Captain Alexander Grant

I’ve written about a few of Mom’s ancestors. Her great grandfather, Alexander Grant, was pretty colorful, living during a time of tremendous change in the United States. He was the son of Alexander Grant from Scotland, who moved to New Orleans and owned a store in the city as well as a couple of sugar plantations. So this Alexander Grant, sometimes called Alexander Grant, Jr., grew up the son of a pretty wealthy store owner in New Orleans. He also seems to have gained some skill running river boats up and down the Mississippi River, probably in part making runs between New Orleans and his father’s plantations (and maybe plantations of store customers) further down the river in Plaquemines Parish.

When the Civil War broke out, Alexander Grant was made a Lieutenant in the Louisiana navy and given command of a river boat renamed the General Quitman that had been converted to a gun boat by adding a couple of cannons. It was called a “cotton clad” in contrast to the “iron clad” warships. While cotton was probably easier to get than iron in the South, it couldn’t have been that much protection against cannons. Alexander Grant’s superior officer in the defense of New Orleans was Captain Francis B. Renshaw, formerly of the US Navy, who was born in Philadelphia and had been stationed in Pensacola before the war. Eventually Grant’s son Joseph would marry Renshaw’s daughter Isabella, both just kids at the time of the war. These are Mom’s grandparents. Grant commanded the Quitman in some reconnaissance missions and was probably involved in some skirmishes with the Union navy, but when New Orleans ultimately fell to the Union, Grant had the General Quitman burned rather than allow it to be handed over to the Union. There is a 1904 public domain book of navy records that mentions Grant and Renshaw a few times (use the search feature or index since it is a pretty long book). There is also a neat picture of an envelope addressed to Captain A. Grant of the Louisiana Navy here with some explanation.

Envelope addressed to Capt. Alexander Grant

His second engagement that seems to show up in history records was a battle at Fort Burton, a rudimentary fortification located in the bayous of southern Louisiana along the Atchafalaya River. Grant was told by the commander of the fort to be ready to evacuate the fort and their weapons if the Union showed up and got the upper hand. But as it turned out the Union got the upper hand so quickly that Grant, now serving on another riverboat converted to a gunboat called the Cotton (or Mary T) plus another gunboat left before evacuating the fort and barely escaped capture by pursuing Union gunboats who were thrown off the chase when they took a wrong turn in the bayous. The Union’s side of the battle is presented here. However, there were consequences for Grant in disobeying orders and he was brought to court martial later in 1863, where he was acquitted. The records do not say why he was acquitted, but maybe they realized that if he had stuck around they would have lost the fort along with the gunboat, its crew, and whoever else was on board (the Union account says the boat was full of civilians being evacuated).

His third main assignment seems to be as executive officer of the CSS Missouri, an ironclad based on the Red River near Shreveport, Louisiana. Even though the Missouri was considered an ironclad, the cladding consisted of railroad rails tightly spaced and attached to the exterior of the boat. Because river levels were low during this time, the Missouri was unable to leave Shreveport and Union ships were unable to attack. She never saw combat and was handed over to the Union without a fight at the end of the war.

Not exactly an illustrious military career, but because Grant commanded a boat, he was termed Captain even if his rank was lieutenant, and he would continue to be called Captain Grant for the rest of his life.

Before the war, in 1848, Alexander Grant married Olympe Grass, a pureblood Louisiana cajun. Her roots go back to the French who were kicked out of Canada (Acadia, which is where “cajun” comes from) by the British and who settled in Louisiana. They had at least 10 children together, but a couple of them died in infancy. At some point after the war, this huge family moved to Pensacola, Florida, where they are recorded in the 1870 census with 7 children, all born in Louisiana, including the youngest, Minnie, who is only 9 months old, and notably, the 15 year old Joseph, who would become Mom’s grandfather. Captain Francis Renshaw had died in Pensacola in 1867, before Grant’s arrival and I wonder if maybe Grant was taking his old job. In 1870 Grant lists his occupation as “commission member.” At least one of his jobs was screening incoming ships for yellow fever cases for the board of health and quarantining any ships that had been stricken. Captain Renshaws’s son, Dr. Frank Gale Renshaw would eventually serve on the board of health as well. They didn’t realize yet that yellow fever was carried by mosquitoes, just that it wiped out a lot of people in Pensacola, so ships with people who had yellow fever weren’t allowed to land. In Pensacola in 1880, Alexander Grant’s son Joseph married Captain Renshaw’s daughter (Dr. Renshaw’s sister), Isabella. Their youngest son was Horace, Paw Paw.

The president of the board of health was Dr. Robert Hargis whose son John would marry one of Joseph and Isabella’s daughters, Edythe. Those two had a daughter, Edythe, who was Mom’s cousin who we all got to know. A couple of Alexander Grant’s other daughters married into some wealthy families in Pensacola, which is described a little in this entry.

Alexander Grant’s wife, Olympe, died in 1872 and he married Mary Ann Croxton, originally from Kentucky, in 1877. They had two sons together (picture below) and were living in Pensacola for the 1900 census, along with another son from Grant’s first marriage, William, who died later that year. Alexander Grant died in Pensacola in 1902 at age 76. His obituary appeared in the Atlanta Constitution on February 11, 1902:

Pensacola Fla. February 10. Captain Alexander Grant, one of Pensacola’s most prominent citizens, died today aged 76 years. He was a native of Louisiana, but had lived in Pensacola thirty years occupying positions of importance. He leaves three daughters, one of whom is Mrs. W. H. Pleasants, wife of the general traffic manager of the Seaboard Air Line.

Alexander Grant Jr, wife Mary Croxton-Grant & children

10 thoughts on “Captain Alexander Grant

  1. Pingback: The Russian Prince | Ted's Blog

  2. So the Grant name came from Mom’s great, great grandfather, Alexander Grant who came from Scotland? Was John Cashin who came over from Ireland Dad’s great grandfather?

  3. From Wikipedia: “Cottonclads were a classification of steam-powered warships where a wooden ship was protected from enemy fire by bales of cotton lining its sides…. The heavy bales of cotton slowed small arms fire, but at times the cotton would catch fire from artillery shells.”

  4. John Cashin from Ireland was Dad’s great grandfather. All 8 of Dad’s great grandparents were born in Ireland. All 4 of his grandparents were born in Augusta.

    They used the cotton around the steam boilers which were under great pressure and would explode if ruptured, probably even by small arms fire. They would sandwich the cotton between two layers of wood.

  5. Jeb pointed out in an email that the obituary doesn’t mention that Alexander Grant has three sons, including Joseph. I’m not sure what is up with that because Joseph didn’t die until 1916 and the others after that. I suspect that the obituary in Atlanta’s paper may have been run by W. H. Pleasants, the husband of Lillian Olympe Grant, Alexander Grant’s daughter. I think they were living in Savannah at the time. The same obituary also ran in the Charlotte, NC paper.

  6. Pingback: Alexander Grant, Sr. | Ted's Blog

  7. Nice blog post. I’m kin of Capt. Alexander Grant’s 2nd wife Mary Ann Croxton. Her sister Virginia Croxton Scott was my 2nd great-grandmother. Enjoyed reading the story of Capt. Alex. Grant.

    Just thought I would say hello.

  8. Captain Grant was my great-great grandfather and Olympe Grass my great-great grandmother. Their daughter, Mary, was my ancestor. She married Albert Avery in Pensacola, and a daughter was my grandmother. These stories are very interesting! I have one photo of Mary Grant as a small child and my aunt gave me a Chinese porcelain plate that belonged to Olympe Grass Grant.

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