Our Dutch (Speaking) President Martin Van Buren

Updated: Nov 16

Martin Van Buren - courtesy of the Library of Congress

Who knew? The first U.S. president actually born in the United States (so after the country’s founding) didn’t even speak English as his first language. In fact, Martin Van Buren, born in 1782, spoke Dutch at home, as did many of his neighbors from the small village of Kinderhook about 20 miles south of Albany, New York.


Van Buren's immigrant roots go back several generations to Cornelis Maessen who settled in New Netherland in 1631 before it became New York. Even 150 years later, many inhabitants throughout the region continued to speak Dutch as their primary language, including the Van Buren family. His wife Hannah, a childhood sweetheart, spoke with a noticeable Dutch accent her entire life.


Another fun fact: Martin Van Buren was friends with Washington Irving who often featured Dutch-Americans, including in Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.


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Curious what's up with "van" and "von" in all those Dutch and German names? Check out our blog Clues Hidden in "von" and "van"?

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