A Secret Roosevelt

Fact & Fiction

Mr. Renehan's books include The Lion's Pride: Theodore Roosevelt and His Family in Peace and War (Oxford University Press, 1998). His home on the web is http://renehan.blogspot.com

On a recent walking tour, I found myself having to correct our guide after he indicated that Arlington Cemetery's hallowed ground contains no members of the Roosevelt family. In fact it does contain at least one furtive Roosevelt. The gentleman in question is soldier, war-correspondent, author and editor Granville Roland Fortescue (1875 — 1952).

At the time of his birth, Fortescue's mother — an Irish maid by the name of Marion “Minnie” O'Shea — was mistress to Theodore Roosevelt's uncle, Robert B. Roosevelt. Attorney, adventurer, conservationist, soldier, reform Democratic politician, author and ambassador, Robert B. Roosevelt had — in the early 1870s — set up Miss O'Shea in a Manhattan townhouse not far from his own, there to live under the alias Mrs. Fortescue. She, in turn, gave him several children. After Roosevelt's wife died in 1887, he promptly (1888) married the “Widow Fortescue,” becoming Granville's “step-father” when the boy was 13.

Unacknowledged as a Roosevelt by blood, Fortescue spent all his days behaving in a thoroughly (in fact, fanatically) Rooseveltian manner. He had lifelong associations with a number of recognized Roosevelts, but he was never able — given the prejudices of the time in which he lived — to utter publicly the truth of his blood connection to the clan he admired so much and emulated so ardently.

Fortescue left the University of Pennsylvania in 1898 to enlist as a corporal in the Rough Riders. Serving under his blood-cousin Theodore Roosevelt — who always referred to him by the nickname “Roly” — he was wounded (in the foot) at San Juan Hill. Fortescue remained in the Army after the war, and saw action in the Philippines throughout the Insurrection (1898 — 1901). During his cousin's presidency, Fortescue received appointment as second lieutenant, 4th United States Calvary. He graduated from the Army Staff College (1904), advanced to the rank of first lieutenant, and thereafter served as military attaché with the Japanese before Port Arthur. Fortescue later became a military aide to President Theodore Roosevelt.

Lieutenant Fortescue resigned from the army the year his “step-father” died, 1906, after which he took on duties as Captain and Special Agent for the Cuban Rural Guard. This continued until 1909 when he signed-on as special correspondent for the London Standard, covering the Spanish Army during the Riff War. Subsequently — about the same time that Theodore Roosevelt busily mapped the River of Doubt in Brazil — Fortescue explored the interior of Venezuela from the headwaters of the Orinoco River to the mouth.

During the early days of World War I, before the entry of the United States, Fortescue worked as correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph and in that capacity traveled variously with Belgian, French, English, Russian and Turkish forces. At the same time, he authored no less than four books (among them, France Bears the Burden, 1917) designed to help the interventionist movement in the United States — a movement headed by TR. Once the U.S. entered the war, Fortescue received a commission as a major in Pershing's army, saw active duty with the 314th Field Artillery (1917 — 18), and received wounds at Mountfaucon.

Fortescue continued in the peacetime army and retired as a major in 1928. During his career he was awarded the Certificate of Merit and the Distinguished Service Cross, the Spanish War Medal, the Philippine Insurrection Medal, the Order of the Purple Heart, and the Order of the Rising Sun (Japan).

Beginning in 1930, Fortescue occupied himself as fiction editor for Liberty Magazine and lived in Bayport, Long Island, just a short distance from Meadowcroft, the home of his half-brother (officially “step-brother”) John Ellis Roosevelt. He wrote a number of plays and also the memoir Frontline and Deadline (1937), wherein he kept the truth of his parentage a secret.

Fortescue died on April 21, 1952 at age seventy-seven.

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Anne Halford - 7/23/2006

1870 U.S. Census- New York Ward 20 Dist 10, New York, NY
Robert "Fortescue" 41 CT journalist
Mary Fortescue 24 Ire.
Mary Corcoran 28 Ire. servant

I have found no Robert Fortesque before or after that date and speculate it is a peudonym for journalist Robert Roosevelt of the same age. The oldest child of "Marian T Fortesque" shown in the 1880 census, was Kenyon, born Aug 1870

Robert B Roosevelt is shown twice under his own name in the 1870 census.
NY, NY, NY ward 18, Dist.2
Robert B Roosevelt 40 NY Lawyer
with wife Elizabeth 36 born New Jersey
children Margaret 18, John E 17 and Robert 4
4 female Irish servants (including a Mary Hogan age 24)


NY, Queens, Hempstead,
Robert B Roosevelt 41 NY Editor of Citizen
with wife Lydia 40 born New York
children Minnie 18, John 16, and Bortie 4
4 Irish servants (including a Mary Walsh age 23)

Fredrick William Armstgrong - 6/10/2005

Can anyone verify the maiden name of Marion Roosevelt? Does anyone know if Mr. Fortescue existed? I cannot locate her as Marion O'Shea or as Marion Fortescue prior to the 1880 Census.

Andrew Roosevelt - 1/3/2004

This is all quite true and well-known within the Roosevelt family. There are, by the way, no surviving Fortescue "Roosevelts" - that line has played itself out.
- AR

Edward J. Renehan Jr. - 1/3/2004

Check McCullough, MORNINGS ON HORSEBACK, p. 22 of the original hardcover edition. Also Timothy Beard's genealogy of the Roosevelt family. Cheers, - EJR

Ralph E. Luker - 1/1/2004

Mr. Renehan may cite the convincing evidence of Fortesque's kinship to the Roosevelt's elsewhere. Unless I simply missed it, he doesn't offer it here.

Martin Walsh - 1/1/2004

The Fortescue information was fascinating. I thought I had seen everything about the Roosevelts in Peter Collier's book by that name, but here's more along the same lines. I grew up with FDR, but learned more from Collier than I ever got from the public prints. The R's. had their good and bad sides, but I'm afraid the final verdict on FDR was passed by those who knew him best, the "Greatest Generation". They passed the 22nd Amendment to make sure there'd never be another like him.