The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 54,527 black Americans with Foster as their last name. That represented 24% of the total of 227,764 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Foster in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Foster Before The Civil War
The 1850 census was the first to record all free members of households together. Before this, people who were not white were not named in the federal census.
In 1850, there was a box to enter color on the census. There were three categories: white, black, and mulatto. The third term is the language of the time, and I will use mixed in this article.
If you are researching your black Foster ancestors in census archives, be sure to check the two non-white categories. Do not assume that the people recording the information were always correct.
1850 Federal Census
There were 284 people named Foster who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 134 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 27,870 free citizens named Foster that year. There would be one more census in 1860 before the Civil War.
After The Civil War
The 1870 census was the first survey after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. All African Americans were included.
Those who were omitted in 1850 and 1860 because they were enslaved were now recorded.
6,734 people named Foster were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 885 as mixed.
There was a total of 48,995 people with the name.
Foster In The 1900 And 1940 Census
The mixed category was dropped in 1900, so we just need to look at the black numbers this time.
The 1900 census recorded 14,642 people with the last name Foster as black within a total of 80,365 that year.
By the way, the mixed category returned in the 1910 and 1920 censuses. It was dropped again in 1930, but replaced with extra categories for colored and non-white in a way that seems confusing now.
This changed again in 1940 and we can simply focus on one black category.
The 1940 census recorded 21,406 people named Foster as black within a total of 124,376.
Historic Black Figures With The Foster Surname
Here are two notable African American people in history. They share the same first name, which is a coincidence.
Andrew Foster (Baseball)
- Born: 1879
- From: Calvert, Texas
- Died: 1930
Andrew “Rube” Foster was one of the great baseball pitchers of his era in a time when the sport was highly segregated.
He established the Chicago American Giants in 1911, a highly successful outfit that competed against other black teams.
In 1920, Foster persuaded several other club owners to set up the Negro National League as a professional baseball circuit. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.
Andrew Foster (Educator)
- Born: 1925
- From: Ensley, Alabama
- Died: 1987
Andrew Foster contracted meningitis aged 11 and became deaf. He was the first black student to attend Gallaudet University, the primary American center of advanced learning for deaf students.
He traveled in 1957 to Ghana to establish the first school for the deaf in West Africa. Foster expanded the program into Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon, Chad, and nine other African countries.
He is remembered as the father of deaf education in Africa.
Foster is not the only black American who had a significant influence in education in Africa.
- John Wesley Gilbert established schools in the Congo in the early twentieth century
- Phyllis Jenkins established a health institute in Swaziland
Other pioneering black educators
Here is just a selection of other black educators on this website:
Foster In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research.
Here are examples of the Foster surname from the military archives of black Union soldiers and sailors.
Five regiments for black soldiers were formed during the Civil War. They were known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
Their records are part of the national archive of military monthly returns. The information includes the year and place of birth, where they enlisted, their occupation, and their height.
One of the earliest military entries for Foster was in May 1867. Peter Foster was a Recruit in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in May 1867 at Fort Gibson, Connecticut.
One of the later entries was in April 1914. Ed Foster was a Cook in the Ninth Cavalry.
If you are researching military ancestors, there is a free index of these records on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. You have to create an account on either website, but you do not need to pay for the Buffalo Soldiers archive.
Black Civil War Sailors
The National Parks Service has a free archive of African American sailors during the Civil War.
The information includes their age, height, rank, occupation, and where and when they enlisted. It also includes every ship that they served on.
You can search the database on the National Parks website.
One of the earliest entries for Foster was for Antonio Foster from Norfolk, Virginia. He enlisted in May 1861 at Philadelphia when he was aged 24.
The record shows that Antonio was assigned on June 1863 to the ship Powhatan.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Shoemaker. His naval rank was Landsman.
“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Fortress Monroe in December 1861. John was aged 21 and was from Norfolk, Virginia.
He was assigned to the ship John L. Lockwood on September 1863.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Printer. His naval rank was Officer’s Cook.