William Foster inherited land in Bourbon, KY for his service in the Revolutionary War, but only after losing everything he had. His dedication to freedom should be remembered and honored. He was born on July 15, 1747, into a world where the fragile fabric between the American Colonies and the mother country had already begun to tear. In Prince William County, Virginia, he was the first-born child of George and Margaret (Grigsby) Foster, where he grew to manhood. In about 1772 he married Sallie Slade, born about 1747, and they managed to have two babies before the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired.
He and his neighbors signed up with John Green’s Company of Artillery at Fauquier County, Virginia in early February of 1777. He served out his enlistment as a bombardier, returned to his family for a short time, and then reenlisted. Another son was born after this visit.
William was on the lists of Company 9 at Valley Forge on June 3, 1778 and remained in Charles Harrisons’ Virginia Regiment of Artillery for the duration of the war. (Sheffell’s Record of the Rev. War, pg. 25) He was there through the icy cold winter when “the troops hungered, froze, and often left bloody footprints in the snow due to lack of shoes.” (Seedlings of William Foster, Bk II, pg. 3) The soldiers would hack through the ice with their knives or bayonets and carve depressions in the frozen dirt, which gave them whatever warmth the earth offered as they slept. They hunted small game, foraged for herbs, and dug roots, but often they simply went without. Fevers and dysentery were rampant and many soldiers died of exposure that winter.
William was with Washington’s forces near New York City when the war reached a stalemate, allowing him to return to his family for a short time in 1780. This visit resulted in yet another son. He then trudged hundreds of miles to rejoin his unit. He fought in the Battle of Ft. Ninety-Six and the Battle of Eutaw Springs, South Carolina before his unit joined General Greene, who was following Cornwallis into Virginia as the tides of war were turning. At Little York Cornwallis was trapped between American and French armies, with an armada of French ships blocking any escape to the sea, and William’s artillery unit helped reduce the General’s troops to a state of surrender.
After six and a half years of honorable service William returned to his family with one good arm--the other mangled by two musket ball wounds—but still feeling the euphoria of victory. His jubilation was cut short when he learned that his wife and father were dead and his children were living with his over-burdened mother, who was still raising children of her own.
William’s father had left him 100 acres in his will, however it was fully mortgaged so his family wouldn’t starve while he was away fighting for his country, and had been taken over by a neighbor. William brought home his salary but it was useless paper money since the newly-formed government was not yet collecting taxes and had no real cash to pay for military services. Instead, it promised land. William would have seen the desperation and confusion in the eyes of his grief-stricken children, seen his mother too busy with feeding everyone to take the time to comfort them, stood by the two graves with small hands gripping his, and wondered if it was all worth it.
Two years passed and William found love again in Sarah Hart b. 1766 Virginia. They were soon married, and not long afterwards left for Bourbon, Kentucky, where payment of land awaited. Who was better qualified to live on the frontier and deal with the Indians than a war-hardened solder?—This was what the government thought. They traveled with a group lead by his friend Timothy Peyton and settled at the William Thomas Station, a fortified settlement. Because of Indian raids these families lived together at the Station and farmed the surrounding land.
Timothy Peyton soon built his own station and William and Sarah joined him there, with William’s son Harrison. Sarah’s first child was born here. Sadly, while Timothy was farming he was attacked and killed by Indians. It was William who gathered the men to go and retrieve the body of his dear friend. Common sense drove these families into nearby Clark County, where the greater distance and numbers kept the Indians at bay and where Sarah bore nine more children for William. His application for pension was actually rejected because William, working hard with his one arm and his 12 children had built up his Clark County, Kentucky farm until it valued over $300, more than the maximum allowed for pensioners. Eleven of these children were with Sara and one (Harrison) came with him from Virginia--the other three remained behind in Virginia.
He eventually died at age 78 from complications of diabetes. He endured every kind of suffering but was never conquered. This is the kind of determined spirit, and many others like him, who built the foundation of our country today. by Adrienne Foster Potter ([email protected])
National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension Files
"Seedlings of William Foster," by Flavius M. Foster, Bk II, pgs. 2-7