Amid the obscure graves in the Johnsburg Methodist Church cemetery just south of Route 8, are four markers bearing one of the most famous last names in U.S. history. The interred – Nicholas, a second Nicholas, Robert, and Catharine – were all Roosevelts. But were these the Roosevelts, related to two American presidents? And, if they were, how did they end up in the North Country?
By tracing the lineage of these Johnsburg Roosevelts, we discover something surprising. Not only did our local branch have ties to national politics, but they also have an outsized impact on politics, real estate, and even the economy of the Adirondacks.
You will need to pay attention to the story, because there are lots of ‘Nicholas’ Roosevelts along the way. First, let’s see how they got to New York. In 1649, Holland colonist Claes (Klaas) Maartenszen (Maertensze) van Rosenvelt arrived in New Amsterdam, now New York, with his wife, Jannetje Samuel-Thomas. They had five children before Claes died in 1660.
Their fifth child, son Nicholas van Rosenvelt (1658-1742), became an American politician, first to use the more familiar spelling, “Roosevelt.” During the 1680s, Nicholas lived in Esopus, another Netherland colonial settlement near present-day Kingston, New York, where he was a fur trader on good terms with the local indigenous people. In 1690, he and his family returned to New York City. There, he became the first Roosevelt to hold an elected office in North America, serving as an alderman for New York City’s, West Ward from 1698 to 1701 and again in 1715.
In 1682. he married Heyltje Jans Kunst in New York and the couple had ten children. Their family would be a force in American politics. Through son Johannes, Nicholas would become the 4th great-grandfather to 26th President Theodore Roosevelt (the Oyster Bay Roosevelts); through son Jacobus, he would also be 4th great-grandfather to 32nd President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (the Hyde Park Roosevelts).
But it was Nicholas and Heyltje’s third child – eldest son Nicholas Roosevelt II (1687-1718) – whose family tree would include the Johnsburg Roosevelts. In 1710, he married Sarah Fulman in New York and they had four children, including first son Nicholas Roosevelt III (1715-1769). For 34 years, this Nicholas worked as a goldsmith before retiring to New Jersey in 1769. He married twice: first to Catharina Comfort in 1737, with whom he had three children, before her 1750 death; then in 1754 to Elizabeth Thurman (1725-1769) in the Dutch Reformed Church, where they had both been raised.
Through the Thurman alliance, this branch of the Roosevelts would forge their Adirondack connections. Elizabeth was the daughter of John Thurman, Sr, a prominent New York trader and merchant, and his wife Elizabeth Wessel, whom he wed in 1719. Besides Elizabeth, they had five other children, including John Thurman, Jr., the pioneer landowner and Adirondack entrepreneur, who became the namesake for the Towns of Johnsburg and Thurman in Warren County, New York.
John Jr. would make major investments in the Adirondacks. After the Revolutionary War, he bought thousands of acres west of Lake George in what was then the Town of Queensberry later part of Warren County, New York. On May 5th, 1788, he bought Township 12 of the Totten and Crossfield Purchase from the State of New York for £1,400 and built his residence, Elm Hill. He also became an entrepreneur, establishing a factory complex along Beaver Brook, now Mill Creek, where South Johnsburg Road crosses it today.
Over time, he built a grist mill, lumber mill, wool carding works and distillery, and this land became the heart of the Town of Johnsburg when it was established in 1805. John Thurman Jr. died in 1809, never having married. The bulk of his land holdings were divided between the son of his brother Ralph, and the children of his sister Elizabeth Thurman Roosevelt and husband Nicholas III.
Nicholas and Elizabeth Thurman Roosevelt had two children; Nicholas IV (1758-1838) and Elizabeth (1762-1819). Nicholas IV was working for his uncle John Thurman Jr. as early as 1774 when he is mentioned in a business letter by Thurman. After the purchase of Township 12 by John in 1788, Nicholas worked at Elm Hill; however, displeased with his management, Thurman turned the operation over to William Cameron in the spring of 1790. In 1793, Nicholas IV married Margaret Cramer (1769-1832), and they had four children: Nicholas V (1794-1859), Elizabeth (1798-1815), Catharine Roosevelt Dunn (1801-1891) and Robert Gilchrist Roosevelt (1805-1868).
They lived in Waterford, New York until 1815, when Elizabeth died and was buried in the Waterford Rural Cemetery, as was Margaret in 1832. By then the remaining three children were living in Johnsburg: Catharine bought property from her father in 1817 and married John Dunn: Nicholas V was in the 1820 and 1830 Johnsburg censuses; and Robert bought John Thurman Jr.’s Elm Hill, from his father in 1817.
The first Roosevelt burial in the Johnsburg Methodist Cemetery occurred in 1838 when Nicholas IV died. After the death of his wife in 1832, he likely had gone to live with one of his children, thus, he was in Johnsburg at the time of his death. The remaining three of Nicholas IV’s children show up on the 1858 Chace map of Warren County near the Hamlet of Nobles Corners. This hamlet, at the present-day intersection of State Route 8 and South Johnsburg Road, is now the Hamlet of Johnsburg. Catharine is living with husband J. D. Dunn; Nicholas V is N. Roosevelt north of Nobles Corners where he owned Lots 7, 8, 9 and 10; and Robert is R. G. Roosevelt to the south of Nobles Corner at the old Elm Hill estate.
Nicholas V died single in 1859 and was interred in the Methodist cemetery. Robert Gilchrist Roosevelt never married either and left no heirs when he died in 1868. Therefore, after five generations, the surname Roosevelt from the Nicholas lineage ended in Johnsburg. Catharine Roosevelt Dunn died in 1891. She had lived with her husband in the elegant Dunn Mansion, next door to the Methodist Cemetery. With her maiden name on her grave-stone, she was the last Roosevelt of this lineage, by name, interred in Johnsburg.
This year, 2024, the Johnsburg Historical Society will be placing a William Pomeroy historical marker on South Johnsburg Road in front of the Dunn Mansion. This is the second Pomeroy marker on this road, as John Thurman Jr.’s Elm Hill has a marker a mile south of the mansion.
Photo at top: The 1858 Chace map of Warren County has all three of Nicholas’ children. Catharine is living with husband J. D. Dunn; Nicholas V is N. Roosevelt north of Nobels Corners and Robert is R. G. Roosevelt to the south at the old Elm Hill estate. Map source: New York Public Library digital collections.