Autobiographical Fragment by George Foster, son of Teasdale Forster
A short account of the life of George Foster written by himself containing remarkable occurrences Circa 1772.
I was born in the city of London in England Anno 1772, Dec 16 to reputable parents of whom it may not be amiss to say a little as my descendants may have some curiosity to know something of their ancestors and mine. My father was born of Scotch parentage in the celebrated town of Newcastle-underlime (should read upon tyne) of which city he was from. Of his ancestors I know nothing. One sister of his I know was married to a man of the name of Hart. From my early separation from my family connections I learnt but little of my parents except that my father was in the seaside service a considerable part of his life; was on board of the Elizabeth Seventy-Four when she engaged two large French ships yardarm and yardarm four glasses in the battle of the 12th of April 1782 when DeGrasse was taken on board the Ville De Parie a 120 gun ship by Admiral Rodney. The fleet on their return home was separated in a desperate storm, several was lost, nearly all dismasted, among whom was the Elizabeth, whom my father said ran without mast or sail before the wind at the rate of 13 knots an hour. He was a man of a sound, hardy constitution, excellent understanding and good morals. I don't recollect ever having seen him out of temper, or in the practice of one immoral word or action. He was a good scholar, occupied a good post and was well beloved in general by all that knew him. My mother was of Welsh origin; she was born in London and had a numerous race of friends. Her father's name was Ancell and was alive with her mother in the year of 1790. Both upwards of eighty years of age: a hearty old couple. She had several brothers and sisters, some of whom I may in the course of these memoirs have occasion to mention. I have several sisters and brothers--two of my sisters were older than me and were women grown when I left England and single. Consequently I can give no account of any of them, not having seen or heard of them since the last mentioned. My early life was spent from home at nurse, my father shortly after I was born moved from London to Portsmouth--I was left with my nurse till about three years of age at which time my mother came up to reclaim me and take me home with her--but on a visit to her brother she was persuaded to leave me with him. My uncle having no children was remarkably fond of me as my father and mother consenting I became his adopted son and heir. My juvenile years passed principally in traveling from London to Portsmouth and vice versa till I was about 9years of age. When I left my uncle Jeremiah Ancell, I went to Portsmouth and there as I stood by the shore viewing the boats, was persuaded by the sailors to go on board his Majesty's ship the Winchelsea, Captain Edward Pellew Master--lying then at Spithead bound for New Foundland. (Note: this timeline does not make sense. This would have been 1781 and Edward Pellew did not take command of the Winchelsea until 1785.)
I think was in the year of 1781. I continued to board several days eating and drinking with the sailors who were remarkably kind to me. At length the captain steward Thomas Hindsmark presented me to the captain of his cabin--who asked me how I came on his ship, who my parents were and all to which without fear I gave intelligent answers. The captain as I afterward discovered was an old messmate and friend of my father's. He immediately after my relation to him went on shore to my father's who lived within seven miles of where the ship lay at anchor, here I will observe that my father knew nothing of my being in Portsmouth: as I had not thought fit to call, having left my uncle's in a clandestine manner so that it seemed partly accidentally my being discovered. The next day my father came on board with the captain and the result of this visit was that I should remain on board under the care of captain till the vessel returned to England at which time (as I afterward learned) it was presumed I would be tired of rambling and a seafaring life. But here as in the sequel will show my father was much mistaken. Thus fairly on board, clear of my father and almost of every kind of control I felt happy and in a short time we set sail. Our passage to St. John's was 33 days during which time nothing remarkable happened except two or three hard gales of wind, I was sick nearly the whole passage and just when we were losing sight of the westernmost shore of Old England I would had I possessed it, have the ship load of gold to have been on shore again--. Now I remembered (too late) the tears of my kind aunt Jenny and the dangers of seafaring life. O, thought I, were I now by the peaceful fireside of my uncle, the wealth of the world should not prevail on me to leave them. I how readily would I listen to their advice and obey their council--but now it was too late, I shall never see them more, such were my fruitless thoughts.
I received very little attention on the voyage, if I ate drank or slept it was well if not; nobody cared, sick or well no one concerned himself only to make sport with the most unfeeling expressions of inhumanity. The steward's wife appeared to be sick also-It frequently happened that quantities of meats, fowls, and pies intended for the captain's table were missing. The boys of the mess were charged with purloining them and generally had to bare the blame.-But happening to enter the mess room one day rather abruptly I caught this rather sick and delicate lady in the act of devouring a huge piece of boiled ox--which she hastily tossed behind a chest, on my entrance. I pitched it up and upbraided her with her gluttony.
---?--- a voyage of 33 days ---?--- came to St. John's, Newfoundland about the last day of ---?--- land a day or two previous we saw floating ice we posed to be 300 feet in height above the line of the sea--This is a rough, mountainous, sterile & gray looking country--famous only for fogs and fish--of which ---?---we ---?--- caught with ---?---lines & ---?--- which with a little rum & ---?--- made us all merry & as sailors are generally merry boys & fond of frolic and glee.
The narrative ends in mid-page. It appears it was never completed, or, if it was, it has been lost. The original, which is in fragile condition, is in the possession of Mike Foster of Smithville, Tennessee. When he was 13, Mike salvaged this document, as well as a number of others relating to George's merchant activities, from a pile of trash that hade been set out in front of an uncle's house after his death. Mike says he tried to rescue as much a she could, but it was raining and many of the old papers were in bad condition. Such are the vagaries upon which this kind of research can depend. If not for Mike, this line of Fosters would have been imposible to trace.