Hannah Van Buren (1783-1819) was the wife of Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States. Hannah Van Buren died 18 years before her husband Martin was elected president and never served as first lady. Instead, that social role was played by Van Buren’s daughter-in-law, Angelica Singleton, who had been introduced to Hannah’s son Abraham by former First Lady Dolley Madison.
One of four children born to Maria Quakenbush and Johannes Dircksen Hoes, Hannah Hoes was raised on a farm in Kinderhook, New York. Kinderhook’s residents were descended from earlier generations of immigrants from Holland; Hannah not only learned Dutch as her first language, she never lost the distinct accent while speaking English. She grew up in the tight community alongside Martin Van Buren, a cousin related through both sides of the family. Hannah was also related to future first lady Elizabeth Monroe and the Roosevelts through her mother’s lineage.
Hannah and Van Buren reportedly began their romance as teenagers, the future president smitten by the shy girl he called “Jannetje.” However, he did not want to get married until he had the proper means to support a family. His formal schooling complete by age 14, Van Buren became a law clerk and was admitted to the bar in 1803 following an apprenticeship with a New York City firm. After determining the Kinderhook practice he founded with his half-brother was on solid ground, Van Buren married Hannah at her sister’s home in the New York town of Catskill on February 21, 1807.
Hannah gave birth to six children, with four surviving childhood, as her husband began his long climb up the political ladder. They moved in 1808 to the nearby town of Hudson, where Van Buren became surrogate of Columbia County, and then to the capital city of Albany when he was named a state senator in 1812. Reported to be a sociable woman, Hannah was a willing hostess for her husband’s frequent guests. With the Dutch Reform Church not yet completed in Albany, she joined the local Presbyterian Church and became involved in its charitable work.
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Hannah contracted tuberculosis while in Albany, prompting the family to enlist the help of her niece Christina Cantine to manage the household. She became pregnant during her illness, and while she delivered a healthy baby boy in early 1817, the process further drained her strength. Hannah passed away on February 5, 1819, and was buried in Albany before being reinterred at Kinderhook Cemetery in 1855. Had she survived to accompany her husband into the White House, she would have been the first first lady born a U.S. citizen.
Like Andrew Jackson before him, Van Buren never remarried and as such served his single term with a relative acting as first lady. He penned his memoirs in the 1850s, and in the nearly 800-page published autobiography there was no mention of his wife. Furthermore, Van Buren apparently never spoke of her to their children; when his second son wanted to name a daughter after Hannah, he allegedly asked his father to verify her name. With contemporary accounts confirming they had a strong, loving relationship, it is believed that bringing up memories of his departed wife was simply too painful for the longtime statesman.