Jackie Kennedy’s Mysterious Southern Roots
There’s no doubt that Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis has an incredible family tree, but that tree’s roots don’t extend to the South—or do they? The National Cyclopaedia of Biography gifts Jackie’s great-grandparents with Southern roots.
According to America's Queen, The Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, by Sarah Bradford, the National Cyclopaedia claimed that Jackie’s maternal great-grandfather was born in Maryland and fought for the South during the Civil War. The story, which was excerpted in the New York Times, goes on to note that Jackie’s maternal great-grandmother, Margaret Merritt, was the daughter of Thomas Merritt of Savannah, Georgia, “a Confederate army veteran and an importer of New York City.”
The National Cyclopaedia wasn’t the only one spreading the story, though. According to Bradford’s book, Jackie’s mother, Janet Norton Lee, encouraged the rumor about her family’s ties to the South in a profile written about her in 1962, after Jackie had become First Lady. The rumor was so pervasive, that several of Lee’s friends described her to Bradford as “a Southern belle.”
Thanks to her illustrious life story, Jackie had many biographers, though, and some were able to definitively prove that her maternal great-grandparents were both Irish immigrants who had fled County Cork during the potato famine. Her great grandfather was a doctor, her grandfather, James T. Lee was a very successful real estate developer in New York City and later a director of the Chase National Bank. It was his last name that was given to Jackie’s sister Lee Radziwill when she was born in 1933.
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Lee enrolled his daughter Janet (Jackie’s mother) in Miss Spence's school in New York City, before she spent a year at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, and another at Barnard College in New York, before making her debutante debut. She was also an avid horse lover and was a three-time winner of the hunter championship at the National Horse Show, which all sounds like a very Southern upbringing, despite the fact that she was from New York.
While Jackie’s great-grandparents and mother may not have any Southern roots, it’s certainly flattering that they wanted them.