Sara and Eleanor: The Story of Sara Delano Roosevelt and Her Daughter-in-Law, Eleanor Roosevelt

Sara and Eleanor: The Story of Sara Delano Roosevelt and Her Daughter-in-Law, Eleanor Roosevelt

by Jan Pottker
Sara and Eleanor: The Story of Sara Delano Roosevelt and Her Daughter-in-Law, Eleanor Roosevelt

Sara and Eleanor: The Story of Sara Delano Roosevelt and Her Daughter-in-Law, Eleanor Roosevelt

by Jan Pottker

Paperback(First Edition)

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We think we know the story of Eleanor Roosevelt—the shy, awkward girl who would redefine the role of First Lady, becoming a civil rights activist and an inspiration to generations of young women. As legend has it, the bane of Eleanor's life was her demanding and domineering mother-in-law, Sara Delano Roosevelt. Biographers have overlooked the complexity of a relationship that had, over the years, been reinterpreted and embellished by Eleanor herself.

Through diaries, letters, and interviews with Roosevelt family and friends, Jan Pottker uncovers a story never before told. The result is a triumphant blend of social history and psychological insight—a revealing look at Eleanor Roosevelt and the woman who made her historic achievements possible.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312339395
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 04/01/2005
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.96(d)

About the Author

Jan Pottker is the author of seven previous books, including Janet and Jackie: The Story of a Mother and Her Daughter, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Pottker's interest in Sara and Eleanor was sparked when she realized that a myth had grown around Eleanor at the expense of Sara—-much the same as the relationship between Jackie and her mother had been underplayed and distorted over time. Pottker has a Ph.D. from Columbia University and lives in Potomac, Maryland, with her husband, Andrew S. Fishel.

Read an Excerpt

Sara and Eleanor

The Story of Sara Delano Roosevelt and Her Daughter-in-Law, Eleanor Roosevelt

By Jan Pottker

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2004 Writer's Cramp, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-6451-1


"French by Ancestry, Dutch by Birth, and English by Association"

Much of what Sara Delano Roosevelt would come to stand for was determined long before she was born. Her lineage could be traced back to the old Huguenot, Puritan, and Pilgrim settlers, and both her family and that of her husband, James Roosevelt, were firmly rooted in America's history. In Sara's case, her blue blood derived from those who sailed to this new land to escape religious persecution.

Well before Sara Delano's birth in 1854, two great Hudson River families — the Delanos and the Roosevelts — had established themselves on opposite sides of the river. Sara's family, the Delanos, was on the west. There were no mysterious antecedents in this stock. The Delanos were the descendants of Philippe de Lannoy, a Dutchman of French Protestant ancestry: a Huguenot whose prosperous parents — Jean and Marie Mahieu de Lannoy — had left Lille, France, to escape Catholic persecution. About 1600 the de Lannoys arrived in Leyden, Holland.

Philippe was born in Leyden in 1602. His mother was a friend to neighboring Puritans who had, in 1609, similarly left their homeland — in this case, England — to escape religious oppression. In fact, Marie, whose husband died when Philippe was a toddler, had established twelve houses in Leyden for religious refugees, primarily English. One family she sheltered was the Mullinses, whose daughter Priscilla was celebrated in Longfellow's poem "The Courtship of Miles Standish" 250 years later.

However, even in the relative safety of Holland, the Puritans feared that Dutch culture would subsume their children and that their sons would be plucked away to fight in a Dutch war against Spain. As a result, William Bradford, a friend of the de Lannoys, organized his fellow Puritans (including the Mullins family) to depart Leyden for the New World on the ship Mayflower. They set sail for Virginia but in 1620 landed instead in Plymouth, in what would become Massachusetts.

The adventure of the new colony appealed to the teenage Philippe. Envying those who had sailed on the Mayflower, within the year Philippe cast his lot with the Pilgrims by leaving Holland for America. His ship was the Fortune, the first vessel to arrive in Plymouth Colony since the successful trip of the Mayflower eleven months earlier.

Plymouth records cite the first words the Fortune voyagers heard in the New World in 1621. "Sail, ho!" shouted the sentry from his post on Fort Hill. Captain Miles Standish was standing ready: fearing "buccaneers — French, Spanish or Turks," he aimed cannon and musket volleys at the Fortune, which, in keeping with her name, survived the firepower long enough to declare herself friend. Amidst this hostile tumult, nineteen-year-old Philippe arrived in the New World — the first French Huguenot to step on American soil.

Friendly fire was not all that the Fortune passengers had to fear. The Indian chief Canonicus quickly learned of the ship's arrival; his gift to the thirty-five new settlers was a prophetic bundle of arrows tied in snakeskin. William Bradford, now governor of Plymouth Colony, returned this omen of war — but only after restuffing the snakeskin with bullets and powder.

Soon after Philippe's arrival, Priscilla Mullins wrote back to Holland, "I were glad indeed to see all my friends of the house of de la Noye coming hither in the next ship." Philippe moved into the residence of his uncle, Francis Cooke, and his cousin, John Cooke, who had arrived on the Mayflower. He received one acre of land from the colony and then, as legend has it, sought the hand of the much-desired Priscilla. He was allegedly spurned on the very same day that she turned down a proposal from Captain Miles Standish that was delivered by John Alden — the man she loved — and "said, in a tremulous voice, 'Why don't you speak for yourself, John?'" the episode later celebrated by Longfellow's poem.

Philippe was as much a part of the Pilgrim community as any Englishman but formally asked for admission in 1633. After proving "himself to be come of such parents as were in full communion with the French [Protestant] churches," he was admitted first to the church of Plymouth and then to that of Duxbury, Massachusetts. Philippe was, as descendant Jonathan DeLeno said, "French by ancestry, Dutch by birth, and English by association."

In 1634 he married Hester Dewsbury in the bucolic Duxbury church. However, the peaceful church scene belied the dangers of the surrounding land. Three years after his marriage, Philippe — now Major de Lannoy — fought in the Pequot War of 1636–38, the colonial land's first skirmish between the Pequot Indians of Connecticut and the Puritans. He served under Captain Standish. For his service, Philippe was rewarded with forty acres of land that happened to abut the farm of John and Priscilla Alden.

Philippe also served the colony as a surveyor. A record of the era calls him "a man of much respectability"; other listings detail his conscientious tax payments and jury duty. After the death of his wife, Hester, Philippe married the widow Mary Pontus Glass, who years earlier had been chosen by Governor Bradford to preside as hostess at the first Thanksgiving dinner.

Philippe had four daughters and five sons by his two wives. The second generation of de Lannoys compressed their surname to Delano. The first son to bear the new family name was Philip Jr. (Note also the anglicized spelling of his given name.)

Philippe's second son, Thomas, would grow up to marry Mary Alden, Priscilla's daughter, in the nation's first recorded shotgun wedding. According to Plymouth Colony court records of October 30, 1667, Thomas was fined ten pounds "for having carnall copulation with his now wife before marriage." The judge who meted out punishment was none other than John Alden, Thomas's father-in-law and neighbor. After Thomas paid his fine, the couple, with their newborn son, moved straightaway to West Duxbury.

The other sons of Philippe were John, Samuel (who married the granddaughter of Captain Miles Standish), and Jonathan (a colonial army lieutenant). The girls were Mary, Hester, Jane, and Deborah. They were becoming New Englanders, and like their father, Philippe — who died in 1681 at the venerable age of seventy-nine — their interest in European affairs centered on how those affairs affected the colonies.

Of Philippe's nine children, Jonathan Delano — not the "carnall" Thomas — is the son to whom Sara traced her ancestry. Jonathan was born in Duxbury in 1647 or 1648. His father was among the thirty-four colonists who, in 1652, purchased Dartmouth (in what is now Massachusetts) from the Wampanoag sachem Massasoit and his son Wamsutta. (Dartmouth originally comprised what is now Fairhaven, New Bedford, Westport, and Acushnet in Massachusetts, and part of Tiverton, in Rhode Island.) Philippe gave his share of eight hundred acres to Jonathan, who married Mercy Warren in 1678. She was the granddaughter of the Mayflower passenger Richard Warren, who had left the ship, as it approached the New World, on a small boat to select the landing place, which he named Plymouth Rock.

Jonathan and Mercy lived in perilous times. King Philip's War had cost the young colony nearly a thousand lives, and the French and their Indian allies had left in their wake thirteen destroyed towns. After this devastation, Jonathan Delano was one of eighteen colonists and twenty-two allied Indians who banded together successfully to slay the Wampanoag chief called King Philip and defeat his troops. In 1689 Jonathan was rewarded with the rank of lieutenant and was elected a deputy from Dartmouth to Plymouth Court.

He also held the titles of surveyor, constable, and selectman. He and Mercy had thirteen children, nine of whom survived childhood. (One of their sons would be the great-great-grandfather of Ulysses S. Grant.) In 1704 Mercy Warren Delano gave birth to a son named after Jonathan's errant brother Thomas. When the younger Thomas was twenty-three, he married Jean Peckham.

Thomas and Jean's son Ephraim was born in Dartmouth in 1733. Ephraim was the fourth generation of Delanos in America and the first of several generations of seafaring Delanos, an inevitable consequence of being born near the ocean. Ephraim purchased part of the waterfront tract of what became the village of Fairhaven, a southeastern Massachusetts coastal town along Buzzards Bay, across the Acushnet River from the New Bedford seaport. Captain Ephraim Delano married twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth Cushman in 1760. Their families had known one another for more than 150 years: Elizabeth's great-great-grandfather Robert Cushman had been a Puritan neighbor of Philippe de Lannoy's parents in Holland. Before the Puritans had emigrated to the New World, they had sent Robert Cushman to obtain from the Virginia Company a land grant that would also convey toleration for their religion. After Cushman's successful mission, he selected the ship Mayflower for their voyage. He was ill when she set sail and stayed behind in charge of the Puritans who remained in Leyden. He sailed a year later on the Fortune with Philippe de Lannoy.

Captain Ephraim left the sea to serve as a private in the Revolutionary War. In 1779 his son Warren was born in a house on Main Street in Fairhaven. Warren, a fifth-generation American, was the first Delano born after independence. Warren went to sea in 1797, shipping out on a freighter around the Horn to China at age eighteen.

In 1808, at twenty-nine, Warren Delano married Deborah Church of Mayflower lineage, whose father and grandfather were both sea captains. Within six years the couple had three children — Warren Jr., Sara's father, was born in 1809; Frederick, in 1811; and Franklin, after whom Sara's son would be named, was born in 1813. Edward (Ned) was born in 1817. Warren Sr. was part owner of more than half a dozen ships, but he lost two of them — one in Newfoundland and the other in Bermuda — when the British seized them in the War of 1812. In fact, he himself was held on a British prison ship for a short time during the war.

Warren's concerns lay more directly with the safety of his family. During the British war against the new nation, he and his wife accurately anticipated a shelling of Fairhaven's harbor from the British raider Nimrod in Buzzards Bay. They drove their children (with the infant Franklin lying in a chaise with runners) to a boat leaving for an Acushnet farmhouse miles away. So many others had brought their children to this house for sanctuary that the floors were covered with slumbering children. The toddlers slept one to a stair step, and all remained safe that night.

The war had left the country's maritime trade in upheaval by the time Warren's father, Ephraim, died in 1815 at age eighty-two. Nevertheless, Warren reopened the family's profitable routes to the Orient, traveling to the Macao port of call (a Portuguese colony) in the Canton region of China. Moreover, his other seafaring ventures, primarily whaling, brought the Delanos enough wealth to support comfortably a family that grew to four daughters and four sons.

After the death of his wife, Deborah, Warren Sr. remarried Eliza Adams Parker, the widow of a navy captain, in 1828. Because wealth for wealth's sake was never the aim of any Delano, Warren retired once he felt he had comfortably established himself, spending his remaining decades in Fairhaven enjoying the company of his second wife and his family. With Eliza by his side, he would drive his two-wheeled one-horse chaise for short jaunts to nearby aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers, and daughters and sons. His world became the safe harbor of the family circle.

* * *

These ancestors of Sara Delano Roosevelt — the paternal line from Philippe de la Noye down six generations to her grandfather Warren Sr. — were men of strong character, tenacity, and courage, with wives their equal in spirit. All raised large families and lived unusually long lives. Three generations of men preceding Sara had ties to the sea. Each generation became richer than the one before.

Yet Sara's illustrious ancestry through the Delano line was capped by her maternal lineage, which represented 234 years of American history, beginning with the Mayflower passengers. In fact, Sara descended from both the last living woman and the last living man among the Mayflower's passengers. Her kin included the rebellious religious leader Anne Hutchinson, who was excommunicated and banished from Massachusetts Colony in 1637 for unorthodox Puritan doctrine. Sara's maternal ancestors also included the only judge to free an accused witch in the Plymouth Colony Court and two deputies who voted against executing Quakers. Other Delano relatives founded Virginia, Plymouth, and Rhode Island colonies.

Many of the women, as well as the men, were long-lived, an unusual circumstance for women before the twentieth century. Of one female from whom Sara descended, it was said at her death in 1693 at age ninety that she "Haveing lived a Godly life Came to her Grave as a shok of Corn fully Ripe." Sara's progenitors were nearly all connected in some manner to their spouses: if not by ancestry, then by history. Having rebelled once by leaving their native countries of England and France to seek religious freedom, they now settled into stations of respect and social position.


On the West Bank of the Hudson River Lived the Delanos

Sara's father, Warren Jr., was born in Fairhaven, east of the Acushnet River, in 1809. As a boy, he spent summers on the west bank of the river, lazing in the sun on the New Bedford wharves, watching clipper ships and whalers come into port. On Sundays his family worshipped at the Washington Street Christian Church, which was mainly Unitarian. (Now it is Unitarian Memorial Church.) During the school year, he attended Fairhaven Academy, graduating in 1824 at age fifteen. He later accompanied his father to the opening of the Erie Canal in Albany. On this first trip up the Hudson River, he was transfixed by the valley's beauty. He swore to strike out from New England to build his own estate on the Hudson.

Soon he was apprenticed to a Boston merchant banking and shipping firm, working in the counting room. After a few years, when he was nineteen, he moved to New York to work for a mercantile business. He first put out to sea in 1833, leaving from the anchorage in Fairhaven known, then and now, as the Delano Wharf. He traded on both coasts of South America before sailing for the Pacific Islands and then to China, which he reached in 1834. His father, Warren Sr., had built what is known as the Delano Homestead at 39 Walnut Street in Fairhaven in 1832. This house looked its part as the family's gathering place for a hundred years. The de Lannoy coat of arms hung over its front door, and as the years passed, the attic became stuffed with old ships' logs and ivory figures carved by whaling men.

In Canton, China, Warren Jr. took the place of Samuel H. Russell in the Boston tea-exporting firm of Russell, Sturgis and Company (later Russell and Company) so that Mr. Russell could return home to Middletown, Connecticut, for a visit. Warren Delano remained in China for nine years, working as a commission merchant for tea and opium, eventually becoming chief of operations for Macao, Canton, and Hong Kong.

For 150 years, tea and silk had been the most profitable commodities for the Americans and the British. When the English found they did not have enough export goods to balance what they were importing from China, they brought in tons of opium that the British East India Company had harvested in India, a country under British control. By bringing the high-quality, reddish-brown addictive drug into China, they could make a fortune and use their hard currency to buy yet more tea. The opium trade devastated China with more than 12 million drug addicts. (At the same time, Queen Victoria made the trade and consumption of opium illegal in England.) The opium trade — although illegal in China by 1836 — presented more financial opportunity than did tea and silk, despite the occasional crackdown by the Canton government. In 1838 a mob of some eight thousand angry Chinese stormed the Russell factories, with Warren caught inside. Only the intervention of Houqua, an honorary title for the Chinese agent Wu Ping-chien who handled most of the U.S. trade — and who was most likely bribed by the Americans — stopped the mayhem when he alerted the local militia.

The next year war broke out between China and Britain after a Chinese official destroyed $6 million of East India Company opium intended to keep its workers docile. The years that Warren was active in the opium trade coincided with the Opium Wars (1839–42 and 1856–60). Warren's brother Edward (Ned) was also in China working for Russell and visited opium dens in Singapore: "One man was prostrate under its effects — pale, cadaverous, deathlike...."

By 1839, despite the opium skirmishes, Warren had helped build Russell into a veritable empire through trading opium. Consequently, he was named senior partner. The aim of all the partners was to gain a "competence" of $100,000 ($2 million today) before returning home. Warren had gained several competences by the time he returned to New York briefly in 1843.


Excerpted from Sara and Eleanor by Jan Pottker. Copyright © 2004 Writer's Cramp, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
1. "French by Ancestry, Dutch by Birth, and English by Association",
2. On the West Bank of the Hudson River Lived the Delanos,
3. "My Orderly Little Life",
4. The Contented Spinster,
5. On the East Bank of the Hudson River Lived the Roosevelts,
6. "A Gentleman of the Old School",
7. Hyde Park,
8. "A Democrat Can Be a Gentleman",
9. "Sallie and Mr. Roosevelt",
10. "We Three",
11. The Oyster Bay Clan,
12. "A Beautiful Frame",
13. Groton School,
14. Allenswood School,
15. Mother and Guardian,
16. Sparks and Smolders,
17. "For Life, for Death!",
18. "Keeping the Name in the Family",
19. Roosevelt and Roosevelt,
20. "Dearest Mama",
21. "Modern Ideas",
22. "The Chicks",
23. "A Really Fine and Dignified Position",
24. "Launched in Your Work",
25. "The Traditions Some of Us Love Best",
26. "A Kaleidoscope of Work",
27. Miss Mercer,
28. "Our Boy",
29. "Rainy Day",
30. "Solidly Important Individual",
31. "'I Got Up This Party for You'",
32. Grit and Grace,
33. "Eleanor's Work Among the Women",
34. Splintered,
35. "If He Does, I Hope He Wins",
36. Happy Days,
37. First Mother,
38. "The Duchess",
39. Gracious Lady, Modern Woman,
40. "You Are My Life",
41. "Hyde Park and Me",
42. "The Dowager Mrs. Roosevelt",
43. "A World of Peace",
44. "The Truth Must Be Shown",
45. Brave Heart,
46. "Every Play Has to Have Its Heavy",
47. Epilogue,
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