Martin Van Buren - Early Life

Early Life

Martin Van Buren was born in the village of Kinderhook, New York, on December 5, 1782, about 25 miles (40 km) south of Albany, New York. His father Abraham Van Buren (1737–1817) was a farmer, the owner of six slaves, and a tavern-keeper in Kinderhook. Abraham Van Buren supported the American Revolution and later the Jeffersonian Republicans. Martin Van Buren's mother was Maria Van Alen (née Hoes) Van Buren (1747–1818).

Van Buren was the first president born a citizen of the United States, as all previous presidents were born before the American Revolution. His great-great-great-grandfather Cornelis Maessen van Buren had come to the New World in 1631 from the small city of Buren, Dutch Republic, in present day Netherlands. Van Buren grew up in a Dutch-speaking community. His native language was Dutch, and he was the only President who spoke English as a second language.

Van Buren received a basic education at a poorly lit schoolhouse in his native village and later studied Latin briefly at the Kinderhook Academy and at Washington Seminary in Claverack. He excelled in composition and speaking. His formal education ended before he reached 14, when he began studying Law at the office of Francis Sylvester, a prominent Federalist attorney in Kinderhook. After six years under Sylvester, he spent a final year of apprenticeship in the New York City office of William P. Van Ness, a political lieutenant of Aaron Burr. Van Buren was admitted to the bar in 1803.

Van Buren married Hannah Hoes, his childhood sweetheart and first cousin once removed, on February 21, 1807, in Catskill, New York. Like Van Buren, she was raised in a Dutch home and never lost her distinct Dutch accent. The couple had five sons and one daughter: Abraham (1807–1873) a graduate of West Point and career military officer; John (1810–1866), graduate of Yale and Attorney General of New York; Martin, Jr. (1812–1855), secretary to his father and editor of his father's papers until a premature death from tuberculosis; Winfield Scott (born and died in 1814); and Smith Thompson (1817–1876), an editor and special assistant to his father while president. Their daughter was stillborn. After 12 years of marriage, Hannah Van Buren contracted tuberculosis and died on February 5, 1819, at the age of 35. Martin Van Buren never remarried.

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