Nevada Street Sweeper Discovers Plymouth Colony and Royal Heritage

Introduction: In this article, Melissa Davenport Berry writes about the 1933 discovery by a Nevada street-sweeper of his extraordinary family history. Melissa is a genealogist who has a blog, AnceStory Archives, and a Facebook group, New England Family Genealogy and History.

In 1933 Thomas “Tom” Severence Delano, a former locomotive engineer and street sweeper from Sparks, Nevada, became a newspaper celebrity overnight when he discovered his lineage was the same as U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This astonishing revelation had never been revealed, and the discovery put genealogists to work.

Photo: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, by Leon A. Perskie, Hyde Park, New York, 21 August 1944
Photo: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, by Leon A. Perskie, Hyde Park, New York, 21 August 1944. Credit: FDR Presidential Library & Museum; Wikimedia Commons.

A series of articles were published that revealed Thomas Delano’s Plymouth Colony connections plus bloodlines that spanned over 50 generations, going back to the royal houses of Richard Plantagenet, William the Conqueror, Alfred The Great, and Charlemagne!

The Virginia-Pilot published an elaborate two-page spread all about the “self-reliant street-sweeper” and his kinship.

An article about Thomas Delano, Virginian-Pilot newspaper article 10 December 1933
Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Virginia), 10 December 1933, page 42
An article about Thomas Delano, Virginian-Pilot newspaper article 10 December 1933
Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Virginia), 10 December 1933, page 43

This article begins:

“In the little railroad town of Sparks, a suburb of Reno, where the Southern Pacific trackage pierces the Nevada desert, there’s a municipal street-sweeper who takes an almost proprietary interest in the doings of the White House.

“His name is Thomas Severence Delano, Jr., and he’s a husky, healthy Westerner, 66 years young. He’s a former railroad engineer. The reason for his interest in White House affairs is this: ‘Tom’ Delano has lately found out that he is a fifth cousin of our President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”

The article also states:

“More than that – the same extraordinary early-American family which produced ‘Tom’ Delano and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, also gave them a kinship with no less than five previous Presidents of the United States! They were John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant and William Howard Taft.”

Note: While Franklin Delano Roosevelt was also related to another president, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Delano did not share that relation.

The article has this surprise:

“But that’s only a small part of the story – the American part. A yet more romantic series of revelations, clearly established by genealogical proof, shows that the two American ancestors from whom ‘Tom’ Delano and President Roosevelt are jointly descended had amazing – almost incredible – pedigrees of their own!

“Richard Plantagenet – William the Conqueror – Alfred the Great – Charlemagne – these names, and those of most of the medieval royalty of France and England besides, appear in lines from which the President and the street-sweeper have sprung!”

The Virginia-Pilot also published a diagram to show “the common ancestry of President Roosevelt, President Grant, and Thomas Delano, of Sparks, Nev. – each goes back in direct line to Phillippe de la Noye (Delano),” a Frenchman who came to Plymouth Colony on the second Pilgrim ship, the Fortune, in 1621 at age 19.

The family tree of Thomas Delano, Virginian-Pilot newspaper article 10 December 1933
Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Virginia), 10 December 1933, page 42

Phillippe is from Norman-Viking stock and from noble blood, but that story will come in a later article. He is listed as a planter and fisherman, and married Hester Dewsbery in Plymouth in 1634.

The San Francisco Chronicle also published an elaborate two-page spread about Thomas Delano’s kinship.

An article about Thomas Delano, San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article 10 December 1933
San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 10 December 1933, page 14

According to this San Francisco Chronicle article as well as the Virginia-Pilot one above, the American story for this Delano line really begins more than 60 years after the Fortune dropped anchor: it was a wedding recorded on 28 February 1678, “what might be called the most important wedding of Colonial times, genealogically speaking.”

A young Jonathan Delano, age 31, son of Phillippe de la Noye (Delano) and Hester, was rising in the Plymouth community. He earned a reputation for bravery in the King Philip’s War and was made a lieutenant. He was a proud landowner in the community of Dartmouth where he set up house and began tilling the soil.

He wed Mercy Warren, age 20, daughter of Nathaniel Warren and the granddaughter of distinguished Mayflower passenger Richard Warren. This was significant for the Colonists because it merged two Pilgrim ships and bloodlines. This marriage and the children born to it linked Europe’s past conquerors to America’s future ones.

Three sons born to Lt. Jonathan and Mercy made the family connection that Thomas Delano celebrated in 1933: Thomas was President Roosevelt’s ancestor; Jonathan Jr. was President Grant’s ancestor; and Nathaniel was Thomas Delano’s ancestor.

Thomas Delano’s father was Captain Thomas Severence Delano Sr., born in 1826. Captain Tom was a seafaring man and sailed out of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on the big clipper ships. He made two voyages around the world.

There is quite the adventure tale, in which Capt. Tom fell overboard, and a whale seized him by his clothing and dragged him down to the far depths of the ocean floor. Tom’s eardrums popped from the great pressure before he finally escaped back to the surface, causing him eternal deafness.

After that experience Capt. Thomas moved to San Francisco and worked in a wood and coal yard. He married Sarah Mulligan, and Thomas Jr. was born on 12 August 1867. In 1869 the Delano’s moved to Nevada, where Capt. Tom become a silver miner. The family lived in a mining camp site and Thomas followed his father’s lead and became a miner for a few years. Captain Tom lived with Thomas and his wife Anna Ramdohr until he died in Sparks, Nevada, in 1916.

Captain Tom’s father Richard Delano III, son of Richard II and Drusilla Freeman, was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1793. He married Elizabeth Eldridge “Betsy” Sherman.

Richard II was born to Richard I and Mercy Taber in 1767. Richard I was born in 1733 to Nathaniel Delano and Elizabeth Durfee. Nathaniel was born in 1695 to Lt. Jonathan and Mercy.

Check back for my GenealogyBank finds on Thomas Delano’s family and how he met up with his Roosevelt cousin.

Note: Just as an online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, told the stories of Thomas Delano’s family history, they can tell you stories about your ancestors that can’t be found anywhere else. Come look today and see what you can discover!

4 thoughts on “Nevada Street Sweeper Discovers Plymouth Colony and Royal Heritage

  1. Glad I finally caught up to this. “Delano” was a name prominent and maritime enough for Herman Melville to make it the name of the American ship captain in his novella “Benito Cereno.” Of course, it is fiction, written in 1855, set in 1799, so the fictional Amasa Delano would have been the age of Thomas’ grandfather. I happened to read it a few months ago and was struck that Melville makes a point of saying at the very start of the story that Delano was from Duxbury, Mass., which is just north of Plymouth. So it squares with your Mayflower connection as well as your mention of his father (“Captain”) sailing out of New Bedford about when Melville was doing the same thing and starting to write about it.

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