James I, the Roman numeral was used to distinguish him from others of the same name, was born on December 14, 1795 in New York City to James Jacobus Roosevelt (1759–1840) and Maria Van Schaak (1773–1845) and baptized at the Dutch Reformed Church. He was a great-grandson of Johannes Roosevelt, the founder of the Oyster Bay branch of the Roosevelt family. His brother Cornelius Roosevelt was the father of James A. Roosevelt, Robert Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. as well as paternal grandfather of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Roosevelt graduated from Columbia College in 1815 and was admitted to the bar in 1818, becoming a partner of Peter Augustus Jay (son of John Jay), with a practice in New York City.
An active Democrat, he campaigned for Andrew Jackson for president in 1828. He was elected alderman in 1828 and 1830, was a member of the New York State Assembly in 1835 and 1840, and served in the United States Congress from 1841 to 1843, but declined to seek reelection.
Roosevelt became a justice of the New York Supreme Court in 1851, and during one term was ex officio judge of the State Court of Appeals. From 1860 to 1861, he was the 15th U.S. District Attorney for Southern New York. He studied foreign law in the courts of England, the Netherlands, and France.
In business, Roosevelt followed in the tradition of his father as a hardware merchant. He engaged in farming after retiring. He was the first president of Roosevelt Hospital, which was founded by his cousin James H. Roosevelt.
On May 30, 1831 Roosevelt married Cornelia Van Ness (1810–1876) in Paris, the daughter of Cornelius P. Van Ness (1782–1852) and Rhoda Savage (d. 1834), and the niece of William P. Van Ness and John Peter Van Ness. The American Revolution war hero, the Marquis de Lafayette (1757–1834), was among their guests.
James and Cornelia Roosevelt had eleven children, all but three of whom died in childhood or early adulthood. Their children included:Mary Roosevelt (1832–1841), who died young
Cornelia Roosevelt (1833–1838), who died young
James Nicholas Roosevelt (1836–1856)
John Van Ness Roosevelt (1838–1841), who died young
William Ouseley Roosevelt (1839–1841), who died young
Augustus Jay Roosevelt (1841–1842), who died young
Charles Yates Roosevelt (1846–1883), who married Cornelia Livingston, who had previously been married to James S. Talbot.
Marcia Ouseley Roosevelt (1847–1906), who married Edward Brooks Scovel, an opera singer, in 1877.
Frederick Roosevelt (1850–1916), who married Mary Loney (1850–1936)
Matilda Roosevelt (1851–1854), who died young
Roosevelt died on April 5, 1875 at his home, 836-838 Broadway in New York City, following complications sustained after he broke his thigh bone in a fall. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. Cornelia Roosevelt died in Paris on February 14, 1876.
Roosevelt's estate was worth in excess of US$2,000,000 (equivalent to $43,618,182 in 2016) at the time of his death, and left funds for his family and the family of his wife.
His granddaughter, Cornelia Roosevelt, through his son Charles Yates Roosevelt, married Baron Clemens von Zedlitz of Austria in 1889, son of Baron Joseph von Zedlitz, who drowned in a collision with the German emperor's yacht in 1901. His daughter-in-law's nephew, David Bruce-Brown (1887–1912), was in the inauguaral running of the Indianapolis 500 in 1911.