This week I started doing some research on the internet on my ancestors. This started by finding out about Dr. Eugenio Sierra and then I started trying to connect the dots in between. While Sierra was from Spain, another branch of the family goes back to Scotland and the name Grant. I knew Grant was a Scottish name and that the Grants were a clan in Scotland. So this Scottish heritage goes back to the 1800’s when Alexander Grant comes to New Orleans from Scotland. He is my great great great grandfather. I’m thinking he had some money because he bought a couple of sugar plantations around New Orleans (in Plaquemines Parish, which is famous for being so devastated by Hurricane Katrina; hurricanes caused problems for Grant as well), ran stores in New Orleans, and owned a bunch of property there. He certainly had a house in New Orleans, though it isn’t there anymore. Here is a picture of the house, taken in the 1930’s:
One of the plantations is now known as Stella Plantation, which their website says was bought by Alexander Grant in 1845, and is now available to host weddings. I found an environmental document by the Corps of Engineers that did some research on property that a Corps project would impact. They went over the property records and determined that Alexander Grant bought Nairn plantation in 1848 (Nairn is a town in Scotland where a lot of Grants are from, but apparently the plantation was already called Nairn when Grant bought it).
Nairn Plantation and Catharine Plantation (also owned by Grant, and probably became Stella Plantation since they are both on the right bank, while Nairn is on the left bank) show up in publications in the early 1860’s that give sugar production totals for Louisiana. Sugar was a big business and its importance lives on with the Sugar Bowl being held in New Orleans. Although it is at the Superdome now, it used to be held at the Tulane stadium, which itself had been a sugar plantation. The booklet gave sugar production by the number of hogsheads produced. I didn’t know what a hogshead was. Wikipedia says it is a large barrel used for alcoholic drinks, but also tobacco and sugar. While the article doesn’t give an amount of sugar in a hogshead, it has a line that says hogsheads were a popular measurement for sugar production in Louisiana in the 19th century. That’s pretty specific. Searching further for an answer, I found a reference to a “sugar hogshead” in Huckleberry Finn, which was where the homeless Huck Finn slept. The best answer came from the back of the pamphlet itself where the writer acknowledged that not all hogsheads are the same size, but that it seemed like the only unit common to all of the growers. He determined that the amount of sugar produced divided by the number of hogsheads gave about 1,150 pounds per hogshead. In 1860-61, the Nairn and Catharine plantations produced 128 and 260 hogsheads of sugar out of a total for Louisiana of 229,000. In 1861-62, production was up to 460 and 350 hogsheads, but overall production was up too at 459,000. The pamphlet says there were over 1,000 growers, so it looks like Grant’s plantations were about average. You can click the pages below for a bigger image and see Alexander Grant’s sugar production from both plantations:
I found one story about a hot air balloon crashing on his plantation and catching on fire in 1846. The newspaper said they thought the balloon owner should be compensated for damage to the balloon.
Along with the sugar plantations came slaves. I don’t know how many he had, but it was probably a lot. I found one story from a Union army regiment that was in Louisiana when several slaves escaped from Grant’s plantation and found safe haven, even though the army had given instructions to only take in escaped slaves if they could be given some productive work to do. So they found some work for them and eventually the slaves joined the Union army. Slavery was an institution in the south. I think everyone knew it was wrong, but they couldn’t figure out a good way to get rid of it. Now here is a guy from Scotland, not a southerner, not someone who grew up with slavery as a way of life, with a lot of money choosing to invest in a slave-supported business. I’m not sure how he got into the plantations, actually, because his primary business was in New Orleans, where he owned a store and advertised in the Picayune pretty regularly.
According to the Corps of Engineers history research, when Alexander Grant died in 1868, he left the Nairn plantation to his three children: Alexander, John, and Mary (I’m not sure about this; the Picayune says it was sold at auction in 1869, shorty after Grant’s death). Mary Grant Saul bought her brothers’ shares, but the plantation couldn’t make money and the property was sold at a sheriff’s auction in 1876. The new owners couldn’t make money either and in 1879, her brother, John G. Grant, bought it at another sheriff’s auction. He eventually subdivided it in 1884 and sold the lots. At least some of the property became orange groves. The same document mentions another property in Plaquemines which was bought by John Gray Grant around that time.
I was able to find out when Alexander Grant died from the Louisiana death records that have been scanned and turned into text. They also gave his age, so I was able to get close to the right year of his birth (1794 or 1793; though the 1860 census says he is 63, putting the birth year in 1796 or 1797; honestly the “3” could be a “5” which would put him back at 1793-94). In 1886, the death record for Grant’s wife, Julia D. Saul Grant shows up. Another record shows that his daughter Mary died in 1881 though this genealogy page indicates she had several children with her husband, Joseph Drake Saul. It is interesting that Alexander Grant’s wife was Julia D. Saul, so there was a lot of mixing with the Saul family, even though Grant’s first wife seems to have been Catherine Knab (maybe the source of the plantation name, often named after a wife or daughter; though he also had a daughter named Catherine, who died in New Orleans at age 19 in 1856) who he married in 1821. That would make her my great great great grandmother. I’m not sure when she died, but probably before 1844 when he married Julia Saul.
Of course, for me, the most important thing Alexander Grant, Sr. did was to have Alexander Grant, Jr., my great great grandfather.