was born at Arneystown, Burlington county, New Jersey, March 20, 1838. When he was about three years old his parents removed to Monmouth county, New Jersey, where they now reside. His ancestors were of the early Holland emigration, and among the first settlers of Monmouth county. On the maternal side he is connected with the Reeves family, one of the oldest and most respected families in Burlington and other counties of south Jersey. Several of the Van Cleafs served in Jersey regiments during the war for American independence, and are specially mentioned among the patriots of that day. His paternal great-grandfather owned an extensive body of land in Monmouth county, New Jersey, which was divided among his large family of children.
Aaron Van Cleaf was educated in the common schools near Freehold, New Jersey, until he was fourteen years of age, when he entered the Monmouth Democrat office, at Freehold, as an apprentice to the printing business, remaining there, as an apprentice and journeyman, until April, 1859, when he emigrated to Georgetown, Brown county, Ohio, and for a few months was connected with the Democratic Standard, which paper was soon after merged in what is now the Brown county News. In November, 1859, he became editor and publisher of the Democratic Citizen, at Lebanon, Ohio, which was published in the face of many difficulties. On the twelfth of August, 1862, the office was destroyed by a mob of political opponents, but he re-established the paper and continued its publication until May, 1863. In November, of the same year, he purchased the Circleville Democrat and Watchman, and has since conducted that paper.
In 1871 he was nominated for representative in the general assembly by the Democratic party of Pickaway county, and was elected by four hundred and seventy-seven majority over James Langhry, Republican, who was then extensively known and popular. He decline a re-election. In 1877 he was again nominated for representative by acclamation, being the first Democratic candidate for that place in Pickaway county, nominated without opposition, for many years. He was elected by nine hundred and forty-six majority over Frederick Thorn, Republican, and in the house was chairman of the committee on reform schools, and a member of the finance and printing committees. On the third of June, 1879, he was nominated by acclamation, in the Democratic senatorial convention, to represent the counties of Franklin and Pickaway in the State senate, and at the October election following, was elected by one thousand six hundred and thirty-four majority.
He has taken an active part in the politics of Pickaway county for fifteen years past, and has been chairman of the Democratic central committee of the county for thirteen years.