Archive for the ‘Articles and Letters’ Category

05. Family Legend

Family Legend

Prior to a record of a grant of land to Ambrose Foster in old Tryon County, Province of North Carolina on April 9, 1770, we have only a vague family tradition and a few old letters with indefinite statements.

A well known historian of Sumter, S.C. wrote “It is almost impossible to get any perfect record of any family considering the later fires when court-houses and records were burned.”

Our families were true pioneers, each generation moving into new unsettled lands where few if any records were kept and the later fires complicated the compiling of a perfect record but we were very fortunate in obtaining many records.

Our clues prior to 1770 consist of a few indefinite sentences in old letters that leave much unsaid: “The Fosters were Scotch”, “They migrated from Scotland to Ireland and then to America before the Revolutionary War”, “They settled in 1752 in the valley of Virginia”, “They fought at King’s Mountain and the Hornet’s Nest” and “After the war Joel Foster’s people moved to South Carolina but one brother remained in North Carolina”. There is also a very strong belief that “two Foster brothers settled on the land now the campus of Washington and Lee University.”

Foster Name

The name Foster and Forster is by high and most competent authority identified with Forester. The Foresters of England were keepers of the forest and became skilled hunters and wood-craftsmen. The first forester of record was Anarcher, the Danish Noble, Governor of Flanders and Great Forester of France who died in 837 A.D. and had son Bras de Fer (Iron Man) who died 877 A.D. according to several historians. Bras de Fer married Judith, daughter of of Charles the Bold, King of France. It is said from this line all the Fosters in England and America in the 17th and 18th centuries are descended. The shortening of the name to Foster is credited by most authorities as originating in England and from there, many migrated to Scotland and Ireland.

Armstrong

As we know [that] Joel Lewis Foster married Mary Jane Armstrong in South Carolina and probably in Abbeville, we were very interested in an account of the Armstrong families in “Notable Southern Families” Vol. 2, pages 179 to 198.1 It says that Thomas Armstrong’s (5th Lord of Maingerton) second son, John Armstrong of Gilnockie, was Robin Hood of the Border, and all the Armstrongs in the 17th century in Ireland as all the Armstrongs in America who trace thru [sic] the Scotch-Irish clan, descend from John Armstrong. Robert Armstrong was an immigrant from County Antrim to Pennsylvania in 1735. John Houston of the clan called the “Sam Houston families” because of that famous character was an immigrant from Ireland at about the same time, along with several so-called Scotch-Irish families.

A Mr. Houston believed to be closely related to John Houston, perhaps a brother, married Alice Armstrong, daughter of Robert Armstrong in Abbeville District, South Carolina. Their son, Robert Armstrong Houston, was born in Abbeville and the family moved to Tennessee about the turn of the century. This is about the same time Mary “Armstrong” and Joel L. Foster are believed to have moved to Cane Creek about 3 miles south of the Flatt Creek Community in the then Bedford County, Tennessee. In an effort to trace the vague story about Washington & Lee, we learned that Samuel Houston, father of Sam Houston gave some of the land now owned by Washington & Lee University. The land in the valley was the Borden Grant and Dr. Diehl, an alumnus of the school gave this information. He also said there had been so much litigation over the Borden lands, the cost of tracing all was prohibitive.

We found listed in an early Blount County, Tennessee tax list James Houston and Andrew Jackson. The 1820 census of Bedford County listed James Houston and family among a number of Armstrong families.2 We also learned that the Joseph Gibson – estate filed Murfreesboro in 1815 was the husband of Elizabeth, daughter of John Armstrong and his Will was filed in Pendleton District, South Carolina. We did not obtain the Joseph Gibson Will, but James Gibson was administrator and William Gibson of South Carolina, Robert and Elizabeth Gibson were named. The land Joel L. Foster had surveyed in Bedford (later Lincoln) County, Tennessee was part of a grant to John Gray Blount.

Coat of Arms

An interesting book review in the National Genealogical Magazine kept us from yielding to the temptation of claiming the beautiful Foster Coat of Arms and the story about Forestarius, brother-in-law of William the Conqueror, which we have seen in many Foster publications. The editor said, “no wonder William the Conqueror conquered England, he had so many of our American ancestors fighting for him.”3 He also regretted that so many family histories began with two to five brothers. We believe he was a bit too critical about this as there are many records proving that most of the pioneer emigrants moved in family groups.

Francis Foster-Barham (Barham assumed by one branch of the Foster line) said in “England – 1844″ – “The Fosters were time out of mind, a good, honest, jovial, eccentric race of men, living by hunting and fond of love, war and adventure. Their name is still redolent of the romance of Robin Hood and diverse bold outlaws of the good old times when our country was called Merry England; and they still rejoice at seeing the bugle on their armorial bearings – an instrument not inconvenient to have by one in mofe [sic] modern times, in which the art of blowing your own trumpet is sedulously studied. So numerous were they that a proverb arose ‘God made Adam and Eve and then the Fosters’. They are as numerous as the leaves on the trees in the forests for which they were named”.4

We picture the Coat of Arms which seems most suited and admit to a tendency to blow our own horn at times. We know our Fosters were skilled woods-craftmen – they were first “boatmen” and Joel L. Foster was a cooper by trade. His son Thomas J. Foster was a skilled builder as reported later in this chronicle. A recent letter from Dr. Dee Foster confirms the family tradition of their love to hunt and roam the forest. We found them living near the mountains, forest and the streams for more than one generation after their arrival in America. Dr. Foster wrote, “I wonder how far back the desire to hunt goes back in our Foster family? All that I have known have been hunters. During 1964, I added three bear skins, one moose and two barren ground caribou, all from Alaska. One Elk and a buck from New Mexico also a Corsican ram and Indian black buck antelope from Texas.["]

Ulster Scotch

In the reign of James the First, of England and Scotland, two Irish nobles rebelled against him, and the king took possession of their lands in the north of Ireland. The king offered inducements to the Scotch to emigrate to North Ireland. This country was called Ulster. Rev. Andrew Stewart, one of their ministers, wrote: “The king had a natural love to have Ireland planted with Scots, as being of a middle temper, between the English tender and the Irish rude breeding, and a great deal more likely to adventure to plant Ireland.”

By the beginning of the Eighteenth century the Scotch in Ulster numbered around a million, and they carried with them to Ireland their fondness for education and their love of liberty. They were thrifty and industrious and they prospered. Their prosperity excited the jealousy of their English rivals in manufactures, and the British Parliament began to pass laws restricting their woolen trade, so they began to leave for America where they were called Scotch-Irish. Not content with the oppressive taxation, the Parliament began to interfere with the religion of the Ulsterites. They were forbidden to have school teachers of their own and forbidden to hold any office higher than that of petty constable. Their ministers were forbidden to perform the marriage ceremony, and when they did, the marriage was declared illegal. So the Scotch left their Irish homes in an exodus that has been compared to the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.

In 1727 six emigrant ships full of Scotch-Irish arrived at Philadelphia in one week, and all through the first half of the Eighteenth century it was not uncommon for two or three emigrant ships a day to reach America from Ireland. They went to New England and also settled a good part of New York. One Scotch-Irish church there had 750 members. They peopled New Jersey. They took possession of the Quaker City, Philadelphia, and filled up Western Pennsylvania. Then as the Pennsylvania lands were taken, they moved southward. They occupied the fertile valley of Virginia and peopled the western counties. Thomas Jefferson said of Patrick Henry, whom he styled “Our leader in the measures of the Revolution in Virginia,” that “his influence was most extensive with the members from the upper counties”. They out-voted their cavalier brethren in the eastern counties.

As these upper counties of Virginia were filled and the best lands taken, or their sons reached manhood with a desire for land of their own, the great wave of migration south through the Shenandoah Valley began. Two things halted their migration west and turned it south – the barrier of the Appalachian ranges with no roads, and the French and Indian wars in 1754 for nine years.


Web note: Trek to Texas does contain an unlisted, and unnumbered Bibliography on page 197, however it appears to be an incomplete list in addition to not noting the location of sources used within the book. It is merely an alphabetical list of some of the sources. In the interest of providing as complete a record as I can, I’m starting a Web Bibliography to note specific sources mentioned in the book as fully as I am able. I will do my best to keep the source list as up-to-date as possible, linking back to the page on which the source is mentioned.
~Kathy

1 “Notable Southern Families” Vol. 2, pages 179 to 198.

2 1820 Census. Bedford County, Tennessee.

3 National Genealogical Magazine. Book Review. Unnamed author or date.

4 Foster-Barham, Francis. “England – 1844″

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