Reginald Foster, Prolific Puritan and Home Builder

Of the many early English immigrants in the family, Reginald Foster stands out. Perhaps this is because his original home is still standing in Ipswitch, Massachusetts and that we were able to visit the house and embrace the ceiling timbers. In this very tangible sense, Reginald is still with us. It also helps that Reginald sired a dozen or so children. Our family today can trace a clear line back to Reginald through my Dad.

Reginald's house getting new siding in 2011

Reginald’s house getting new siding in 2011

Reginald Foster house in Ipswich, Massachusetts in 2011. The original house in the front was started  in the 1640's.

Reginald Foster house in Ipswich, Massachusetts in 2011. The original house in the front was started in the 1640’s.

Even more intriguing is the English background before immigration to the Colonies. Reginald is born in 1595 in Exeter which lies in southwest England. His father Thomas Forster presents some problems for us amateur historian/genealogists. An American physician, a Foster, created a detailed family genealogy of the Foster family in the late 19th Century. In this work he identified Thomas Foster as being born in Yorkshire (in the far north of England) in 1570 and marrying Elizabeth Carr from Yorkshire in 1580 at age ten. While the marriage could have been arranged and consummation deferred, it raises several questions. At this time, I believe that the good genealogist doctor made this family link to identify this Thomas Foster with another Thomas Foster whom had a more distinguished heritage. This opinion is shared by others. Nonetheless, the Thomas Foster who was Reginald Foster’s father died in Exeter on June 19, 1648 and is buried at Sokentinhead in Devonshire. By that time his son, Reginald had left for the Colonies or more correctly one of the Plantations in Massachusetts.

A modest exploration of the history of Exeter lends some light on the motivation for the departure in 1638 of Reginald with wife Judith and their seven children. Reginald, who was born in 1595 in Exeter had married Judith Wignol in 1619. She was two years younger than the 24 year old Reginald. This proves that they did not always marry at 15. But let me return to Exeter which lies in the southwest corner of England and was a center for early Protestants in England. Henry VIII had broken off from the authority of Pope and the Roman Church to help meet his personal, dynastic and political needs. Roman Catholics in the area were outraged at the Protestant prayer book and besieged by Catholics during what is called the Prayer Book Rebellion in 1549. Henry had died and his son Edward under the heavy influence of Thomas Cranmer produces the first English Book of Common Prayer. Devonshire with its key cities of Exeter and Plymouth will be centers of Protestant and Dissent against Henry’s Anglican Church. The county was also the home of the Elizabethan naval heroes like Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh.  They would not have to look far for a ride.

Judith, wife of Reginald, was born in 1597 to Alexander and Mary Signal in Exeter like Reginald. Exeter at the time was a sizable city of some 7,000 folks. Its prosperity was based on the woolen trade. The occupations of the Wignals and Fosters is not known but probably they were in the trades. The most interesting part of this is that Alexander and his wife Mary Frances will depart England before their daughter. They will arrive in Salem in 1629. Alexander is no youth at 59 and will die in Watertown, Mass in 1631. No more is known about the Wignals in America. 

The young married Fosters commence building a family. Our direct ancestor, Jacob is born in Exeter in 1635. Historically this is a time of tremendous tension in England. The Scottish Stuarts on the throne after the death of Elizabeth. Charles I is embroiled with an increasingly hostile Parliament with radical Puritans and other dissenters from the established Anglican Church which is led by the king. It is the policy of the king to harry these Dissenters from the establish church out of England. The story of the Pilgrims is well known. While the Fosters were clearly Puritan and subject to harassment, they were not involved with “Pilgrims”. By 1638, the 43 year old Reginald will have had enough and leaves England. Within a few years, England will be embroiled in its Civil War. 

We find Reginald in the written records in 1638 to have landed in Massachusetts and acquired title to land in Ipswich on April 6, 1641. The early residents of Ipswich would become farmers, fishermen, traders or shipbuilders. The tidal Ipswich river provided water power for mills and led to the development of small scale lace making. Reginald will build his home on the south side of the river. Reginald gives the house to Deacon Jacob, our direct ancestor, upon his death. The house still stands and is occupied by the wonderful author and illustrator of children’s books, Ed Emberley. The story of our visit is worth recounting.

It was during the early summer of 2011 following our adventure on the Appalachian Trail that we arrived in Massachusetts. Have recovered and rehabilitated a while at Bobbie Evans’ house in North Carver, we were ready to track down graves. One of our trips was to Ipswich to look for the grave of Reginald Foster. We landed in the offices of the local genealogy folks who kindly opened the officially closed offices. The know “Reggie” immediately. We found out that if your last name is Foster, there is a good chance that Reggie is also your ancestor. Anyway, the humorous and helpful staff directed us to his house. She said it was the “red house” on the river just a bit from the bridge. We could not miss it. Famous last words.

We followed the directions. We found no red house. We finally asked a woman working in her yard if she knew where the old Foster house was located. She happily responded that it was the white house next to hers. The house was being resided with white unpainted siding. We thanked her and told her that we would like to take a few pictures of the exterior. She told us that the residents would love to meet descendants of the original owners. We demurred and told her that we would not want to bother the residents. She insisted and proceeded to knock on the door for us. We were immediately invited into the house by Ed and his wife Barbara. 

Peggy almost fainted when she realized that Ed was the famous author of books that we raised our kids with along with hundreds of kindergarten kids during her career. They were wonderful and gave us the tour and history. The original beams that Reginald and his boys put in place are still in their front room. They would not take no for an answer when they offered autographed copies of some of their works. Peggy was in Heaven. We told them about the Appalachian Trail experience and offered our home. We have not seen them yet. We can still hope.

Ed Emberley shows Peggy the original beams placed by Reginald Foster and sons in the 1640s

Ed Emberley shows Peggy the original beams placed by Reginald Foster and sons in the 1640s

Reginald is referred to as Goodman Foster and a homeowner near the “East Bridge” on the Ipswich River. While smallpox and devoted the local native tribes, Indians were still considered to be a serious threat. In 1645, it was the law that all youth from 10 to 16 years be experienced in small guns, half pikes, bows and arrows. Town watchmen were posted from sunset to dawn to warn of sudden Indian attacks. In 1645, Reginald is documented contributing 3 shillings towards the hire of a Major Dennison to command the local military forces. Reginald will continue to purchase property and increase his family.

Judith passes away in 1664 having given birth to some twelve children. Reginald will marry Sarah Larriford Martin the next year. Reggie is 70 while she is 65. She was a fellow immigrant but little is known of her arrival or family. She will outlive Regnald who passes in 1681 at 86. He leaves to Jacob the house valued at 100 pounds. His estate lists his share of Ipswich common land, 9 acres of salt marsh for grazing, 12 acres of pasture land, 50 acres of upland and marsh. From this partial list of holdings, I assume that the family farmed but probably had other sources of income as he continued to purchase property. At his death he also had one ox, 4 cows, 2 steers, 10 sheep and 3 lambs, 3 pigs, a bed, 20 bushels of Indian corn, along with a variety of other garage sale items like “old tubbs”. I think the Deacon Jacob got the best part of the deal.

I hope to continue the Foster story to the time of my father who lived with his Foster grandparents near Banks, Oregon.

11 thoughts on “Reginald Foster, Prolific Puritan and Home Builder

  1. It looks like we may be relatives. I’ve traced (to a fair certainty) my roots back to Reginald Foster as well. Our line of Fosters came from his other son, William (1633-1713). The interesting part is that line moved from Ipswich & Andover to Pennsylvania, then Joplin, MO, then Hiwasse, Arkansas. My Grandfather & Grandmother then moved to LaGrange, Oregon in 1912 and eventually settling in Weiser, ID. The move from Arkansas to Oregon is a curious one, and may be the same reason your line ended up in Banks, OR. As a child, my Mom spoke of going to the Oregon Coast and her Sister (my Aunt) settled in the Portland area (Gresham). If you like to contact me, I’m at acimino555@yahoo.com. Best regards – Anthony Cimino

    • Anthony,
      Sorry about the delayed response. We travel quite a bit.
      My great grandmother, Fanny Foster moved to Oregon in the 1880s. The family seemed to stay well north of the slave states.

  2. I am related to Reginald Foster through his daughter, Sarah, who married my very great grandfather William Story. I appreciate your details about Reginald and his antecedents. It’s exciting to know his home still stands. I hope to get out there sometime to see it.

  3. Mark & Peggy
    Thank you for your window into the Foster family history. My Fosters stayed behind in England. I am from Hull, Yorkshire and have traced my line, with the aid of other genealogists, back to early 1600’s Scotter, North Lincolnshire.
    Ancestry has given me a number of DNA matches to US citizens with Fosters, especially Reginald, included in their ancestry.
    Other names in my genealogy Smith, Newton, Fretwell, Sharp, Hutchinson, Stennett, certainly indicate a non-conformist heritage. I understand some were antinomian and possibly fell out with other protestants.
    Ancestry also seems to indicate a possible DNA circle Berrong/Chastain/Foster centred around Hiawassee GA.
    Would love to link up.
    Kind regards
    Stuart William Foster

    • Thank you, Stuart

      I have always been stumped with Reginald’s English ancestry. Most of Reginald’s family members use a genealogy compiled by a 19th Century American doctor. He badly wanted Reginald to have noble ancestry and kind of fudged the files. I would be excited to have access to your research on Reginald.

      I have a public family tree on Ancetry.Com under La Porte-Bryson. I would love to update it with your “real” information on the English Fosters. For your information, the Fosters that I am closely related to moved to Oregon in the mid-19th Century and settled in the beautiful region around Portland.

      I find it interesting that you mention the Hiawassee, Georgia Berrong Family. My wife is descended from a Lydia Berrong of Hiawassee. We were there a few years ago looking up her Southern family and walked a portion of the Appalachian Trail that goes near Hiawassee. I always have kidded my wife about that part of her family because of the famous movie, “Deliverance” that was filmed near there.

      I look forward to communicating with you. Our last visit to England was in 2012 and we are due for a revisit. My wife can easily trace her linage to the Greshams near Holt.

      We live east of San Francisco in the mountains near Yosemite National Park. All for now.

      Best regards,

      Mark La Porte

  4. Good evening,
    I have a plethora of family history on the family history of Foster as well. We are decedent’s of William Foster, the son of Reginald Foster. We would love to connect to family and connect the dots as well!!!

    • Mark & Peggy & friends
      Thank you for keeping me in the loop. Anyone wishing to contact me re: Foster Ancestry please email stuart.foster@swiftsurvey.net.
      Also, enjoy your travelogue; I spent a most enjoyable summer in Israel as a student working on an archaeological excavation at the south wall of the temple mount Jerusalem, helping to uncover the Herodian steps that lead to the Huldah Gates.

      Re: Foster genealogy, I can only state with reasonable confidence that my Foster ancestors link to William (Guilielmus) Foster b. 1630, died Scotter, Lincs. (Thanks to Neva McKeague for much of the research – her husband descends from Mary Foster b.1799 m. Sam Hewson. Mary owned and ran a mill after Sam died.) William’s wife was simply “Widow” though at least one researcher has her as Elizabeth Smyth.
      My direct line is via William Foster 1660 & Ann Aystrop. He also did marry an Elizabeth Smyth.

      The 16th & 17th C. in England, especially Lincolnshire, was a period of unrest, i.e. Reformation, Lincolnshire Rising (after which Baron John Hussey was beheaded – his daughter Joan m. Sir Roger Fo(r)ster), the plague, Civil wars, the Separatist movement. In the 1600’s the Dutch under Vermuyden drained much of the Lincolnshire marshes and Fenland on behalf of the king for which V. was awarded a 1/3 of the land.

      My link to Richard Foster (1595) and Patience Bigge is unsubstantiated. However, Ancestry has given me DNA connections to a number of Americans with “Foster” in their trees (assuming they are correct) linking back to Sir Roger and bro. Thomas Forster via MA, USA etc to Essex, Devon; Iden, Sussex; Ipswich, Suffolk. They are mostly 5th+ cousins which would seem to fit in with the above period of unrest in England.

      Interestingly there was a William Foster b.1560 (All Saints) in Laughton by Gainsborough (about 3 miles from Scotter). His daughter Marie Marianna m. Rev Wm. Forman (a descendant of High Sheriff & Mayor of London, b. Gainsborough). Their son Robert Engle Forman fled to Holland then the States because of religious persecution. John Smyth (the first? Baptist minister) also preached at the Great Hall in Gainsborough. There was another group in Scrooby (w/Wm. Brewster, Wm. Bradford and Robinson). These 2 groups fled to Leiden, Netherlands and on to the States on the Mayflower (1620).

      Cuthbert Foster m. Elizabeth Bradford (I think connected to Wm. Bradford). Cuthbert is attributed to be the father of 2 Rev Thos Fosters. One who m. Abigail Wimes parents of Reginald 1595 and t’other m. Elizabeth Carr and Margaret Forester.

      This is exciting but in need of much clarification.
      Regards and Happy New Year!
      Stuart

  5. I am also a descendant of Reginald’s, but through his son Isaac. I live in Southeast Missouri and discovered the information about the Reginald Foster house quite recently. It’s very exciting! Reginald is my 9th great-grandfather. I know he is buried in the Highland Cemetery, but I can’t find a photo of his gravestone in Find-a-Grave. Did you photograph it during your stay? I would love to have a photo of the gravestone or any drawings, paintings of Reginald and his family.

  6. Hello! I am a descendant of Reginald through his son Abraham. I live in Holden, Maine. My branch of Fosters settled in Maine with Asael in Bridgton, Maine just after the Revolutionary War. Asael’s son, Asael, moved to Amherst, Maine, and this is where I am originally from. I am curious about the information you share of Reginald being from the south of England rather than the North. I have relatives who have visited the Foster castle in Northumberland.

  7. I too am descended from Reginald through his son Abraham. This family has provided me with some very interesting ancestors. Abraham’s son, Ephraim was married to Hannah Eames. Hannah’s mother Rebecca was convicted of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials. Fortunately she confessed and was imprisoned rather than executed. She was released when people came to their senses. Ephraim as the constable of Andover arrested suspects and testified against witches. Another Foster, Reginald’s great great great grandson,Frederick, who had fought on the American side during the War for Independence, owned a sawmill, grist mill and tavern In Pembroke NH, that he sold in 1800 and moved to Grand Manan Island. Why would he do that? He is my fourth great grandfather. As I said an interesting family.

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