Nicholas and Eleanor Roosevelt

Nicholas Latrobe Roosevelt (1847-1892) was the son of Samuel and Mary Jane (Horton) Roosevelt, of New York and Skaneateles, and the grandson of Nicholas J. and Lydia (Latrobe) Roosevelt of Skaneateles. He was born here in June of 1847, and grew up living in New York City and summering in the village. His younger brother, Samuel Montgomery Roosevelt, also had a long association with the village, buying the De Zeng mansion in 1899 and renaming it Roosevelt Hall.

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An 1868 graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Nicholas Roosevelt served with the U.S. Navy in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and in 1871 was a part of the U.S. expedition to Korea. This began as a diplomatic mission, but evolved into something more bellicose when Korean shore batteries fired upon two American ships. While the Korean cannons were primitive and their shots went astray, the Americans, in the person of Rear Admiral John Rodgers, demanded an apology, didn’t get one, and so attacked the Korean forts.

Lieutenant Roosevelt, who was serving as Master on the U.S.S. Alaska, commanded a group of gunboats which shelled the forts from the water while 600 sailors and Marines landed and stormed the forts on foot. The Koreans were armed with matchlock muskets, and when these proved to be ineffective, they threw rocks. Really. After a short battle, five Korean forts had been taken and 246 men were dead, of whom 243 were Korean.  When Admiral Rodgers tried to use 20 wounded Korean prisoners as a bargaining chip, the Koreans said, “Keep them. They are all cowards.” Lt. Roosevelt was “creditably mentioned in dispatches,” but was not one of those decorated for heroism.

In 1874, Nicholas left the Navy and settled in New York City. And on April 14th of that year, he married Miss Eleanor Dean, starting the whole ‘Eleanor Roosevelt’ thing.

This story, in fact, offers us an opportunity to sort out the Eleanor Roosevelts of Skaneateles, not counting Eleanor (Roosevelt) Roosevelt, wife of F.D.R., America’s longest-serving First Lady, who visited here, but wasn’t really ours. As noted above, Nicholas began the confusion, inadvertently I am sure, when he married Eleanor (Dean) Roosevelt. Their son, Henry Latrobe Roosevelt, threw us all a curve ball when in 1902 he married Eleanor (Morrow) Roosevelt, and, as was their right, upon the birth of a daughter in 1915, Harry and Eleanor named her Eleanor Katherine Roosevelt. So if a researcher looks for an Eleanor Roosevelt who summered in Skaneateles, he or she quickly finds three.

While I’m at it, Skaneateles also had three Henry Latrobe Roosevelts: The first was the son of Nicholas J. and Lydia; he was born in 1811, gave St. James’ Episcopal Church an organ in memory of his mother and donated the Nicholas Roosevelt stained-glass window in memory of his father. The second Henry Latrobe was the son of Nicholas L. and Eleanor, born in 1879 and known as “Harry;” he became the Asst. Secretary of the Navy and owner of Roosevelt Hall from 1920 to 1936, having inherited it from his uncle, Samuel Montgomery Roosevelt. The third was Henry Latrobe Jr., the son of Henry L. and Eleanor; he was born in 1910, went by “Troby,” spent time here in his boyhood and in August of 1916, caught and survived polio during an epidemic that took the life of the St. James’ Rector’s wife, Mary Hewlett.

But back to Nicholas. In New York, he became connected with the business of fire insurance while serving as Secretary of the New York & Boston insurance company,  and in 1884 became a principal in the insurance firm of Roosevelt & Boughton. He was a member of the Union Club, the Down Town Club, the Loyal Legion, and the Essex Country Club in Morristown, New Jersey, where the family made its home. It was said that he would sit on the veranda of the country club and swap stories about Asia with some of the other well-traveled members.

Nicholas Roosevelt died of pneumonia at his home in New York in 1892; the funeral was held at his residence and his body was brought to Skaneateles for burial. He was just 45 years old. Eleanor Dean Roosevelt outlived her husband by more than 40 years. She summered in Skaneateles with the children: Harry, Louisa and Guy Nicholas. She was listed in the Social Register of New York, and known in Skaneateles for giving dinners and bridge parties. Her arrivals and departures were noted in the Skaneateles Press. Eleanor later wintered in Charleston, South Carolina, where Guy Nicholas’ wife, Emily, had family connections and a plantation, and “Nick” and Emily Roosevelt eventually owned a plantation of their own.

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Eleanor Dean Roosevelt died at her daughter Louisa’s home in New York City in 1933. Her funeral service was held here at St. James’ and she was buried in Lake View Cemetery, next to the grave of her husband.

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Nicholas and Eleanor Roosevelt are remembered in Skaneateles by pew number 17, on the west side of the nave, at St. James’. The pew was most probably endowed by their son, Henry Latrobe “Harry” Roosevelt, who was summering in Skaneateles at Roosevelt Hall in the early 1930s, and by their two other children, Louisa Roosevelt Bainbridge-Hoff of New York, and G. Nicholas Roosevelt of Philadelphia and South Carolina.

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Pew photo by Lauren Mills Wojtalewski

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