault

and His Descendants


"The Hunt"

The earliest known interest in tracing the history of the Chenault family in America is documented in the research of Anderson Chenault Quisenberry, b. 16 Oct 1850.  The correspondence and writings of Walter Morris Chenault (#11351.8x), who was born  7 April 1875 and died 15 Apr 1943, in Decatur, Alabama, indicates that he endeavored to not only share the information he had collected about the origin of the family in America with his cousins from across the country, but that he urged them to send him their own family information and participate in a "reunion" of the family.  His brother, Dr. Frank Leigh Chenault, was also "bitten by the bug" and for many years corresponded with cousins throughout the country sharing his knowledge of family history. 

Charlton B. Rogers, III, expressed gratitude to his mother Linell Chenault Rogers for her file of correspondence which greatly helped in his genealogical pursuits and compiling of the 1978 edition of Descendants of Estienne Chenault.  A veteran of WWII and a Lt. Col. in the U.S.M.C., Mr. Rogers devoted much time and effort to researching court records, census records, deeds and other records from early America.  He enlisted other family members in his efforts.  As a result of his interest and inquiries, many who are considered the most knowledgeable family historians among our number began their research as a result of his prompting.   Excerpts from his 1978 book were reprinted as part of the "Introduction" in the 1991 edition of the book by the same title, generally referred to in family circles as "the red book."

In more recent years, the research of Richard Stanley "Stan" Harsh and Christopher Shinall have provided a more thorough view of the earliest Chenault family structure in America, as well as a more accurate theory about the whereabouts of Estienne Cheneau before he came to America aboard the Nassau.  The complete picture of  the descendants of this immigrant is one that now is the composite of many faithful researchers, too many to actually name here,  who have a common know their ancestors and preserve that knowledge for future generations.

The Immigrant, Estienne Cheneau

The date and location of the birth of Estienne Cheneau have not been positively determined, but some assumptions can be made from information that is known about him.  He is listed on the manifest of the Nassau, which landed in Yorktown, Virginia, on 5 Mar 1700/1701.  The entry is in French and is shown as Estienne Cheneau et sa femme, inferring the immigrant arrived with his wife, but without children.  It has generally been assumed by most researchers that they were probably married not long before departing for the New World.  This assumption led early researchers to the probability that Estienne was born no later than about 1680, thus being about 20-21 years old when he arrived in America.  However, many current researchers now believe he may possibly have been born as early as 1665-1670 if he was about 50 years old at the time of his death, which was the average life expectancy in the time he lived.

As to the location of his birth, it was likely not in France as previously assumed, although his parents descended from  French Huguenots.  Earlier research proposed that he was born and raised in the Province Languedoc, a few miles west of Marseille.  The small city of Nimes, with Avignon nearby, and the mouth of the Rhone, were thought to have been his habitat.  However, this does not seem to be plausible.  Aboard the Nassau, which was the fourth ship funded by the Protestant Relief Fund in England to relocate Huguenots to America, were 191 Huguenot passengers from the continent.  The origin of the passengers aboard each of the four vessels that were part of the effort, however, differed.  Thus, most researchers agree that Estienne's being in the fourth group indicates that he was most likely born in the Netherlands to parents descended for French Huguenots, who probably had fled the persecutions in France by possibly as much as a century before his death.  And, because they fled to the Netherlands, they likely were from the northern regions of France rather than the Province Languedoc.

A petition dated 19 Apr 1707 and written in French and submitted to Colonel Edmund Jennings, Chairman of the Executive Council in Virginia on behalf of resident of Manakin, Virginia, by C. Philippe de Richebourg, Minister of the Huguenots in Manakin, confirms that Estienne went to Manakin after debarking the Nassau and resided there for at least six years as his is one of five signatures that appear on the petition besides that of Richebourg.  Prior to the discovery of the petition several months ago, researchers did not believe that Estienne went to Manakin, but proceeded to Essex County and settled there.  Evidently, this was incorrect.

This discovery reveals several other things about Estienne.  He was able to sign his name on the petition, so now it is a mystery as to why he could manage only an "X" on the earliest documents in Essex County in 1714.  Also, it appears to give merit to the belief of current researchers that his marriage to a Miss Howlett would have been his second marriage, which occurred more than six years after landing in America, since only Huguenots were in Manakin, and Miss Howlett was from an English family long in America.  William Howlett was a neighbor to the Chenaults in Essex County.  Thus, Estienne's son, Howlett, thought to be named for his mother's maiden name, would not have been born before about 1708 and more likely a couple of years or so later.

Estienne shows up in public records for the first time as Stephen Chenault, the Anglicized version of his name, in Essex County, Virginia in 1714.  It is presumed that like most of the traditional Huguenots, he departed Manakin shortly after the 1707 petition, which was rejected by the Council.  His whereabouts until he is found in 1714 are unknown.  While he could have moved on to Essex County at that time, there is no record of him there.  He may have moved to North or South Carolina for a while as did some of the Huguenots, but again nothing substantiates this.  Judging by the assumed date of birth of Howlett being about 1712, Estienne, now using the Anglicized Stephen Chenault, must have been in Essex County and married to Howlett's mother by about 1711.

Early researchers of the family have disagreed about the number of children fathered by Estienne.  Current opinion is that only three are confirmed in public records.  He had one son, Stephen, his first-born, by his first wife who arrived with him in America.  This son was born shortly after their arrival at Manakin.  It is not know what became of his first wife or if there were other children born to them.  It is believed that Estienne, then known as Stephen, married a second time to Miss Howlett about 1711.  They had two sons, Howlett and John.  Both Howlett and John died as young adults.  Both were married and had small children when they died.  Howlett's widow, Mary, remarried to William Ballard, which qualified the two of them to serve as co-executors of Howlett's estate. 

Estienne is believed to have died within 2-3 years after 1715, when his witnessing of the will, above, demonstrates he was then still living.  From 1720 forward, the references to Stephen Chenault in public records in the area are believed to refer to the son of the immigrant, who bore the same name.

NOTE:  More about Estienne/Stephen and the events leading up to his arrival in America will appear in the new edition of the Red Book.

The Family Grows

It is now believed that Stephen (II), son of the immigrant, born about 1702, married twice and had five sons, four from his first marriage, born between 1720-30, and one from his second marriage, born 1749.  Although the identity of the mother of the first four sons is not clearly known, many researchers believe she was Anstes Coffey and that she died in the 1730-1740 timeframe.  Subsequently, Stephen apparently married Anstes' sister Anniester, who lived with her mother until the death of her mother in 1744.  She is noted in public records in conjunction with administration of her mother's will and then is found in the Merchant account books of King and Queen County, VA, in the mid-1700's as "Anniester Chinault."  The four sons born to Stephen and his first wife were, Stephen (III), William, Benjamin, and John.  Numerous public record entries are found in Essex County and surrounding areas for Stephen (II).  He was a tobacco teller in Essex County, teaming first with William Ballard, who married Howlett's widow, and then William Taylor.  Children of the four sons of Stephen and Anstes are shown below preceded by the descendancy number assigned to them in the new Red Book:

111 Stephen (III), m. Mary Rowzie 112 William 113 Benjaman 114 John, m. Sarah Martin
1111 Stephen (IV), b. [1749] 1121 William, m. Susannah Walker 1131 William, b. 1752 1141 John, m. Africa/Aphria _______
1112 William, b. [1750]   1132 John 1142 Samuel, m. Brune Pitts
1113 John, b. 1754   1133 Benjamin, b. 1760 1143 Stephen, m. Nancy _______
1114 Isaac, b. 1755   1134 Rachel, b. abt. 1763 1144 Elijah, m. Molley ______
1115 James, b. 1757   1135 Stephen, b. 1767 1145 Nancy, m. William Mullin
1116 Caleb, b. 1761   1136 Reuben, b. 1767  
1117 Rowzie      

The son born in 1749 to Stephen and Anniester, his second wife, was also named William (115).  The position that current researchers are taking regarding Stephen and Anniester being the parents of William is based on papers known as the "Chenault Notes" penned by Col. Thomas Brown in 1888.  Col. Brown, the grandson of William, is believed to have gotten the information contained in his notes from his mother, Nancy Chenault Brown, the youngest daughter of William.  In the notes, he states that the mother of his grandfather was a "Miss Coffey."  It had long been believed that William became an orphan fairly early in life, which was probably the result of his parents being older.  No brothers or sisters were ever mentioned in reference to him.  He married Elizabeth Mullins, and they had nine children.

As mentioned earlier, Howlett married Mary ______.  They had two sons, John and Stephen, who were quite young when their father died.  No further records have been discovered for them beyond their mention in Howlett's will.

John, the third son of Stephen (I), was born about 1714 and married Anne ______.  Although she was believed to have been a Ballard, no record to substantiate this has been found.  When he died, he left two young children, John and Elizabeth.  The son, John, is believed to have had at least two sons, John D., born before 1764, who married Barbara Burke, and Christopher.  They settled in Bardstown, KY, and each had several children.

NOTE:  The descendants of each of these lines are documented in the new Red Book.  Placement logic for some of the individual is based on circumstantial evidence, but the logic is fully detailed in the text of the book.