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.
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.
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.