Angelica Van Buren

01/11/2012

A daughter of the south, Angelica Singleton Van Buren spent most of her life in the North after she married President Martin Van Buren’s son, Abraham. She was born into a family of prosperous cotton planters near and around what is now Sumter, South Carolina. At an early age she was sent to an elite school in Philadelphia along with her sister Marion. Former First Lady Dolley Madison, a distant cousin, introduced Angelica to Abraham Van Buren at a White House dinner during the 1837-1838 social season. For their honeymoon the Van Burens traveled to Europe where they were presented at European courts. Back in D.C. as hostess in the WH Angelica began incorporating royal court procedures at formal gatherings. Her plan to re landscape the WH lawns into something elaborate backfired badly. On a political level, Pennsylvania Whig Congressman Charles Ogle referred to the proposed plans in his famous “Gold Spoon” speech. In 1837, there had been a “Financial Crisis”, many were economically hit and  President Van Buren was believed to be living in an opulent style which many believe cost him the re-election.

Angelica returned to South Carolina during the winters staying at “Home Place” the family’s plantation she inherited. The Van Burens main residence was Kinderhook in New York. A West Point man, Abraham served in the Mexican War; he was a career military man. In 1848, New York City became their permanent home and remained so until their respective deaths. During the Civil War Angelica consoled herself by the separation from her Singleton family and southern roots by sending blankets to Confederate soldiers in Northern prisons. One wonders if they ever received them. In 1877 or 1878 Angelica died and was buried at Woodlawn in the Bronx, New York.

Martin Van Buren is a forgotten President but researching Angelica was hands-on for me because I live in South Carolina where Angelica hails. I went to Sumter to visit the area. Angelica’s brother’s plantation exists, well, the house does. Most of their land has split up and either private or turned into highways. The family cemetery  still exists but I wasn’t able to find it among the dirt roads and cotton fields. I visited the Ernest F. Hollings Rare Books and Collections Library at USC-Columbia and viewed, touched, and took a picture of her 1831 “Autograph” book she had at the seminary in Philadelphia. It was a weird feeling touching something she herself touched from 181 years ago. The handwriting within is beautiful.

Angelica’s autograph book.

Love the handwriting. The shadow is my cell phone. Haha!

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