Letter to Ernest

The following letter was written to Ernest Foster the son of Erastus Duncan Foster and grandson of William Golden Foster.

About the letter

William E. G. Foster had an "Exclusive Franchise" for Dodge cars and trucks for the Luzon Island in the Phillipines. After thirteen years he returned to the United States to California and went into the Automobile Loan Business.

One day a man named Ernest Foster came in for a loan and Bill (nick name) naturally asked "where do you hail from?" Ernest said "I don't know too much about my family as my father died in Oklahoma (May 1890) before I was born. While I was in high school in Texas, an uncle (John Byrd Foster) in Meridian, Mississippi sent me money to help out. Bill then said "Shake hands with your cousin."

This led to William Thomas Fosters "Letter to Ernest", written on April 25, 1937. A masterpiece if he had left out the "Myth" of Stephen C. Foster the song writer, and the three brothers from Ireland.

The foregoing was from notes of Tillman Richard Foster of Alexandria, Virginia, the grandson of William Thomas.

Murfreesboro, Tenn.
1433 E. Main St.
April 25, 1937

Dear Ernest:

Your cousin William E. G. Foster of Los Angeles, writes me that you would be glad to know more of your father and my brother, Erastus Duncan Foster, who died in 1890, prior to your birth. I can easily see that such desire is quite natural, and as I am the only person, perhaps, now living who can give you a fair account on this line, and as I feel it to be my duty, I am undertaking to satisfy your desire to know more of him and of the family. So, I shall go back as far as I well can, into the Foster ancestry.

The name is quite old. In 912 Rollo came down from the north of Europe and made a deal with the King of France whereby he (Rollo) was allowed to set up a dukedom in the French province of Normandy which lay next to the English Channel on the north of France. Rollo went to work developing Normandy. Several rulers came in line of dukes who ruled Normandy down to 1066, a period of about 150 years. During this time the rulers had established and fenced a great forest reserve in which they kept deer, wild hogs, etc. to furnish amusement and diversion for the duke and his court members. To look after this forest and its fences and animals was a forester, appointed by the duke. One of the earliest of these was a man named Anacher. (pronounced An-a-ker) At first of course he was Anacher to all, but later those having business with him called for “the forester”, gradually as the generation passed, he was called “the forster”, and later “the foster”, and at last they said, “I would like to see foster”, then the little “f” became a capital and “F” came to make it plain “Mr. Foster”. And so we suppose our named evoluted out of “forester”. Well as we are a somewhat romantic family, I am very well pleased to accept this name as we did. The last great ruler of Normandy and the greatest of them all was William of Normandy, who in 1066, on a claim that his son had saved the life of Edward the Confessor, of England, and later that this Edward had visited William in Normandy and while there had been induced by William to descend into a secret vault where were kept the bones of the saints - bones, heralded as those of some of Christs apostles, and the Edward the Confessor, after being blindfolded, bowed reverently on his knees and after being asked to extend his hands, they were allowed by William to rest on these bones of the saints. At this time the lamps were lighted and the hood-wink removed from Edwards head; Edward was now informed that his hands rested on the saints bones; Edward, a very devoted Catholic, very religious, timid, weak-willed, intoned: “I will the Crown of England to William of Normandy, at my death, confirming the same with my hands on the bones of the saints.” He died in 1066. William demanded the throne of England. Harold, a favorite courtier of Edward was made King because Edward had so requested. In October 1066 William invaded England and camped. Harold, who had led an army into Scotland to quell a Scotch insurrection, left Scotland and hastened to meet William. The two armies came together at Hastings. Not a gun was fired - clubs, daggers, bows and arrows, were the weapons. (Gun powder did not figure until the battle of Creasy, in the fourteenth century.) The battle raged until ten o’clock, when William made a feint, ordered his men to make like they were running away, retreating. Harold ordered his men to leave their breast-works and chase the Normans. That order lost the battle for Harold. An arrow shot high into the air descended, piercing Harold’s eye and brain. When withdrawn Harold died. The Normans had won. William rested there until December when the English sent him word to come to London. Later he was crowned King of England and became in history, William the Conqueror.

And so this is the type of people we descended from, brave, aspiring, chivalrous, defenders of women and children. You must know that tradition is considered more reliable than history. History does not command the respect that tradition does. History is written from the viewpoint of many writers, very often, but tradition is almost sacredly regarded - no one ever dares to change it - even the words and order is not violated. Tradition is handed down from father to son and then from that son to his son and on and on. Our tradition is this: Three Foster brothers came over from Ireland to America in the 17th century. One of them settled in New England, one in some other place and one in Pennsylvania, near where Pittsburg stands. We are supposed to be in the line of the one near Pittsburg. He had Three sons, one of whom went to the Carolinas. From that one we are thought to descend. Stephen C. Foster, the author of Swanee River and many other famous songs and musical compositions is descended from the one who remained in Pittsburg, thus we are about fifth cousin to Stephen C. Am glad of this kinship, he was great, and like most Fosters very affable and agreeable. In fact, he like some of his modern kin could not refuse a drink - and so, died at 38, - too much liquor - too much good cheer.

Let me say here, this uncle of yours was never drunk, smoked, chewed or swore an oath, but I do not pass this to pose as angelic. Ive a poor record in some other human lines. Wish I could write at complete freedom on all lines - however, I would not wish to crowd Enoch and Elijah who went to Heaven on their record - did not go through the grave. My grand-father, John Foster was born in South Carolina, near Spartanburg. He had one brother, Anthony, quite a slave owner, and my daddy used to tell me he one day met a negro in winter bare-foot, and asked him to whom he belonged. He answered, “Mas Antny Foster”. He gave instructions to the overseer to put shoes on him. The point, Anthony owned so many slaves he did not know them by sight or name. John Foster, your great-grandfather, was a short stocky man, very athletic, quick, but convivial - loved his dram, and when one night drinking, he was exposed to the cold, contracted pneumonia and died. He was a saddler by trade and a good workman. He married a lady in Buncome County North Carolina named Sinah Lack, Scotch descent. She was taller than he, a woman of keen mind, very industrious, a fine cook, gardener, (worked her garden at 90), bossed everything about her, gentle but commanding. In the 1830’s she removed to Liberty, Tenn. Dekalb county, and opened a shop for saddlery, harness, bridles and etc. Did well, (she was a good saddler) trained all her sons to the trade, but did other work as occasion arose. When Tennessee built many turnpikes in the early day, she bid off a section of Snow’s Hill pike, a road between Liberty and Smithville, and taking her eight sons, she bossed the job and finished her contract complete. She was a rare woman. She was good looking, she was baptized into the Christian Church, what is now known as Church of Christ, the one that has no instrument in its choir. That was my beloved, grand-mother.

I will here give you a list of your great-grandfathers children, eight sons, four daughters: I can not vouch for the order, but names as near right descent of age as can: Frank Foster, married, lived at Liberty Tenn. average family: short man, 5 ft. maybe liked liquor, rode fine stock, saddler by trade, moved to Texas in 1870 or thereabout. Lucy (Baker) married Jonathan Baker, had a son named Bailey. Moved to Texas. William Golden Foster, my Daddy, your grand-father, one of the cleverest and best fellows ever, king to everybody, even to going security for them and sometimes paying it. A saddler. Pamelia (Fletcher) married Moses Fletcher, a good man. No children. Lived in Union City, Tenn. Mary, I dont know who she married. John Foster, reared a family, settled near Rutherford, Tenn. The depot was built on his land. Tom Foster, reared a family, lived in Texas. Ted Foster, a bachelor a very masculine fellow. Polly (Brown) married Cage Brown, no Children. Lived and died in Smithville, Tenn. Anthony Foster, married Mary Cameron, a fine woman. Raised a fine family most of whom now live in Dekalb County, Tenn. Two of the sons, James and Alva, bachelors, and business partners engaged in banking and merchandising are considered two wealthiest men in Dekalb County, and now living at Smithville, Tenn. Bluford Foster, married a Steele lady, good woman, reared a large family, smart children. Bluford was a lawyer, a very brilliant speaker and writer. A very handsome man. Joel Foster, youngest of all, lawyer, married a Whaley, an aristocratic woman. He moved to Nevada in the 50’s. Never heard much of him. He was also a very brilliant man. Now lets get closer to home.

My father, William G. was born in either South Carolina or Alabama. He used to tell me how when living 12 miles from Huntsville, Alabama and about 5 years old, he used to go out when he heard the tinker coming; would hear his tin pans and scrap tin rattling as he came trotting his pony. He would describe the shiny, pewter pans and spoons the tinker would mould for them. My father later when about grown, removed with his mother to Liberty, Tenn. There at age 27 he went courting in the Short Mountain country ten miles north, and married Minerva Spurlock, daughter of Bird Spurlock, my mother and your grand-mother. She died in 1860, leaving me about 2 1/2 years old. I do not remember her. Those who knew her well told me she was a very smart woman, expressed herself well, was rapid in speech and good looking. I think a cold developed into some lung affection that was fatal. William Golden Foster, your grand-father was born Feb ll, 1811. Minerva (Spurlock) Foster, your grand-mother was born Feb 7th or 8th 1818. To the union of my father William G. and my mother, Minerva Spurlock, were born: John Bird Foster, April 28, 1839 died in 1916, Nephritis. Erastus Duncan Foster, May 27, 1841, died May 5, 1890, Pneumonia. Stephen Moore Foster, Feb 5, 1844, died Jan 18, 1902, dropsy. Josiah Spurlock Foster, Nov 7 1846, died in 1927 (at 81 years) senility, (old age). Sarah Elizabeth Foster, Sept. 16, 1848, died Aug 10, 1876, Typhoid. Franklin Pierce Foster, April 16, 1853, died Jan 1, 1876, congestion. James Vaux Drake Foster, Aug 1 1856, died Aug 3, 1857, mal-practice. William Thomas Foster, Aug 3, 1858, hopes to see 1958.

Biographical Sketch:

J. B. Foster, at 22, light, 5ft 8 in. prominent Roman nose - Spurlock nose, enlisted on Confederate side in 1861, was captured in 1864, spent 18 months in Rock Island Prison Illinois. Came home when peace was declared: Made the war a great and funny experience personally, especially his prison life, saw usually the laughable and ridiculous side of anything, was a life time perpetrator of jokes, was the instigator of nearly every piece of deviltry in Rock Island. A cell mate after the war told of how J. B. plotted and carried out a plan whereby all prisoners in his section of prison had funds to buy smuggled in tobacco until the war closed. J. B. knew that a certain Yankee guard carried a large roll of money, swearing in all those in his section to secrecy, he waited his chance and knocked the guard out and got the roll. Studied law after the Civil War, practiced in all courts at Smithville Tenn. fairly successful, but ruined his opportunity to advance by a 42 day drunk. Sober once more, he removed to the pine forests 14 miles from Meridian, Miss. where he had married Mrs. Sallie Chaney, a smart, fine looking widow, years before. He studied medicine, took the medical examination, passed, went into practice, succeded and quit drinking entirely. He was married four times, and with the fourth when he died. He had two or three sets of children, all of whom live around Meridian, Miss. J. B. was well educated, widely read and a gifted cartoonist. As a Doctor he was considered among the best of his day.

E. D. Foster, (your father) stood about 6 ft. tall, maybe 1/2 in. more, weighed about 180, square shouldered, strong, erect, eyes gray, I think, smooth voice, rather slow speaker. Long scar in forehead from kick of horse when young, slanting scar running from above one eye downward to corner of other eye. Considered the handsomest boy of all the seven. Made friends easily. When the Civil War came E. D. enlisted on the Confederate side, and so continued for a year or so. A band of Confederate bush-whackers sprang up in the Short Mountain section ten miles southwest of Smithville, Tenn. (our home) and paid weekly visits to Smithville, robbing any who fell under their displeasure, and that included my father. He was a saddler and harness maker and much in demand, taking in considerable money each week. Pomp Kersey, leader of his band of 10 or 20 guerrillas, took this money each week. E. D. may have had that for partial cause to quit the Confederacy and come home, although E. D. was a Captain, chosen by his Company. He was popular with those who went out with him. Anyway, he changed over, joined the Federal Home Guards and set out to extinguish Kersey and his gang. I do not know who killed Kersey and his gang at Half Acre near Short Mountain, Tenn. in 1864. It was said that E. D. was the Federals Home Guard that did it. I had a half-uncle Ned Spurlock, who joined the Federal Army. One night he came home to see his family. Kersey got wind of it some how and raided his home before day. Ned was “nailed to the cross”, as they called it. No real nails in the operation. Two bush-whackers held his hand - a hand each - stretched as far as could be, one on each side, then the others stood in front of him and shot him to death, didn’t even allow him to pray. E. D. was said to have declared that death of all of them should pay for Ned’s death. Well, all but two died. About eight bush-whackers were asleep in their rendevous, around the place where they cooked supper, but two other bush-whackers slept a little way from the large crowd. The Federals led by E. D. trailed Kersey by scatters of hay foraged to feed horses, waited for darkness to come, then the Federals crawled up closer and the sleeping men were partitioned out, so to speak, for federals to kill. “Fire” was whispered, and eight guerrillas went “over the range”. The two sleeping apart jumped up and got away. E. J. Hawkins, and a White County man, Ike Gleason were the two get-aways. Hawkins was said to have declared that he meant to get even with E. D. when he met him after the Civil War. E. D. told me he met Hawkins in Texas but that Hawkins did not do a thing, not a word. After the Civil War E. D. went to Texas. During his youth, before the Civil War E. D. was a class leader in the Methodist church in Smithville, Tenn. He lead in prayer and was regarded as a model young man. But the war did for him what war has always done for young men - often all men, it opened the way for abandon and excess-drinking, women, profanity, etc. E. D. drifted. Let us hope in the last of his life he returned to sober contemplation and repentance. At Heart E. D. was like most men, kind, considerate, affectionate. He wandered, so have all of us; We have all made mistakes that we would give worlds to undo. But we must brace up, make a brave fight, conquer our chief sin, we all have a chief sin, a dominant one, one which if defeated and put under foot, power comes to us to do and make the most of ourselves. But I must not grow didactic, this is a narrative paper.

Your uncle Stephen Moore Foster was a man of few words, great heart, sympathetic, the impersonation of honesty, fairness and courage. I do not think a braver man ever lived. He was for right always and ever. He could not be swerved from his convictions. Every brother he had, had the utmost respect for Steve’s opinion on anything, nor did they attempt to change him. He was religious, kind, considerate, humane, slow to anger, but dangerous if attacked or violently opposed. He was peaceable and liked by those who really knew him. He was buried at Roseville, Ark. on the bank of the Arkansas River. His children live in that section.

Josiah Spurlock Foster, fourth son in father’s family was always a weakling in body, and his mind was to an extent in sympathy. He was quick to take offense, petulant to a degree, impulsive, and disposed to be ironic, satirical. His volcanic out-bursts made him not so companionable, but he at heart was kind, unselfish and considerate. He made much money after the Civil War in the money brokerage business, buying up the old time bank bills of the Southern States. He gave his only sister anything she wished, regardless of price. He was a very competent trader. Later he settled down to the Foster trade, saddlery. He was a good, fast workman. His son Jesse Foster owns fine farms in west Texas. Joe died ten years ago at Fort Worth, Texas. He left a daughter, May Ella, married, Claude Foster and another son. Sarah Elizabeth Foster, only daughter was one of the sweetest and best women who ever lived. She was right pretty, and very artistic. She could paint, could write a most beautiful hand, compose the best letter, a fine seamstress, could cut and fit clothes for any person, very popular, a Christian, neat, faultlessly so, and one of the best spirits ever on earth. She died triumphantly, malarial fever at first, then typhoid. 42 days ill.

Franklin Pierce Foster, born about the time Pierce became president. We called him Frank. He was a fine spirit, brave, fair, honest. Slow to anger, obedient to his father, kind to everyone, chivalrous with women. On his way home he was seized of congestion, the second chill was fatal. He is buried 14 miles from Fort Worth, Texas. He never married.

John Vaux Drake Foster, was an infant when he died of mal-practice. My father always believed that a mistake was made by the Doctor.

And here I am, the only remnant of my father’s immediate family, like a goose barnacle I cling on to the old genealogical ship, not quite a hulk, nor yet a derelict, I hope. In good health, mind clear, sympathies intact, impulses good in the main, do not hate anyone, wish the world well, do not envy others, do not covet, doing everything I can to be content, work all I can for the same purpose, try to master my emotions instead of allowing them to master me. See much to love, little to despise, some to pity. I love the true, the beautiful, the good. I condemn the base, the ignoble, the dishonorable. I love the beautiful dead, my own, who helped me to build my own life, whose example was always good, inspiring and true, who stood by me 58 years and 20 days and departed for her house not made with hands - shill I give you her name? She was my beautiful, grand, good wife, mother of my seven children, Elnore Isabel Isaacs, the pole star of my life, my anchor, my guardian, my compass, my every-day inspiration, and now my magnet in the Eternal City.

Ernest, I wish I could see you, I certainly want you to succeed. This life is up to each of us, our fortune, our destiny perhaps. Your last Foster uncle wishes to keep in touch with you. write to me often. In my next letter to you I will discuss my immediate family, my children. Let me hear from you. Having misplaced your address, I am handing this to Gladstone - known to Californians as Bill.

I am your uncle,
W. T. Foster

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