Rhode Island Genealogy » Biographies » Biography of Edwin Bragg Foster
Edwin Bragg Foster

Biography of Edwin Bragg Foster

The name Foster or its kindred in various spellings began as early as any surname and in the Middle Ages was of great significance, since it was derived from the office of forester, which under the feudal system was a position of great power and influence. The foresters of Flanders were created by Charlemagne to rule the savage wilderness which in his time composed the Western boundary of the Frankish Empire. They became powerful hereditary chieftains and later, as margraves and dukes of Flanders, played a notable part in the history of Western Europe from the ninth to the twelfth century. Anacher, called the Great Forester (or Forster) of Flanders, died in the year 837, A. D., leaving a son, Baldwin I, of Flanders, surnamed “Iron Arm” because of his great strength and his skill in wielding the battle-axe. The Foresters, Forsters and Fosters of England trace their ancestry to Sir Richard Forester, brother-in-law of William of Normandy, who accompanied the Conqueror to England. After the battle of Hastings, 1066, he was knighted and became the founder of the family which has figured conspicuously in English history since the Conquest. The American family is descended from several pioneers who came here before the close of the seventeenth century. The Fosters of Westerly, Rhode Island, form a distinct branch of the New England family and are descended from Corporal John Foster, of Salem.

Edwin Bragg Foster, eighth generation from Corporal John Foster of Salem, son of Ethan (2) and Anna Almy (Wilbur) Foster, was born in Westerly, Rhode Island, May 25, 1854. He was a member of the first class to be graduated from the Westerly High School and was a classmate of the late Governor Utter. He afterward attended the Moses Brown School in Providence and upon completion of his studies began his business career. He purchased one hundred acres of land in Florida and engaged in the cultivation of oranges. Upon placing the enterprise on a sound financial basis he accepted the position of agent with the Mechanics’ Savings Bank of Westerly and for a few years lived in Illinois, where he negotiated farm loans and conducted other business of the institution in that State. In 1883 he returned to the management of his orange grove in Florida and also entered actively into real estate development. He built the hotel at South Lake Weir and leased it and in 1887 went to Independence, Kansas, to take the place of his brother, the late Henry Foster, in the Citizens’ Bank there. In 1888 he assisted in the formation of a State bank at Le Roy, Kansas, in which State he lived for five years, returning annually to Florida to supervise the shipment of his crops of oranges. By 1891 his enterprise had grown to such proportions that it demanded his entire time and he went to Florida to make his home. He built a fine residence there, but suffered a serious setback through a devastating frost in 1904, which destroyed his entire grove and he disposed of the property and returned to Westerly. Later he became interested in Oklahoma oil production and with his brother, Henry, leased an extensive tract of land from the Government and went actively into the work. Upon the death of Henry Foster he became head of the enterprise. The first car load of oil shipped out of Oklahoma came from the Foster wells. He remained at the head of the vast business until his death and made frequent trips to the fields, although retaining his residence in Westerly. He and his family were members of the Society of Friends. He died at his home in Westerly, December 26, 1901.

Edwin Bragg Foster married, February 24, 1886, Lucy M. Wilbur , born in Fall River, Massachusetts, August 1, 1858, daughter of Amos C. and Catherine (Smith) Wilbur. Their children were:

  1. Anna Ethelyn, born January 18, 1889, at Le Roy, Kansas. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, is a professional librarian, has served in such capacity at the Elmwood Public Library, Providence, for several years, and at College Library, Lafayette, Louisiana, and took a special course at Columbia University, receiving the degree of Master of Science upon its conclusion.
  2. Katherine Wilbur, born at South Lake Weir, Florida, April 3, 1894. She is a graduate of the New Haven Normal School of Gymnastics.

Amos C. Wilbur, father of Mrs. Foster, son of John and Lydia (Collins) Wilbur, was born in Hopkinton, November 25, 1796. He was educated in the local schools and for a few years taught in the Hopkinton school during the winter months, assisting his father on the farm during the remainder of the year. His ambition was to be a doctor and with that end in view he entered Bowdoin College in Maine, from which he was graduated with the degree of Doctor of Medicine. He began practice in Peace Dale, Rhode Island, but later removed to Fall River, Massachusetts, where he also conducted a drug store. In 1852 he visited England on a religious mission for the Society of Friends, accompanying the Rev. John Wilbur. In England he met and married, in 1854, in the town of Bakewell, Derbyshire, Catherine Smith, daughter of Edward and Elizabeth (Holt) Smith. Returning to Fall River, Mrs. W^ilbur died in 1861. while his death occurred there, December 1, 1873. Their children were: John E., of Tampa, Florida, an orange grower; Lucy M., who married Edwin Bragg Foster. Mrs. Foster possessed a picture of the old Wilbur home on Diamond Hill in Hopkinton, built before 1739. where the Rev. John Wilbur was born.

Mr. Foster was a business man of more than ordinary ability, was scrupulously honorable, of wide vision and great organizing and executive powers. He was tireless in his activities and was as well and favorably known in the financial field as he was in commercial and other lines. He was a valuable citizen of Rhode Island and contributed largely to the commercial prosperity of the Nation through his various enterprises.

Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.

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