Biography of Freeman R. Foster

Freeman R. Foster. One of the first men to set foot on the present site of the City of Topeka, and one of those who assisted in the platting of the town in 1854, was the late Freeman R. Foster. Although nearly twenty years have elapsed since the death of this early settler, he is still remembered as a man of sterling integrity, a helpful factor in the various movements which served to build up and advance the city of his adoption, and a citizen whose contributions to Topeka form a lasting monument to his memory.

Mr. Foster was born on a farm in Crawford County, Pennsylvania, April 1, 1832, and is a son of Robert and Nancy (Myler) Foster, natives of the Keystone state. Robert Foster was a soldier during the War of 1812 and also served three months as a volunteer in the Civil war. He was of Scotch-Irish descent and followed his son to Topeka, buying the farm adjoining, on which he died in 1865. One of a family of nine children, Freeman R. Foster received his education in the district schools of Pennsylvania in the vicinity of the home farm and in a seminary and was well educated for those days. He was reared to the pursuits of the soil, and when not engaged in his studies helped his father and brothers to cultivate the homestead, remaining thereon until reaching the age of twenty-two years. At that time he was seized with a desire to seek his fortune in the West, at that time a land of unknown promise, and left his home in the Keystone state in a wagon, without any settled idea as to his final destination. His destiny, as it turned out, was to be marked out for him by others, for he came up with a party of other western immigrants, joined them, and finally came with them to Lawrencee, Kansas. At that point they came across the information that a number of men intended to start a town on the present site of Topeka, and obeying the instinets of foresight Mr. Foster accompanied these men here. He rendered valuable assistance to these men in their early efforts to start the town, and as a reward for his labors was given a number of lots in different parts of the new hamlet. These, as it turned out, became some of the most valuable land in the city, but with the exception of two lots, sitnated at Eleventh and Van Buren streets, which Mr. Foster retained to build a home on for his old age, he gave all of this property to the city for its betterment, including the sites of the State Building and of Bethany College.

On first coming to Topeka, Mr. Foster took up a pre-emption claim east of the town, along the Kaw River, but after a short stay became ill and was forced to return to Pennsylvania. He had, however, become imbued with a love for the western prairies, and as soon as he had recovered returned to Kansas, only to find that in his absence someone had jumped his claim. Mr. Foster wasted no time in vain protestation, but promptly pre-empted 160 acres in Topeka Township, where his widow and daughter, Mrs. Doane, and Miss Harriet L. Bowman, now live and where he built a crude log cabin for a home and broke the ground with a team of oxen. His first years were not easy ones, but he had the grit and perseverance to remain and fight out his battle, and after two years he began to see signs of a dawning success.

Deciding to establish a real home in Kansas, Mr. Foster at this time returned to Pennsylvania to claim his bride, Miss Martha Bowman, the daughter of Pitt and Evelyn (Hall) Bowman. The Bowman family had an excellent military record, the brother of Mrs. Foster’s grandfather, Capt. Elisha Bowman, having been an aide-de-camp and life guard of Gen. George Washington in the Revolutionary war; while Joseph Hall Bowman, the only brother of Mrs. Foster, was the first to enlist in Company H, Eighty-third Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, with which he served throughout the Civil war without receiving a wound sufficiently serious to incapacitate him for duty, although the regiment to which he belonged is believed to have participated in more engagements, except one New England regiment, than any other organization in the Army of the Potomac. Joseph H. Bowman had come to Kansas in 1859, but returned to Pennsylvania, where he enlisted, and he lived in Pennsylvania after the war.

In 1857 Mr. and Mrs. Foster started on the return journey for Topeka, going by railway to St. Louis, and then taking a side-wheeler steamboat to Leavenworth. This stage of the journey was not without its thrills, for during it the old vessel became stuck on a sandbar and it remained there two days and two nights before it could be floated free. From Leavenworth the young couple traveled by stage coach to Topeka and the farm, and at once settled down to life in the little log cabin of one room, built in front of where their bouse now stands. The first winter was one of suffering, and it must have been particularly hard upon the young wife, who had been taken directly from a comfortable and refined home in the East to the wild and untamed surroundings of a pioneer country, and placed to live in a frontier cabin of the most primitive type. To make things doubly hard, the household furniture had become lost or stolen on the way, and during the first cold season Mr. and Mrs. Foster were compelled to sleep on straw, with but scanty bed clothing to cover them. Mrs. Foster, however, was made of courageous stuff, and she bravely and uncomplainingly took her place beside her husband and assisted him eventually to success.

Mr. Foster was bitterly opposed to slavery, and at the outbreak of the Civil war, as his sentiments were well known and as the country was in a decidedly unsettled condition, he returned to Pennsylvania with his wife, principally for her protection. While in that state he enlisted in Company B, One Hundred and Thirty-seventh Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, as first sergeant, and with that organization took part in numerous engagements, including the battles of South Mountain, Antietam and Chancellorsville. He was honorably discharged in 1863, and shortly after Quantrell’s famous raid on Lawrence, Kansas, he and his wife, much against the will of their parents, returned to the Sunflower state. Mrs. Foster was left alone on the prairie farm, while Mr. Foster, with others, organized the Second Regiment, Kansas State Militia, of which he was elected sergeant-major. The most noted encounter of this regiment was the battle of the Big Blue, October 22, 1864, in which the Kansans defeated the enemy.

Mr. Foster was a man of ability and energy, honest and upright in all his dealings, and in his private undertakings showed the same spirit of courage and fldelity that characterized his military career. Through constant perseverance he won out against the odds of the early days, being always assisted by his faithful and devoted wife, who had the greatest confidence in him, and whose faith often helped him over the rough places. While his own interests kept him busily employed he was never too much occupied to answer the call of his community when it needed strong men to support movements for its welfare. He gave of his time and energies in scrving in various offices, being at times township trustee and director of the school board, and from 1874 to 1876 was a member of the Kansas House of Representatives, in which body he worked faithfully and with results in behalf of the interests of his constitnents. One of his bills was the Arbor Day bill. Fraternally, he was identified with Topeka Lodge No. 17, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, as a charter member. Throughout his life Mr. Foster was a student, particularly of the Bible, and he died in the faith, September 4, 1897, when Topeka lost one of its best, most highly esteemed and most public-spirited citizens. Throughout his career he had been a supporter of the republican party.

Mr. and Mrs. Foster were the parents of five children, of whom two died in infancy, the others being: Charles Freeman, a young man of much promiee, who died at the age of twenty-two years; Joe Merriam, a resident of Pueblo, Colorado; and Anna, who is the wife of J. F. Doane, and resided with her aged mother on the Kansas homestead. Mrs. Foster, who is eighty-two years of age, is one of the best known ladies of her locality, is esteemed and held in affection by all who know her, and is a devout member of and worker in the First Congregational Church of Topeka, the first church in the city. J. F. Doane is a native of Kansas and a son of Abner and Sarah (Ward) Doane, his father having been the first man to operate a sawmill in Topeka. He was also one of the best roadmen in the state.


Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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