Captain Thomas “Tommy” Foster, Part Two

by Bruce Whitaker

Thomas Foster was given the title of captain as a sign of respect. He never served in the military, as far as I know. He was in the forefront of almost every action or project that took place in Buncombe County during his life. He represented the county in the state house of commons in 1809, 1812, 1813 and 1814. He represented the county in the state senate from 1817 to 1819.

Thomas had an uncle named Thomas Forster. Forster was born in Virginia on January 22, 1751. This uncle often signed his name as Thomas Forster Sr. in order to tell the two apart. The elder Thomas married Miss Rafferty in South Carolina and moved to Abbeville, SC, after their marriage. He moved back to Buncombe later in life. He had a farm on Beaverdam Creek and died there in early 1839. He was appointed to a commission to acquire land for a public square for Asheville in 1807.

Orra Sams Foster’s parents came to live in a house on the farm of Thomas Foster in their later years. Edmund and Nancy Anne were in their late 80s at the time. Edmund had grown fond of petting and spoiling animals, and one cow of Tommy Foster’s was his favorite pet. Edmund began feeding her so much it was a threat to her health, and Captain Foster warned his father-in-law about overfeeding the cow. One morning Foster got up earlier than usual and headed for the barn. Sams saw him coming and Foster overheard him say, “Hurry up, old lady, Tommy is coming.”

In 1851, a commission was formed to build a plank road from Asheville to Greenville, SC. Representatives from the road commission went to Captain Foster’s house to ask what payment he would require to let them build a road across his property. Foster, who was sick at the time, told them they would discuss it after the road was built. When A.T. Summey, an agent for the plank road commission, came to Captain Foster’s after the road was complete, Foster told him the commission owed him nothing. The road had increased the value of his property.

Orra Sams Foster died on August 17, 1853. Her husband, Captain Foster, began to dispose of his belongings. His son (my great-great grandfather), Benjamin Franklin “Frank” Foster Sr. (1817–1893), sent his 6-year-old daughter, Mary Foster (1852–1912, my great grandmother), to stay with her grandfather to keep him company.
My grandfather, Henry Harrison Ingle Sr. (1884–1973), said his mother told him a story about three enslaved people her grandfather owned at the time, a man and a woman and their little boy.

Mary said Captain Foster freed them and gave them paperwork to prove they had been freed. At that time, there was no such things as motels. At night, people would choose a favorable place on the side of the road to sleep. The freed woman woke up the next morning and found that her son and husband were gone. She looked all over for them without success. She gave up and went back to Captain Foster and told him what happened. She asked if she could stay there until she found a place go and decide what she was going to do. He said she could stay a while.

Captain Foster knew he did not have long to live. He was trying to get rid of what he had. He went to see a farmer about selling some of his livestock. Foster noticed a young black boy in the distance who looked familiar to him, and he asked the man about him. The farmer told him that the boy had belonged to Foster. The boy’s father had come by his farm three or four weeks ago and told him he needed money to open a business in the city. He sold his son to the farmer to get money to start the business and left. Foster made some kind of trade with the man to get the boy back and took him back home with him.

Captain Foster stopped in front of his house and told the boy to stand behind him. My great grandmother said Foster called for the boy’s mother to come out in front of the house, as he needed to tell her something. He had to call her several times, and finally she came out. My great grandmother said the woman said, “I don’t have time for you. I’ve got work to do!” Foster then stepped aside and revealed her son standing behind him. My grandfather said his mother told him she had “never seen as much hugging, kissing, crying and snotting in her life.” My grandfather said no one ever heard of the boy’s father again.

Captain Thomas Foster died on December 24, 1858. He, his wife and both of their parents are buried in Newton Academy.
The Asheville paper published the following obituary on January 6, 1859.

We are pained to announce the death of CAPT. THOMAS FOSTER. He died at his residence on the Swannanoa, two miles east of Asheville on Friday the 24 ult. [December 1858] in the 85th year of age. He had lived in Buncombe County for 70 years and was widely known and universally esteemed. CAPT FOSTER represented this district in the State Senate in 1809, 1812, 1813, and 1814 and represented Buncombe in the House of Commons in 1817 and again in 1819. [The paper reversed his times in the state senate and house.] Blessed with a clear, strong and comprehensive mind, his views on public questions were always eagerly sought and greatly respected. As a neighbor, citizen, a father and a friend, he was faultless. His death has created a vacuum which will not be easily filled. He died calmly and peacefully having a desire to depart and be at rest. Burial: Newton Academy Cemetery, Asheville…

Captain Thomas Foster and his wife Orra Sams had 11 children, all born in what is now called Biltmore.
1. Nancy Foster was born on November 17, 1797. She married James Mitchell Alexander, 1793–1858. She died in Alexander, Buncombe County, on January 14, 1862. They built and owned the Alexander Inn in Alexander.
2. Elizabeth Heath Foster was born on January 15, 1799. She married George Couples Alexander, 1790–1880. They built and owned the Alexander Inn in Swannanoa. She died in Swannanoa on January 24, 1884.
3. John Wesley Foster was born on January 30, 1802. He married Ann Demaris Ratcliff, 1812–1849, then Anna Glance, 1819–1907. He died in Leicester in 1869.
4. Edmund Sams Foster born January 19, 1804. He married Sarah Mary Lucinda Foster, 1814–1874 (his first cousin). He died on August 16, 1843 in Buncombe County.
5. William C. Foster was born June 23, 1807 and died sometime after 1847, place unknown.
6. Thomas H. Foster was born on October 27, 1809. He married Matilda Dunn, 1808–1864, and then Mary Keating, 1808–1885. He died in Weakley County, TN, on February 25, 1899.
7. Sarah Sams Foster was born on January 4, 1812. She married Joseph Cruser Davidson, 1806–1891. She died on December 15, 1890 in Buncombe County.
8. Mary Caroline “Polly” Foster was born on July 12, 1814. She married Jesse Hollingsworth Moody, 1797–1882. She died on August 5, 1844 in Buncombe County.
9. Benjamin Franklin “Frank” Foster Sr. was born on January 19, 1817. He married Elizabeth Caroline Wolfe, 1824–1862, who was the daughter of William “Billy” Wolfe (1797–1847) and Jane Hayes (1794–1873). After Elizabeth’s death, he married a widow, Mary Ann Holder Benson, 1844–1891. Frank died in August 1893 at the home of his daughter, Annie J. Foster Parham, 1868–1936, in the Deaverview section of West Asheville.
10. Rachael Rebecca Foster was born on June 2, 1820. She married a drover, William Garner (1810–1873 ca), from Winchester, Clarke County, KY, who would stop at the Thomas Foster farm going to and from Augusta, Georgia. She died at her home in Winchester around 1902.
11. James M. Foster was born on January 22, 1822 and died in Buncombe County on February 6, 1846.

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