Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Patrick's Day Honoree 2015: William K. Foster

William K. Foster
March 20, 1835 - September 27, 1902

Foster Irish crest.
On this St. Patrick's Day 2015, we honor our pioneering great grandfather, William K. Foster, who 165 years ago (April 18, 1849) boarded the sailing vessel Bridgetown at New Ross, County Wexford, Ireland to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Six weeks later, on June 1, 1849, William, his widowed mother, and four siblings, landed in Quebec and were thus freed from the throes of the Irish Potato Famine. No doubt they were thankful to have made it safely to Canada for the trip was fraught with hazard.
Traveling to America by ship during the Irish Famine could be quite perilous. In the mid-19th century, English landlords looking to evict penniless Irish tenants would pay to have them shipped to British North America. In many cases these ships were poorly built, crowded, disease-ridden, and short of food, supplies and medical services. As a result, many Irish immigrants contracted diseases such as typhus, and many others died before reaching land. Of the 100,000 Irish that sailed to British North America in 1847, one out of five died from disease and malnutrition. Appropriately, these treacherous sailing vessels became known as “coffin ships.”
On a voyage across the Atlantic in 1847, dozens aboard the Bridgetown succumbed to the fever (typhus) and were buried at sea, leaving many orphans. A passenger wrote from island quarantine:
We arrived here on the 22nd from Liverpool. I regret to tell you that fever broke out, and that seventy passengers and one sailor were committed to the deep on the voyage. There are several more ill. We buried six yesterday on shore. The carpenter and joiner are occupied making coffins. There are six more dead after the night. I cannot say when we can go to Quebec, as we cannot land the remainder of the sick at present, there being no room in the hospitals for them, though the front of the island is literally covered with sheds and tents. 
The accounts from the shore are awful, and our condition on board you can form no idea of — helpless children without parents or relatives, the father buried in the deep last week, and the mother the week before, — their six children under similar unfortunate circumstances, and so on. I trust God will carry me through this trying ordeal — I was a few days sick, but am now recovered. Captain Wilson was complaining for a few days. It is an awful change from the joyous hopes with which most of us left our unfortunate country, expecting to be able to earn that livelihood denied us at home — all — all changed in many cases to bitter deep despair.
The Bridgetown would be lost at sea off the coast of New Foundland in August, 1850. 
[T]he ship "Bridgetown," from Liverpool, with 347 passengers, was wrecked on the coast of Newfoundland, near Cape Race, on the 4th of August. Excepting three children, the passengers were saved and conveyed to St. John's, whence three vessels arrived with them at this port, on the 10th of September. The passengers by the "Wave" and "Bridgetown," landed here in a very destitute state, having lost all their baggage, on which account they caused a heavy expenditure to the department. The outlay incurred at this and the Montreal agency, for their inland transport and provisions, was 152£ 5s., for which expense, owing to the loss of the vessels, no dues had been received.
Having survived their voyage unscathed, the Foster family adventure in the New World began.

Great great grandmother Margaret Roach Foster, an
d children Hariett, 24, James, 21, Elizabeth 18, William K., 14, and Isaac, 12, settled in Kemptville, Ontario, located thirty-five miles south of Ottawa.  William came of age, apprenticed as and became a journeyman cabinet maker, a profession which included coffin making. He met Margaret Sanderson, daughter of Scottish immigrants. They married on May 3, 1859. She bore him five sons -- Isaac (my grandfather), George, William, James and Robert. Great grandmother Margaret died of complications from childbirth the week following Robert's birth. The widower William subsequently married Nancy Jane Loucks, who bore him a sixth child, Emily Rellia. 

William Foster headed yet further west in 1874, first to Pembina, Dakota territory. Pembina was the original county seat of Pembina county. It is tucked under the international border in the extreme northeast corner of North Dakota, seventy miles south of Winnepeg, Manitoba. In 1879, William moved on to his final place of residence, homesteading in Bathgate, Dakota territory, fifteen miles southwest of Pembina. William was an original -- literally the town father. 

The founding of Bathgate is chronicled in "Proudly We Speak, A History of Neche, Hyde Park, Bruce and Bathgate."

In this 1893 plat William K. Foster owned a quarter section west of town, plus a
145 acre plot south of town. He donated a triangular plot east of the railroad for the
town cemetery, where he is interred.  The town of  Bathgate is located on land my
great grandfather originally homesteaded. The quarter section north of town is held
at that time by my grandfather Isaac (I. J.) Foster.
William Foster, Sr. and his son "Ike" filed on the land which became the Bathgate townsite. There are several stories of how the town came to be called Bathgate. One taken from the diary of Mrs. John Houston, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Campbell states that in July 1880 two men with a team of horses came to the Campbell home, the land now owned by the Thomas and James Martindale families and asked to stay over night. The men were Comstock and White of the Land Company of Comstock and White, who had purchased the land for a townsite from the Fosters. They went on to Winnipeg, locating townsites along the railroad. On their return,they again stayed over night and Mr. Comstock said that the townsite would be named Bathgate after the town in England, where his wife had lived.
A Mr. Ewing was hired to plot the town into lots, streets and avenues. The Railroad brought the Boom. People came, buildings sprang up, businesses were started and the town grew. The St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railroad was built from Grand Forks to Winnipeg. It reached Bathgate August 10,1882. Service began in September, the north train arriving in the morning and the south bound train in the late afternoon. In 1890, this railroad became the Great Northern with the well known Jim Hill as President of the Company. The first grain was shipped September 27, 1882. The telegraph came to Bathgate late in 1882.
William K. was active in the town's development far beyond his role in selling his original quarter section off to a developer. "Proudly We Speak" continues,
William Foster was the first to build a home, it was built in the north end of town. He built the building which housed the Post Office. Mr. Foster was the first Postmaster. 
Appointment as original Bathgate postmaster, Black Hills Weekly Pioneer, December 3 1881.
He carried the mail horseback from Hamilton P.O., five miles south of Bathgate and two miles northwest of Hamilton to the Pembina-Cavalier Trail. He performed this service without pay for two years. William Foster was the town's promoter. Church services were held in his house. He donated land for the Cemetery. He and his sons promoted various business ventur
In additional to selling the land which was developed by Comstock and White, the Fosters retained land to the immediate north which was platted, subdivided and marketed as Foster's Addition to Bathgate. William K. Foster avidly promoted the lots, the town and the territory of Dakota in general.

For his efforts the editor of the local newspaper referred to William Foster as Mayor, an honorific, not legally conferred, title.

William Foster said that Bathgate was "high and dry," not subject to the all too frequent devastating floods that occured a dozen miles east along the "overflowing Red."

Bathgate Sentinel, May 16, 1882
The "Bathgate Sentinel" was quick to confirm the accuracy of advertisements promoting the town. 
Bathgate Sentinel, May 16, 1882
There is not a word of exaggeration in the advertisements of our townsite proprietors Messrs. Comstock & White, and Mr. W. Foster. Located as Bathgate is on a beautiful river, almost in the centre of the rich, and wonderously fertile County of Pembina, and soon to become the great railroad centre, no town can offer better inducements to capital, energy and brains. Everybody sees the superior advantages Bathgate has over all other towns in the county, the beautiful high location; fourteen miles from the raging Red, that has caused so much damage along its banks; a great railroad centre, and a soil extending in every direction from ten to twenty miles that is unrivaled for richness and elevation.
William K. Foster touted the special advantages of Foster's addition in ads placed in the "Pembina Pioneer Express."

Pembina Pioneer Express, June 22 1883.
William Foster's enthusiasm never dimmed.

Pembina Pioneer Express, February 15, 1884
Wm. Foster visited several of the towns in the county last week, but comes back satisfied to remain in Bathgate, although the numerous houses built up around him obstruct the wide view of the surrounding country, which he had when his was the only shanty within several miles of the present town. Mr. Foster says: "This is God's own Country, it can't be beat."
We thank God for the pioneering spirit and drive of our ancestor William K. Foster, and honor him for that and his heritage today, St. Patricks Day 2015. Thanks to him the road has risen to meet us and the wind blows to this day behind our backs. Happy St. Patrick's day great grandfather!