Nicholas Roosevelt (b.1658) was the great(x4) grandfather of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th US President, and the great(x5) grandfather of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd US President. The two US Presidents named Roosevelt were distantly related.
Elena Roosevelt, was the niece of Theodore Roosevelt, and married her distant relation Franklin in 1905. Her uncle Theodore gave her away at the wedding ceremony, as her father, Theodore's younger brother Elliot, had died 11 years previous.
Back in 1982 the Jewish Chronicle "The Organ of British Jewry" announced that FDR had a Jewish great-grandmother, but they got a little confused.
The whole story is based on a book published that year which contained a series of six letters written in March and April 1935, regarding the alleged Jewish ancestors of the Roosevelts. The Jewish great-grandmother mentioned in one of these letters, was that of FDR's wife Eleanor—FDR was her distant cousin, but they did not share any great-grandparents—and the "evidence" mentioned in this letter, is just hearsay. But, that's not the end of the story, it was authoritatively claimed that FDR was far more Jewish than having just one long-dead Jewish in-law.
In 1934, a 74 year old Chase Osborn, the former governor of the State of Michigan, and friend of both Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, gave an interview to a Florida newspaper in which he revealed the Jewish ancestry of the Roosevelt family.
The article reads:
"He (Osborn) referred to the 'Jewish ancestry' of the president, explaining how he is a descendant of the Rossacampo family expelled from Spain in 1620. Seeking safety in Germany, Holland and other countries, members of the family, he said, changed their name to Rosenberg, Rosenbaum, Rosenblum, Rosenvelt and Rosenthal. The Rosenvelts in north Holland finally became Roosevelt, soon becoming apostates with the first generation and others following suit until, in the fourth generation a little storekeeper by the name of Jacobus Roosevelt was the only one who remained true to his Jewish faith. It is because of this Jewish ancestry, Osborn said, that President Roosevelt has the trend of economic safety in his hands." 1
The Nazis would later pick up on this, dubbing Roosevelt: "Rosenfeld." 2
This is the book in question, retired newspaperman Philip Slomovitz's Purely Commentary. It was the cause of Roosevelt's alleged Jewish origin to re-emerge 48 years after Chase Osborn's interview was published. In the book, Slomovitz devotes a short chapter to aforementioned six letters from 1935, when he was then editor of the Detroit Jewish Chronicle. I have reproduced the chapter here in its entirety, in the gray text, everything else is my own.
He provided this introduction to the chapter entitled F.D.R.:
F.D.RA ninety-year old (he was actually only 74. Not a good start) former governor of the state of Michigan, Chase Osborn, gave a story to a southern newspaper in which he said that the Roosevelt family was originally Jewish. Osborn had no reason to be prejudiced against the Jews and had no political axe to grind; he was an old friend of the Roosevelts. He told this reporter that the Roosevelts had confided in him frequently, saying that they were of Jewish stock. It began, Chase said, with Theodore Roosevelt. I wrote F.D.R. asking him for an authentic reply to the rumor of his Jewish ancestry. Roosevelt responded to my inquiry, and the published letter, which created rather a sensation, elicited a comment from Dr. Stephen S. Wise and a series of comments from Osborn. Osborn was dissatisfied with the courteous treatment this writer accorded President Roosevelt. He wrote and called to say that the Roosevelts should be condemned for failing to affirm their Jewish background. "I am a better Jew than you are," he told me. What Osborn failed to take into account is that the Nazis used the Roosevelt letter as a means of calling him a Jew, of branding him "Rosenfeld," and it would have been adding fuel to the fires of anti-Semitism to say that Roosevelt was Jewish. As for the letter from Stephen Wise quoting Mrs. Roosevelt on the family's Jewish background, I have until now refused to release this material. But there is historical tradition that such a document can be released after almost half a century of anonymity.P.S.Philip Slomovitz's letter to FDR:
March 4, 1935His Excellency Franklin D. Roosevelt
President of the United States
Washington, D.C.Dear Mr. President:I believe you will be interested in an article which appeared in a Michigan publication called Civic Echo under the heading, "Michigan Governor Explains Roosevelt's Jewish Ancestry." The article reads:
Mr. Chase S. Osborn, former governor of Michigan, was a recent visitor to St. Petersburg, Florida. In a newspaper interview, he expressed his opinions concerning the revolutionary policies of the present administration in Washington. Among other things, he described in detail the alleged Jewish ancestry of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The statement appearing in the press is as follows:
" 'Although a Republican, the former governor has a sincere regard for President Roosevelt and his policies. He referred to the "Jewish ancestry" of the President, explaining how he is descendant of the Rosscampo family expelled from Spain in 1620. Seeking safety in Germany, Holland, and other countries, members of the family, he said, changed their name to Rosenberg, Rosenbau, Rosenblum, Rosenvelt, and Rosenthal. "
'The Rosenvelts in north Holland finally became Roosevelt, soon becoming apostates with the first generation and others following suit, until in the fourth generation, a little storekeeper, by the name of Jacobus Roosevelt was the only one who remained true to his Jewish faith.' "
It so happens that this is not not the first time that we have seen your name coupled with the Jews, especially in the efforts of anti-Semities to label you as a tool of Jews and Catholics. However, it occurs to me that you may be interested in the above-quoted statement particularly in view of the fact that an eminent Michigan leader and former governor has seen fit to find that your ancestry was Jewish.
It is with a sense of considerable regret that I must comment that we have grave doubts as to whether we may hope to feel so deeply honored with the truth of your lineage as traced by former Governor Osborn.
However, there is always a chance that there is an honor in store for us somewhere, even though unexpected. I am therefore just wondering a bit whether your family records or albums somewhere lend affirmation or denial to these fantastic stories. Perhaps you will be able to find occasion someday to make your own comment on this story.
Faithfully and cordially yours,
Detroit Jewish Chronicle
FDR's reply to Philip Slomovitz: (Which was published in newspapers across the U.S.)The White House
March 7, 1935My dear Mr. Slomovitz:I am grateful to you for your interesting letter of March fourth. I have no idea as to the source of the story which you say came from my old friend, Chase Osborn. All I know about the origin of the Roosevelt family in this country is that all branches bearing the name are apparently descended from Claes Martenssen Van Roosevelt, who came from Holland sometime before 1648—even the year is uncertain. Where he came from in Holland I do not know, nor do I know who his parents were. There was a family of the same name on one of the Dutch Islands and some of the same name living in Holland as lately as thirty or forty years ago, but, frankly, I have never had either the time or the inclination to try to establish the line on the other side of the ocean before they came over here, nearly three hundred years ago.In the dim distant past they may have been Jews or Catholics or Protestants—what I am more interested in is whether they were good citizens and believers in God—I hope they were both.
Very sincerely yours,Franklin D. Roosevelt
Chase Osborn's first letter to Philip Slomovitz
Poulan, Worth CountyGeorgia
March 21, 1935
Dear Editor Slomovitz:Thank you for your courtesy in sending me the Detroit Jewish Chronicle, dated March 15, 1935, with President Roosevelt's letter and comments, and you interesting editorial. The your letter just came, which is equally interesting. I have often heard of you in the highest terms from our mutual friend, Mr. Herbert Case.You may say that the only reason you can ascribe to my statement that Mr. Roosevelt might be a libel or a reflection upon your people, is that he and I differ in politics. That is not a particularly big interpretation of my remark. What was in my mind was that if he ever was a Jew, he is an apostate. If he is an apostate, he is a reflection upon your race.All my greatest idols and ideals belong to your people. Jesus Christ, a Jew, stands first. And then comes Moses. Perhaps every one of the major prophets of the Old Testament almost class with Moses. The greatest of all poetry is in the sublime Psalms. We owe our civilization, if we have a civilization, to the Hebrews and the Israelites, one and the same. From the Israelites we get our conception of the holiness of the Sabbath. No good Jew is a Sabbath-breaker. President Roosevelt is notoriously guilty of non-observance of the Seventh Day.It is undoubtedly true that all the people of the earth, if we are to believe the Scriptures and I do believe them, descend from Adam. That would makes all Jews at one time. And if we were all Jews at one time, perhaps there may have been general apostasies at various periods and maybe the Roosevelt backsliding is no worse than that of the rest of us except that it is more recent.President Roosevelt knows well enough that his ancestors were Jewish. I heard Theodore Roosevelt state twice that his ancestors were Jewish. Once was to me when I asked him about it after he had made a pleasing euphemistic statement in a speech to a Jewish gathering.Furthermore, you conclude that I cannot prove my statements because my fire destroyed my own books. All these and other books bearing upon the genesis of proper names are to be had in almost any good library. I am living down here in the backwoods, simply.I have enjoyed hearing from you and I like the way you treated the entire matter editorially. The only criticism I can make is that if I were as good a Jew as you are I would never apologize for it on my own account or for my people. You say you are "in good company," I would put it the other way: that Mr. Roosevelt is.Best wishes.
Chase S. Osborn
Chase Osborn's second letter to Philip Slomovitz:
April 2, 1935Dear Mr. Slomovitz:I believe I am a better Jew than you are! Anyhow you can make any use of my letter you wish. Best wishes.
Yours cordiallyChase S. OsbornBetter read the Talmud (Palestinian, Jerusalem, and Babylonian) with both Mishna and Gemara, your mosaic laws and ancient Jewish chronicles! All of us are helped by a close study of these.
Philip Slomovitz's reply to Chase Osborn:
April 4, 1935Dear Mr. Osborn:You are a much more interesting man than I originally thought you were, and I got a great thrill out of your letter making claim to better Jewishness than is mine.I assure you, my dear dear governor, that whenever I have a chance, I do glance at Talmudic wisdom. I don't know what reference you have to my last letter (not reprinted in the book) which makes you say that you are a better Jew than I am, unless you are referring to the manner in which I condoned sabbath breaking on the part of some Jews, but it will interest you to know that there was a school of ancient rabbis who maintained that one is justified even in breaking the Sabbath when it helps him to make himself economically secure—meaning that one who is compelled to work on the Sabbath for the sake of his livelihood is justified in breaking even the Sabbatical law.I am anxious to know which translation of the Talmud you are using for your own studies.With sincere good wishes, I amYours very truly
Philip SlomovitzRabbi Stephen S. Wise's letter to Philip SlomovitzSynagogue HouseStrictly Personal and Confidential
40 West 68 Street
Near Central Park
March 27, 1935
Mr. Philip Slomovitz
Detroit Jewish Chronicle
525 Woodward Avenue
Detroit, Mich.Dear Slomovitz:I think I have something that you will find of interest to tell you, in connection with your recent correspondence with President Roosevelt. I give you an almost literal transcript of an item of conversation at the luncheon table in my home when Mrs. Roosevelt was the guest of honor. I was not present, but this is the conversation as it was reported to me by Mrs. Wise, who is very accurate:Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt said: "often Cousin Alice and I say that all the brains in the Roosevelt family comes from our Jewish great-grandmother."She added a name which, as I recall it, was Esther Levy. Then she said, "Whenever mention is made of our Jewish great-grandmother by Cousin Alice or myself, Franklin's Mother gets very angry and says, 'you know that is not so. Why do you say it?'"Mrs. Roosevelt spoke as with knowledge, conviction and authority. You must not, however, make use of this. I think it is just as well to let the matter die down now. Do you not think that what President Roosevelt wrote to you is more or less the statement of a man who knows what I have written to be true but deems it wiser and more expedient not to make public mention of it at this time?With most cordial greeting and thanks again, dear Slomovitz, and wishing you might say something editorial about the Congress.Faithfully yours,Rabbi Stephen S. Wise 3
As you can read, Rabbi Wise claimed his wife had heard Eleanor Roosevelt say her and her cousin Alice (Theodore Roosevelt's daughter) had a Jewish great-grandmother. He doesn't mention anything about FDR having Jewish ancestors, although Slomovitz implies this in his introduction to the chapter.
Cousins Alice and Eleanor Roosevelt's shared great-grandmothers are in the blue text above, Margaret Barnhill and Martha Stewart.Martha Stewart was the daughter of General Daniel Stewart, a hero of the American Revolutionary War, and she was baptised August 15, 1799, the year she was born.4 Her parents, and grandparents appear to very likely to have been Christians.5 If Martha Stewart had been the "Jewish great-grandmother", under Jewish Law, her daughter Mary Bulloch, and then in-turn, her son Theodore, would also have been Jews. Therefore, it can't have been Martha Stewart that Eleanor Roosevelt was referring to.Margaret Barnhill was the granddaughter of Thomas Potts, a member of the Continental Congress and not a Jew, neither was his wife Elizabeth Lukens. Margaret's father Robert Barnhill/Barnwell, was of Scots-Irish ancestry.6I personally can not find any obvious Jewish ancestry for Eleanor Roosevelt, although I don't pretend my research on this has been that extensive. Rabbi Wise and Philip Slomovitz thought she was part Jewish, and Chase Osborn thought they were all Jewish. But aside from their letters, I can't find any evidence which points to it.
Circled in the photo7 above is stockbroker Curtis B. Dall (1896 - 1991), alongside his 1968 book. Dall married F.D.R.'s daughter Anna in 1926, and they divorced in 1934, after they had had two children. Dall wrote in the above book of the ancestors of the Roosevelts:''Most of us can trace our families back for several generations. However, when one goes "way back", then the matter usually becomes rather involved.As I gathered it, the background of the Franklin Roosevelt family was a composite of English, Dutch, Jewish, and French stock.
I never gave the matter any particular thought except that it was of very solid American background. The Delanos, as a family, were accented on the French side.''8
1. This interview appeared in the February 8th, 1934 edition of the St. Petersburgh Times of Florida, although the section with the interview is not viewable online. Having checked many editions on the online archives, sections of each edition are absent. The interview was quoted from in the March 21, 1935 edition. (quick view)
2. Herzstein, Robert Edwin. Roosevelt & Hitler: Prelude to War. New York: Paragon House. 1989. p.178 & p.294
3. Slomovitz, Philip. Purely Commentary: Philip Slomovitz's Sixty Years as a Newspaperman. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. 1981. pp.3-9 *
4. Bulloch, Joseph Gaston. History and Geanology of the Stewart, Elliott and Dunwoody Families. Savannah, GA: Robinson Printing House. p.5
5. Ibid p.3
6. Putnam, Carleton. Theodore Roosevelt: The Formative Years, 1858-1886. New York: Scribner & Sons. 1958. p.6
7. The Helena Independent (MT), November 9, 1932, page 6
8. Dall, Curtis B. F.D.R. My Exploited Father-In-Law, p.72
* Scanned pages viewable here:
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