“I like to say that though I became a stripper, I am from aristocracy,” Dixie Evans tells me. Dixie loves telling stories about her ancestry. Early on while collecting Dixie’s stories, she gave me a copy of her family tree. It’s hand written on legal-sized paper, the writing slightly faded from being Xeroxed multiple times. At the bottom of the tree is the following:
The LeGrands were of French origin coming toAmericain 1789, just prior to the French Revolution. Claudius and Samuel D. LeGrand were brothers. These brothers are believed to be nephews or great nephews of General Claude Alexander LeGrand, a distinguished officer of the French army under the first Napoleon. Claudius became a colonel in the war of 1812. He and his wife settled inMarylandand owned an estate called ‘Portland Manor,’ later moving to a plantation.
I begin researching Dixie’s family heritage and learn quickly that 1) the Le Grand family is huge and 2) that I’m no genealogist. Both Dixie’s mother’s mother and her great-grandmother on her mother’s side had seven children each, making the full family tree the size of a small village. I persevere.
I discover that the text written on Dixie’s family tree comes from the The Journal of Julia Le Grand: New Orleans 1862-1863. That the journal still exists is somewhat of a miracle. Turns out that Julia –Dixie’s great-great aunt — thought she burned the entire manuscript out of fear of Union Army retaliation for her descriptions of the horrors of the war. But some pages of the journal were left intact in a book she was reading when her family fled the south. The journal suggests how devastating the Civil War was on the national psyche as a whole. Neighbors became enemies and battles were fought in backyards: what and who was “American” was at stake.
The Le Grands were a society family of both financial wealth and social prestige, two descriptors that often went hand in hand in the antebellum south. Julia played the harp and her father, lovingly referred to as “The Colonel”, played a tiny Spanish guitar. The family lived on a large estate inNew Orleans. During the Opera season, they stayed at the fashionable and expensive St. Charles Hotel with their servants in tout. After the Fall of New Orleans in 1861, the Le Grands were forced to flee, leaving much of their belongings behind. Ironically, the very same St. Charles Hotel that was an epicenter of the Le Grand’s opulent lifestyle came to serve as the headquarters for the Union Army.
Letters from social contemporaries state the Le Grands lost everything after the death of their parents. Julia and her sister, Virginia, ended up opening a school for girls in Virginia. Their profession was reputable, indeed, but could hardly match the lavish lifestyle they led in their youth. There’s little mention of Dixie’s great grandfather, Charles Washington who, it is assumed to avoid confusion with his father who was also named Charles, was referred to as “Washington” in the journal. The elder Charles, Dixie’s great-great-grandfather, Captain Charles Croxall, was married to Mary “Polly” Morris. Polly Morris was the daughter of Mary and Robert Morris — that’s Robert Morris, the Robert Morris who signed the Declaration of Independence and is known as the financier of the American revolution.
During my next trip to work with Dixie, I show her a copy of the Croxall Family Arms, a regal looking image that features a lion on top of a coat of arms holding an animal in its paw, its tail looping into a silhouette of a flower. I had discovered the document through a microfiche collection titled the “Morris-Croxall Family Papers” I had requested from the Library of Congress through interlibrary loan. I show her the shoddy family tree I had drawn, tracing her family back to England in the 1600s. And I show her that not only was she related to Polly Morris and Robert Morris, but that Polly’s husband, Captain Charles Croxall, Dixie’s great-great grandfather, was a rather prominent American founder in his own right. Captain Croxall fought in the Battle of Long Island, the first major battle of the American Revolutionary War, and became one of “Maryland’s Four Hundred,” the famed patriots who bravely staved off British invasion.
It turns out Captain Charles Croxall descended from other important early American political figures. His grandparents were Rachel (Hammond) and John Moale, who married in 1728 and had eight children, including Rebecca, who later married Charles Croxall, Dixie’s great- great-great grandfather, and John Moale Jr. who is credited as being “one of the original sons of Liberty.” Dixie’s great-great-great-great grandfather, John Moale, was a merchant originally from Devonshire who became a member of the Legislature in 1729. John’s wife, Rachel, came from a family that included John Hammond, a member of the Maryland Legislature in 1765. Practically every shoot of Dixie’s family tree sprouts founding father heritage.
“Oh, my. I didn’t know that,” Dixie says when I show her my findings. “You sure did a good job,” she tells me, and I beam. My research may be incomplete, but I’ve made Dixie happy, and proven her stories of founding father ancestry are true many times over. And that is worth all the tedious research in the world.