Childhood and Education
Martin Van Buren was born in Kinderhook, New York, to Abraham and Maria Van Buren. He was of Dutch descent, although his ancestors had been in America for more than one hundred years. His father was a farmer and tavern keeper, and Martin worked in the tavern during his youth while attending a local school. The tavern was frequented by lawyers and politicians including Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. In this environment, Van Buren kindled his love of politics. His father maintained a neutral stance in public on divisive issues but privately was an anti-Federalist. Van Buren finished his formal education by the age of fourteen and then went on to study law. He was admitted to the New York bar in 1803 at the age of twenty-one.
On February 21, 1807, Van Buren married Hannah Hoes, a distant relative of his mother. Not much is known about Hannah outside of accounts that said she was kind, social, and deeply involved in her religion, which was Dutch Reformed. She bore five sons and four of them lived to maturity: Abraham, John, Martin Jr., and Smith Thompson. John was the most famous of their children and grew up to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1841. He was also an important abolitionist leading up to the Civil War. Hannah died in 1819 at the age of thirty-five, probably from tuberculosis, and Van Buren never remarried.
While Van Buren was president, his son Abraham met one of Dolley Madison's relatives, Angelica Singleton. They married in 1838 and while Abraham served as his father's private secretary, Angelica performed the traditional first lady duties from 1838 until 1840.