The society has recently received an outstanding collection of letters, photos and documents ranging from the 1820s to 1920s. As we near completion of the scanning and archiving process, I’d like to share a sampling with you.
Below is a letter from William Foster to Ellen, dated September 3, 1892. Italics within the letter and footnotes were provided by Bertram Foster. The entire collection will be available soon.
517 Turtle Street
Syracuse, New York
September 3, 1892
Here is the copy of Grandfather’s letter I wrote about yesterday – BGF
My dear Ellen:
Well you have done it. I got Sam’s photo three or four days ago, and your letter of August 30th, yesterday. I assure you the photo has been one of the most interesting to me I ever received. Bertram’s first picture, I thought very much like Father, but now nothing but his head and features remain to favor him. Can’t keep my eyes off from it every time I go to my room. It brings up such vivid recollections of my earliest years. Although he died about twenty years ago when I was nine years old, my memory of him is very distinct, particularly when he once or twice dusted by jacket and breeches with my Mother’s riding whip, at her instigation, she being a strict disciplinarian and her red having failed to correct the mischievous propensities of one of her own and counted as so much time “although time has no beginning nor ending as Savants declare”, my Mother was wrong, if not unjust and incited the old gentleman.
[Other side of piece cut out]
… Inferior element to impel my actions. Verily there is great injustice done in drawing distinctions between good and evil without due consideration of the impelling causes and circumstances. How hard it is to meet out justice in the reprobate world. Good and Evil I think are very closely aligned and like “the extreme of raw reason and of shame. Like East and West become the same.”
It seems mighty hard to make distinctions when reason is carried to extremities – and really is it more than a pittifogging idea or with ideas. It is really showing a necessity for Faith in a purer and better Life to come to guide humanity from the intricacies of his intellectual force and actions here. Yes we have need of a new Life and Light to open mysteries to our vision and reasoning faculties bestowed in this world we call “ours”.
But again to go back to your Great Grandmother, doubtless I was a mischievous chick of her own and cut up many pranks to discomfort the twelve girls and elder son ahead of me, the latter I did not get the better of until he had migrated to Van Deusen’s land, spent his patrimony and five years of his best life, then he went home with the old lady and girls that were left and some Grandchildren of an elder sister left for home care and culture, while she and her husband went out to the East Indies to scrimmage in the Burmese War.
Well, I left home before that and progged for myself until I visited the old lady at one time, and Jack understool to lord the Elder brother over me. I was sixteen, I withstood the Prodigal son, wallppped him, got him down and as he was whiskered like some of the big baboons, he had lived among, I was extricating the whiskers in little tufts when Mother, our Mother came on us and made such a fuss, ordered me to let him stand up and so I had to give up the pastime. I always obeyed the Queen Regent of the household in persona. Poor Jack. I saw but little of him after that.
I Americanized within a few months, and in about a year he got his wife, she did not last him long, about a year I think. After his wife died, he left for Australia, and was not heard of for thirty years. About twenty years ago he wrote me he had twice been rich. One fortune he made mining gold and a better one supplying charcoal to either the City of Sydney or Melbourne, I forgot which. He edited a paper in Melbourne for some years before he went to gold mining. The last time he wrote me he was almost blind and was in some public institution. The sister Mrs. Grey aforementioned returned from the Indies, her husband died there, her three children, Mother brought up, she had plenty of means to educate well, the two boys went to Australia. The eldest settled at Port Adelaide, was remarkable for his muscular powers. The daughter married an Episcopal Clergyman, named Wainwright.
You see how covetous your Grandmother was in family matters, not content with her own fifteen matured ones (for only two died in youth one between 17 and 18, the other between 19 and 20, both splendid specimens of womanhood) they, her spouse and self, fostered housed and brought up 3, 4 or 5 orphaned nephews and nieces as adjuncts to the household ones. Well the Old Lady was a slender woman, never weighed 100 lbs., but in stature her appearance was tall, her carriage graceful as a deer and her will was mighty and the whole household obeyed her orders, my Father dared not test her temper.
I don’t think, although she knew he was a giant, she realized the force of his blows when she told him to flagellate me nor do I think he realized the effect of his stripes until he saw the color of the blaines I carried on my back and sides two weeks afterwards for he was a man of tender heart and feeling, although he was about 5 feet 10 inches, weighed about 240 pounds, not obese like a Dutch beer barrel, but straight, broad shouldered, what he lacked in stomach was made up in muscle and brains which tended to the jovial and welfare of family.
I remember my Mother’s last effort in family effort five years after my birth. My younger brother came forth, No. 15, well the old lady suffered terribly, was feeble for several years, she delegated authority over me to her seventh born, who had temperament and will like her own, she forbid spanking probably because she realized how I would howl, but I don’t think she would have slapped me for when I exercised my inventive faculties or desire for knowledge in a way she called mischievous as I changed to get at large for a short season, such for instance, as razzing a new pair of Jack’s dandy top boots to see what a comfortable pair of shoes I could make out of them, taking the entrails out of his watch to find out how it ticked, cutting out the leather from the big kitchen bellows, to find out where the wind came from. I was so droll, so funny, she couldn’t spank me if she dared to, but she took the scolding for not keeping me from searching for knowledge and being ingenious, and the she got in the way of hatefully tying me to her bed post while she ran down to see the beaux that always swarmed down stairs or went to frolic with the other girls and didn’t I get one of the servant girls to bring me an old bag and some twine and needle so that I could make a bag to carry [sic] in and give her a kiss for it.
Oh, I was such a funny fellow when I was little. And didn’t I sew all the bed clothes to the bed so that No. 7 and 8 couldn’t get their feet down half way so that they could cuddle together and keep warm. I was such a droll little chap in those days to live in the sphere of such a bevy of girls and to listen and watch to see how silly their lovers were made by them and me. All the foregoing is incited by Sam’s likeness to my Dad and recalled for your edification and reflection. I meant to write you something about the realities of millionarism as the its criminality and moral effects and inhumanity to man, but Pink’s estimate of himself and fancy I must defer until another time. Just enquire of your mamma if she believes it possible for life to be quenched by literary laziness or epistolary inactivity.
Peg leaves for Amsterdam on Wednesday next, she is busy in preparing every minute of her time, her Mother more. I gave Peg your message with Grand Paternal additions, but it is useless with the impenetrable shells of young fry of the times, they think, live and act until they get babies just for the present social hour or day, all style decoration and display. I honor you for not hanging a bauble round Sam’s neck when he was taken. It is good taste and makes the truer and more chaste image “Nature unadorned, adorned the most.” Have not yet heard if Lotta is coming back here, think Bertram and James returned from their trip north. James to Toledo – Bertram is in Washington.
All here send love to you and yours and the Charles’. Is Ada living?
Affy William Foster
 Here was a portion cut out which the great-gradfather wrote upon the likeness to his father of little Sammy and as the great-grandfather on the other side of the house wrote in like manner of the striking likeness between his father and Sammy they were both transferred from the letters to Sammy’s Baby Book for preservation.
 Wheelwright is what it should be – M.V.