James Isaac Van Alen was a United States Congressman from New York and a half-brother of Martin Van Buren, the first Dutch American United States president. He was born in Kinderhook, NY on December 31, 1772, and was the son of Johannes Van Alen and Marytje Goes [or Hoes] Van Alen. The next day, on January 1, 1773 he was baptized as Jacobus Van Alen in Kinderhook’s Dutch Reformed Church. The church service at that time was probably in the Dutch language. Note that his baptismal name, Jacobus, was later changed to James, the English version of Jacobus.
James had two siblings, Marytje [or Mary] Van Alen and John Isaac Van Alen. His father died when James was quite young. His mother remarried in 1776 to Abraham Van Buren [1737-1817]. They had five children, all half siblings of James Isaac Van Alen. They were Dirckie Van Buren [1777-1865]. Jannetje Van Buren [1780-1838], Maarten Van Buren [1782-1862], Lawrence Van Buren [1786-1868], and Abraham Van Buren [1788-1836].
Maarten Van Buren, the half-brother of James Van Alen would of course become the eighth president of the United States. His name was probably changed to Martin when he began to practice law in the early 1800’s.
It is interesting to note that prior to the late 1800’s all the children were given Dutch names upon birth. Later the names were changed to English names or English names were given at birth. Around that time the New York Dutch began to adopt the English language instead of the traditional Dutch language which had been in use since their arrival in the mid 1600’s. It is not clear when English as the spoken language became more prevalent. Exactly when the Dutch Reformed churches also adopted English as the common language is also not known.
James Van Alen attended the local school, then clerked in a law firm and thus was able to study law. After a long clerkship he was admitted to the New York Bar and began his law practice in Kinderhook, NY. He practiced law later in partnership with his half-brother Martin. Note that Martin Van Buren was 14 years younger than James. In 1797 James became Kinderhook’s town clerk and stayed in that position until 1801.
James Van Alen was a member of the State Constitutional Convention of 1801, and was Justice of the Peace from 1801 to 1804, when he also became a member of the New York State Assembly. He also served as Surrogate Judge of Columbia County from 1804 to 1808.
James Van Alen was elected as a Democratic-Republican to the Tenth United States Congress and served from March 4, 1807 to March 3, 1809. He was unsuccessful in his bid to get reelected in 1808.
In 1815 he returned to the position of Surrogate Judge of Columbia County and served until his death in 1822, at the rather young age of 49. In the judge position he was succeeded by his half-brother Abraham Van Buren.
James Van Halen, half-brother of US President Martin Van Buren, passed away on May 18, 1822 and was interred at Kinderhook Cemetery. He never married, and thus left no descendants.
History of Kinderhook, NY (Part 1 and Part 2)
From: Columbia County At The End of the Century
Published and edited under the
auspices of the Hudson Gazette
The Record Printing and Publishing Co.
Hudson, New York 1900