Abraham was an innkeeper and, for a time, Kinderhook’s town clerk, and in 1776 he married Maria Hoes Van Alen – a widow who was also of Dutch heritage. She brought three children from her previous marriage to her union with Abraham and went on to have five more children with her second husband – one of whom was Martin Van Buren himself. And interestingly, Martin’s half-brother James I. Van Alen was also to become a politician, as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
So with this strong Netherlands family background – and the fact that many of Kinderhook’s inhabitants spoke the language – it’s perhaps unsurprising that Van Buren’s mother tongue was Dutch. In fact, to this day, he is the only American president for whom English was a second language. But he learned English at the village schoolhouse in Kinderhook.
What’s more, being brought up in the convivial atmosphere of an inn is said to have given Van Buren a good grounding in relating to people. These were skills that would be put to good use in his future career as a politician, too. And his father’s tavern had some highly illustrious patrons indeed.