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His childhood sweetheart and cousin once removed, Hannah Hoes Van Buren was the wife of the eighth President, Martin Van Buren (1837-1841). She died of tuberculosis before he was elected, leaving him one of the few Presidents to remain unmarried in office.
Cousins in a close-knit Dutch community, Hannah Hoes and Martin Van Buren grew up together in Kinderhook, New York. Evidently he wanted to establish his law practice before marrying his sweetheart–they were not wed until 1807, when he was 24 and his bride just three months younger. Apparently their marriage was a happy one, though little is known of Hannah as a person.
Van Buren omitted even her name from his autobiography; a gentleman of that day would not shame a lady by public references. A niece who remembered “her loving, gentle disposition” emphasized “her modest, even timid manner.” Church records preserve some details of her life; she seems to have considered formal church affiliation a matter of importance.
She bore a son in Kinderhook, three others in Hudson, where Martin served as county surrogate; but the fourth son died in infancy. In 1816 the family moved to the state capital in Albany. Soon the household included Martin’s law partner and three apprentices; relatives came and went constantly, and Hannah could return their visits. Contemporary letters indicate that she was busy, sociable, and happy. She gave birth to a fifth boy in January 1817.
But the following winter her health was obviously failing, apparently from tuberculosis. Not yet 36, she died on February 5, 1819. The Albany Argus called her “an ornament of the Christian faith.”
Her husband never remarried; he moved into the White House in 1837 as a widower with four bachelor sons. Now accustomed to living in elegant style, he immediately began to refurbish a mansion shabby from public use under Jackson. Across Lafayette Square, Dolley Madison reigned as matriarch of Washington society; when her young relative-by-marriage Angelica Singleton came up from South Carolina for a visit, Dolley took her to the White House to pay a call.
Angelica’s aristocratic manners, excellent education, and handsome face won the heart of the President’s eldest son, Abraham. They were married in November 1838; next spring a honeymoon abroad polished her social experience. Thereafter, while Abraham served as the President’s private secretary, Angelica presided as the lady of the White House. The only flaw in her pleasure in this role was the loss of a baby girl. Born at the White House, she lived only a few hours. In later years, though spending much time in South Carolina and in Europe, Angelica and her husband made their home in New York City; she died there in 1878.
The biographies of the First Ladies on WhiteHouse.gov are from “The First Ladies of the United States of America,” by Allida Black. Copyright 2009 by the White House Historical Association.
Learn more about Hannah Hoes Van Buren’s spouse, Martin Van Buren.