First Greek Couple of North America: Andrea Dimitry and Marianne Celeste Dragon

The Dragon-Dimitry tomb is in New Orleans' St. Louis Cemetery No. 1

Sometime in the late 1770s, Demas Tirisakos arrived in New Orleans, LA.

In 1739, Tirisakos was born at Pirgos, Hydra to Nicholas Drussakis Dimetrios, who in family documents is referred to as a “sailing master” and Euphrosine Antonia (nee Yrrousitis). The Dimetrios family had originally lived in Macedonia on the mainland of Greece. They had fled to Hydra seeking refuge from Ottoman oppression. For reasons not now known to history, Demas Tirisakos changed his name to Andrea Dimitry after his arrival in New Orleans.

When Dimitry first became a resident of Louisiana, the colony was under the domination of Spain. From 1762 to 1802, the Viceroyalty of New Spain was responsible, among other things, for the administrative district that consisted of territory west of the Mississippi River basin, inclusive of New Orleans. Spain had acquired the territory from France, which had named it La Louisiane, in honor of King Louis XIV, in 1682. This territory was retroceded to France, under the terms of the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso (1800) and the Treaty of Aranjuez (1801). In 1802, King Charles IV of Spain published a royal bill on 15 October, effecting the transfer and outlining the conditions.

However, Spain agreed to continue administering the colony until French officials arrived and formalized the transfer (1803). The ceremony was conducted at the Cabildo in New Orleans on November 30, 1803, just three weeks before the formalities of France turning over this same territory to the United States as what we know today as the Louisiana Purchase.

At some point, Dimitry met fellow New Orleans Greek, Andrea Dragon (1738-1821). In time, Dimitry became a merchant of note within his adopted city. Dimitry was also destined to marry Dragon’s only daughter Marianne Celeste (b. 1777) on October 29, 1799. According to the 1805 New Orleans City Directory, Andrea Dragon and his wife lived at 60 Rue de Chartres while Andre Dimitry and his ever growing family lived at 58 Rue de Chartes. Chartes Street forms one of the borders of Jackson Square in the French Quarter.

The records of the United States War Department show that Dimitry served under the American flag in the War of 1812 as a private in Captain Frio Delabostries’ company, 2d (Cavaliers) Louisiana Militia. He enlisted December 16, 1814, and served two months and twenty-five days. Dimitry served with Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. This particular battle is well-recalled among Dimitry’s descendants.

While attending this year’s Apokreatiko Luncheon at Holy Trinity on February 18, I met and sat with a Dimitry descendant. During our conversation, I was told a tale her father often had told her. While Andrea Dimitry was at the Battle of New Orleans, his wife and children were at home. “The boy,” spoken of in this recollection I take to have been the Dimitry’s third child, the precocious Alexander, kept asking his mother (in French) if he couldn’t go and see his father. Answering, in French, Marianne told him no. Pestered by the child, the mother finally agreed as long as he took a servant with him. The servant was strictly instructed not to let the boy near the real fighting. As the two began their walk toward the battlefield, someone came running up shouting that the American forces had won. Alexander and the servant immediately rushed home shouting to his mother “we’ve won, we’ve won.” As this family tale recalls Marianne then said, something to the effect, “oh, I can’t wait for my beautiful blond Greek to return.”

Family oral history traditions aside, Michel Dragon was awarded 1,000 acres of land for his valiant services rendered with the Spanish military. The land was situated on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi in Harrison County. Andrea Dimitry built a villa and called the place Dimitry Point. It stands today as one of the show places on the Gulf Coast (Delta Times March 2, 1852).”

On May 20, 1802, Dimitry sent a letter to his brother, Nicole, on Hydra, after many years of silence. In that letter Dimitry notes that the British ship on which he was to travel directly to New Orleans left him on Jamaica instead. Dimitry goes on to report that he is now married to the daughter of a Greek and that the entire family wants to visit Hydra. We can infer that this trip took place by virtue of the fact that the presence of this and two other similar Dimitry letters to family on Hydra are now held by the Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC). This institution is a noted museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to preserving the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Dimitry family lore has it Alexander Dimitry may have visited Greece to find a Greek wife.

The presence of Greeks in Colonial America has never been denied. Nor that their descendants have ever forgotten them. And as fate would have it, the descendants of Dimitry and Marianne were destined to be among the leading intellectual, professional and business figures in the antebellum South. Individuals within this generation of the Dimitry family as well as their descendants continued to marry into some of the most influential politically and socially prominent families not only in the South, but the quite literally the nation.

Rather than deny their Greek heritage, one has only to look at older published accounts or the Internet to learn of the ongoing admiration and pride in which the Dimitry-Dragon descendants hold their Hellenic ancestors. The origins and later actions of the extended Dimitry family, literally over generations, has been of keen interest to each successive wave of the family. While, today, websites are devoted to the kinship and family oral history recollections print accounts in the forms of genealogical accounts from biographical vignettes to essays and inclusive of kinship charts all first saw print under the direction and as authors of the children from the Dimitry/Dragon.

One such account is found in Old Families of New Orleans by Stanley Clisby Arthur (editor and compiler) and George Campbell Huchet de Kernion (collaborator and historian), Stanley C. Arthur, et al., the genealogical source book we learn that ‘Marianne Celeste married Andrea Dimitry and from their union ten children were born: (1) Euphrosine Dimitry (b. September 12, 1800), who married, April 23, 1822, Paul Pandelly; (2) Manuella Aimee Dimitry, born January 12, 1802, who married, January 10, 1826, A. Dietz; (3) Alexander Dimitry, born February 6, 1805, died January 30, 1883, who married Mary Powell Mills; (4) Constantine Andrea Dimitry, born May 24, 1807; (5) J. B. Miguel Dragon Dimitry, born May 18, 1809, died January 12, 1873, who married Caroline Sophia Powers; (6) Angelica Clino Dimitry, born March 7, 1811, died July 19, 1882, who married G. Perri; (7) Marie Francoise Athenais Dimitry, born February 5, 1813, who married, first, Isidore Michel Ravent-Martainville, secondly, Jean B. Lagarde, and thirdly G.A.D. Buel; (8) Mathilde Isabelle Theophanie Dimitry, born November 29, 1816, who married Dr. A. Natili; (9) Nicholas Dimitry, born February 7, 1815, and (10) Antoine Marie Dimitry, born February 8, 1820 (reprinted Baltimore, Maryland: reprinted for Clearfield Company, Inc. by Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc, 1997, 1999).

In yet another such genealogical account, Some Prominent Virginia Families, by Louise Pecquet du Bellet, (Lynchburg, Virginia: J. P. Bell, 1907) we find in the reproduction of a portrait of Andrea Dimitry in Volume 4 page 164 while on page 166 we see the reproduction of a painting of Marianne Celeste Dragon.

Andrea Dimitry died in New Orleans on March 1, 1852 and was buried at Saint Louis Cemetery Number 1. Such was Dimitry’s standing within the community that we hear:

“The remains of the late Andrea Dimitry were interred yesterday, in the family vault, in the St. Louis Cemetery, and were followed to their last resting place by a large procession of mourning friends. A detachment of the Washington Artillery appeared in the cortege, together with a number of military officers. The cannon’s roar announced the entombing of the body of the veteran, and several clergymen assisted in performing the solemn and imposing ceremonies fitting for the occasion.

“A touching incident occurred in connection with the burial. The officers and crew of a Greek vessel now in port, the first of that nationality that has ever visited our harbor, waited on the family of the deceased and requested to be permitted to bear the remains of their honored countryman to the grave. They attended the funeral in a body, and the flags of the vessel were suspended at half-mast during the day (New Orleans Daily True-Delta March 3, 1852).”

The history of the Greeks in New Orleans is similar to other locations in the Western Hemisphere. Colonial era Greek sojourners met fellow Greeks in the 1840s-1850s. In turn these Greeks of the mid-1800s met later Greek arrivals of the 1880 to 1920 era. By 1900, some 300 Greeks were to be found in New Orleans. And among their number there were descendants of these various waves of Hellenic voyagers to Louisiana. That the Holy Trinity Church can count among its own descendants of these early Hellenes as visitors and as communicants is a long tradition. Clearly, Greek-American history is far more complex and interwoven with the historical details of North America than we so far have been told.

1 Comment

  1. Steve Frangos writes excellent pieces on the history of Greek-America. I would encourage him to write a new history and would be willing to collaborate with him on such a project.

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