| || Notes for Samuel Willis Foster:|
SAMUEL WILLIS FOSTER - Village Founder
Washtenaw County's most significant history (Chapman 1881) describes Samuel W. Foster as a miller who worked for Judge Dexter during the late 1820s.It also mentions Foster as the founder of Scio Village and Foster's Station--both former Washtenaw county villages located on the banks the Huron River.While the titles miller and village founder give us some clues about a man who left a permanent mark on the area, they fail to do him justice.
Few realize that Samuel W. Foster was an inventor, financier, prospector, surveyor as well as a miller, land speculator and underground railroad operative.Had the dynamic man stayed in Washtenaw County to live out his life, he would be recognized as one of the most prominent early pioneers in the state.
There is some confusion in local historical records about Foster hailed from Rhode Island.That premise was undoubtedly formed from statements made by Judge Crane, who was, at one time, Foster's neighbor when they both lived in Dexter.
Crane's statement contradicts information recorded on early land deeds.Foster indicated to land official that he came from Worchester, Massachusetts.The U.S. Census of 1850 also lists Foster's home state as Massachusetts.However, on the same census, Theodore R. Foster, Samuel's brother, told the enumerator that he was from Rhode Island.
The apparent contradiction is answered by tracing Foster family history.His family moved frequently back and forth between states.Samuel did come to Washtenaw County from Massachusetts around 1827.A few years after his departure to Michigan, Samuel's parents and siblings moved from Massachusetts to Providence, Rhode Island.Young Theodore then moved in Scio Village from Rhode Island to be close to older brother Samuel.
Samuel W. Foster, born in 1806, was the son of Esther Bowen Millard and Theodore Foster, schoolmaster, lawyer and United States Senator from 1790 to 1802.The elder Foster helped found an agricultural town (Foster, Rhode Island) in 1781.Forty years later, young Samuel would do the same in Washtenaw County.
From the level of accomplishments, it seemed likely that young Samuel received, what appeared to be, his considerable education at Brown University where his father was a trustee for twenty-eight years (1794 to 1822).But that is not the case.The University does not claim him as a graduate.Records indicate that he probably attended the public schools in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and perhaps was tutored by Mr. Foster's associates at Brown.
Foster didn't happen into Dexter Village and Judge Dexter's employ by simple good fortune.His family knew Dexter before the Judge came to Michigan.In fact, it is possible that Foster was named after Dexter.In a letter dated December 17, 1819, Samuel's father states, the Honorable Samuel Dexter of Dedham, Massachusetts, an intimate friend of my Father, at whose house I had been in the last preceding Thanksgiving day...
Although the exact date of 21 year-old Samuel W. Foster's arrival in Michigan is not known, we can reasonably assume that he had a job waiting for him in Dexter.He first purchased land in Washtenaw County on May 21, 1827, and he was an original grantee of 80 acres in section 32 in Webster Township.
That same year he married 19 year-old Ruth Seymour, of Webster Township.It is highly probable that Ruth and Samuel know each other in Massachusetts and that Samuel followed Ruth to Michigan.Ruth was the daughter of Ira Seymour and Betsey Morehouse and reportedly had several attractive sisters.Folklore contends that Foster and Seymour were the first couple married in the township (1827).
Samuel and Ruth became members of the Webster Congregation Church.They apparently were not involved in the founding (1834), but were involved in building the church.Records recounting construction of the famous country church states:
Whitewood logs were brought and drawn from the timbered land of Plymouth for Foster's Mill at Scio and manufactured into lumber sufficient to enclose and floor the structure.
Church records show that by 1840 Samuel and Ruth, like other prominent, church-going families in the community, bought a pew (#36) in support of the church for $25.
Foster was socially aware and politically active.In 1830 he attended an Anti-Masonic convention.Records show he attended Whigs of Washtenaw meetings from 1830 to 1835, and later signed a Whig petition aimed at making the Michigan Territory a state.Samuel ran for office several times on the Free soil ticket in 1840s.He also attended a Young Men's Temperance Convention in 1835. His temperance convictions makes it ironic that decades later, Scio village would be infamous for its illegal alcohol production and consumption.
As mentioned earlier, in 1831 he purchased 66 acres in Scio Township and later purchased river frontage for the development of another village in Washtenaw County--Foster's Station.These purchases reflect a high level of speculative activity, but appear to only scratch the surface real estate wheeling and dealing.
Other local historians have said that Foster's name frequently appears when conducting land record searches in their communities.Evidently he wanted property in Lenawee county and had an interest in a mill on Walker Lake in Livingston County, all while operating primarily in Washtenaw.One can only guess at the level of his involvement around the state.
While Foster's speculative land deals like Scio Village were initially successful, one of his projects was a bust of state-wide magnitude.You recall from Chapter 1 that Foster started his Scio village venture just a short time before an economic depression rippled across the country.Any depression inhibits economic growth and perhaps Foster had concerns about selling his village property during a slowdown.
Chapman (1881) states that Foster and John Holden of Scio approached the state lawmakers with a plan (and a petition) that was designed to help lift Michigan out of the financial depression.that plan later became known as the infamous wildcat banking law.
The bill, officially known an An Act to Organize an Regulate Banking Associations, was passed by the Michigan Legislature on March 15, 1837.To oversimplify, it allowed Michigan banks to be chartered ...upon any persons desirous of forming an association for transacting banking business.It also allowed banks to print their own money and back this money with only a small percentage of capital.
The freedom from regulation and traditional sound banking practices attracted many unscrupulous individuals.Fuller (1924), famous state historian and educator states, ...While some bona fide banks were established, it was soon found that the law was taken advantage of by dishonest men to practice the grossest frauds and swindles.
When the law was enacted there were fifteen banks chartered in the state.After the act was repealed on April 3, 1838, forty-nine banks were in operation.Fuller (1924) writes,
...When all the banks had been swept out of existence there were bills afloat representing millions of dollars.Many of these were in the hands of bona fide holders, who lost heavily thereby....Children used them to play with, and in the rural districts, where paper-hangings were scarce, people used them to paper their rooms.
It is doubtful that Foster benefited much from the bill he helped become law.Perhaps he even accepted some of the worthless paper money for some of his village lots.We do know that he didn't open a wildcat bank in Scio Village and, again, much like the modern banking scandal, money was made by the bankers.
It does appear that neighbors may have held some resentment toward him for participating in the banking disaster.In 1842, 1844 and again in 1845, he ran for public office (county surveyor) and lost.
As we mentioned, Foster was a man of many talents.In addition to being a surveyor (Scio Village, Foster's Station) and a master mill builder (Scio Flouring Mill, and the first mill at Foster's Station), he was also an inventor.As an inventor, he succeeded where other failed--he was granted a patent on one of his inventions!
Sometime in the late 1830s or early 1840s, he started manufacturing and selling his agricultural machinery.One of his first inventions was a Smut Machine.Smut is an old term for a fungi that forms on grain.If left untreated the contaminated grain turns into a powdery mass.Foster's machine removed the fungi.
U.S. patent, number 1,436 was granted to Foster on December 21, 1839.The specification letter began:
Be it known that I, Samuel W. Foster, of Scio, in the county of Washtenaw, State of Michigan, have invented a new and useful Improvement in Machines for Cleaning Grain, called "Foster's Improved Smut-Machine."
The letter continued with a description and a drawing.The drawing can be found in Appen. C.
Foster ran advertisements in Ann Arbor's Democratic Herald newspaper promoting his Smut Machine and his own threshing machine with recommendations from satisfied customers.
Records show that Ruth and Samuel Foster had their first child, Andrew, on August 5, 1832.Two year later, in 1834, Ruth gave birth to a girl, Esther.On October 4, 1842, the couple lost an infant son, Joseph.Four years later, their last child was born.Ira was named after Ruth's father, Ira Seymour.
Perhaps it was the death of his son Joseph that soured Foster on regular church attendance.Whatever the reason, his frequent absences were noticed by church elders early in 1850.Church records show elder met in Session on February 19, 1850, to hear charges against him.While the actions of the elders tell us more about the influence of church than about Foster, it does give us insight into his later decisions.The minutes from the meeting follow:
Session was held by church elders.Topic: Bro. Foster not appearing: Bro. Reeves was appointed by the Session to act as defense.
The Witness: Bro. Dwight & Bro. Boyden took the oath.The charges and specifications having been read Bro. Dwight testified that he had no recollection of Bro. Foster having been present on the Sabbath more than once in two or three years.That in January 1850 he visited Bro. Foster as a committee of the Church and belabored with him in respect to the charge and specifications in the citation.That Bro. Foster replied that he found it more convenient to attend meeting elsewhere.That he occasionally attended at Scio and sometimes at Dexter.
The Session then voted that Bro. Foster be suspended from the communion of the church until he shall give satisfactory evidence of true repentance, and that his decision of the Session be publicly read next Sabbath.
Members of the Session: D.B. Davidson; P.H. Reeve; Strom Kimberly; Norman Dwight; N.C. Goodale
Foster's unfavorable standing in the church may account for the negative comments about him found in an informal area history.A neighbor and church member, who may or may not have known Foster personally, mentions him in a history of Webster Township prepared for some church related activity around 1874.He [Foster] was a man of good ability, great energy, quite an inventive genius, but lacking in concentration and thoroughness.
There is room for speculation that Samuel W. Foster was singled out for suspension for political reasons.Members probably knew that he and his brother Theodore were operatives on the underground railroad.Harboring or transporting slaves was, after all, a federal offense.
Within months of his suspension from the church, Foster caught gold rush fever.Like many other Washtenaw Countians, he was probably influenced by the letters Ann Arbor's founder, John Allen, was writing to the Ann Arbor Argus detailing his trip and life in the gold fields of California.
Although the route Foster and his friends took to the Golden State is unknown, we do know he didn't accompany Allen as Morrison (1957) implies.Allen's letters from California (at the Bentley Historical Library) make that point clear.Perhaps Foster traveled with business associate and Ann Arbor Township miller Harvey Cornwell, who left for California in the same year.
Chapman (1881) recounts, ...when the first great stream of emigrants passed over the plains to California, he [Foster] was called to his final reward.
Notice of his death in October was contained in one short paragraph in the November 27, 1850, edition of the Michigan Argus (shown in this chapter).A search of subsequent editions surprisingly revealed no tribute, no eulogy, no other mention of the man who founded two communities in the county.
Ruth, Samuel W. Foster's widow, stayed in Scio Village for a number of years and was appointed village postmaster in 1854.She left the post in 1860 and moved to Lansing with her children.(Andrew became a carpenter and Ira served in the Civil War.)On October 7, 1869, she married Freeman Havens of Ingham County.---Chapter 10, Scio Village : Ghost Town with a Past by Nicholas A. Marsh