Angelica Singleton Van Buren
February 13, 1816, Sumter, South Carolina
December 29, 1878, in New York, New York
Hannah Hoes Van Buren, the wife of Martin Van Buren, died at age 35 in 1819 after being married only 11 years. Van Buren did not become president until 1837, and because he never remarried, he––just like his predecessor President Jackson––entered the presidency as a widower. At the beginning of his term, Van Buren hired a professional to run the house and organize parties, but then later accepted the help of former First Lady Dolley Madison when she returned to Washington. However, following the marriage of his oldest son Abraham to 22-year-old Angelica Singleton in 1838, Van Buren asked his new daughter-in-law to serve as hostess. Angelica was the cousin of former first lady Dolley Madison, and it was Dolley who had introduced the pair.
Angelica was a daughter of the South––she was from South Carolina, where she had grown up on a successful plantation owned by her wealthy father and worked by slaves. Her marriage to Van Buren’s son, which advanced her position to that as acting first lady, provided a fortunate balance of northern and southern heritage in the White House during a time of increased national tensions over slavery.
Following Angelica’s debut appearance as first lady at the New Year’s Day reception in 1839, a newspaper reported that she was “a lady of rare accomplishments, free and vivacious in her conversation.”