The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Twenty-Nine

August 9-17, 1917 

Kate Roosevelt’s August 9, 1917 diary entry began, “Langdon’s birthday. He is six years-old. Hannah and Louise McKnight came down to get ice cream and stayed to play.” In my quest to find out more about Kate’s country estate called Merdlemouth in Hightstown, New Jersey, I took a field trip to the town historical society and low and behold, met a relative of the two children mentioned as guests at the birthday party. She said her great- grandfather was the farm’s caretaker who Kate always referred to as “McKnight” in her diary entries.  His great-great granddaughter, Marcy Havens, told me that she had several letters that he had “taken out of the trash” and saved.  One was a letter from Edith Roosevelt (President Theodore Roosevelt’s wife), dated 1907, congratulating Kate Roosevelt on the engagement of her daughter, Dorothy Quincy Roosevelt to Langdon Geer.

Since being introduced to Kate Roosevelt through her diary (1912-1919), I have met so many people who had or still have a connection to her very interesting life and are willing to share their memories.

A family member from the Shippen side of the family who has been following The Dowager’s Diary is Sam Chapin. He is the grandson of Ruth and Theodore Steinway and a great-grandson of Kate Roosevelt’s sister, Anna Davis, and her husband, Howland. When I asked him about a relative named Shippen Davis, who is mentioned often in the diary, he was very happy to fill me in.

Plattsburg Training Camp WWI

On August 15, 1917, Kate’s diary read, “Arrived at Long Pond (Anna and Howland Davis’ summer estate in Plymouth, Massachusetts) at 9:45 P.M. Roads were very bad. Found Shippen Davis, my nephew, there, just back from Officer’s Training Camp at Plattsburg. He had his Second Lieutenant’s Commission and his orders to go abroad at once.”

Theodore Roosevelt visits Plattsburg Training Camp

Plattsburg was established as an officer’s training camp in upstate New York by family friend, Dr. Leonard Wood who was a member of Cousin Theodore’s Roosevelt’s Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War. Held annually during the summer months, Plattsburg was organized by private citizens who wanted officer’s training in preparation for going overseas to fight during World War One.  During the war years, the camp saw 40,000 men become physically fit, learn to march and shoot and become Army Officers. Enlistees at this elite “club” paid their own expenses. Labor unions asked that their members be included, but were not invited to join, only college graduates were admitted.

Plattsburg Poster

During his summer at this exclusive officer’s training camp, it was most likely Shippen Davis rubbed elbows and bivouacked with his Aunt Kate’s relatives on the Roosevelt side of the family. President Theodore Roosevelt’s three sons, Kermit, Archie and Quentin all trained at Plattsburg before going overseas. Quentin Roosevelt, who trained for the air corps there was killed in an air battle over France in 1918.

According to Sam Chapin, his relative, William Shippen Davis, was a “flag carrying patriot who wanted to serve in the military in any way he could. He was sent to Europe shortly after the United States entered World War One. He specified that “Stars and Stripes Forever” be the opening music at his funeral and it was played loudly to the surprise of some attendees!”

Quentin and Archie Roosevelt Plattsburg

Patriotism ran through the veins of both sides of Kate Shippen Roosevelt’s Family. Of course, historians are well-aware of the Roosevelt’s upstanding love of country, but many don’t know about the Shippen’s sordid side of the story.

Kate Shippen Roosevelt’s family was a prominent one from Philadelphia and listed among its members, two mayors and the founder of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. Her ancestor, Edward Shippen, was a judge and member of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania while England still ruled the colonies. During the Revolutionary War, the Shippen Family’s loyalties were divided.  Judge Shippen was a Tory with allegiance to the British Throne. His beautiful daughter, Peggy Shippen, was his youngest and dearly cherished child and most likely sympathetic to his loyalty to the king.

Mrs. Benedict Arnold (Peggy Shippen)

Judge Shippen and his family often entertained British officers at their townhouse on Society Hill during the Revolutionary War.  While the Continental Army occupied Philadelphia, a young officer named Benedict Arnold was in charge of the city. It was there he met and began clandestinely courting pretty Peggy Shippen.  Even though their political views were at odds, the couple married and she became Mrs. Benedict Arnold in 1779 and I couldn’t help but wonder. Was Peggy Shippen responsible for grooming one of history’s most famous traitors?

Sharon Hazard’s Dowager’s Diary appears on Thursday.

Photo One:
Dorothy Roosevelt and Langdon Geer are Engaged, Merdlemouth, Hightstown, New Jersey 1907
Noel Geer Seifert Photo

Photo Two:
Plattsburg Training Camp WWI
Library of Congress

Photo Three:
Theodore Roosevelt visits Plattsburg Training Camp
Library of Congress

Photo Four:
Plattsburg Poster
Library of Congress

Photo Five:
Quentin and Archie Roosevelt Plattsburg
Library of Congress

Photo Six:
Mrs. Benedict Arnold (Peggy Shippen)
by Daniel Gardner
wiki