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Untold Lowell Stories : Black History

Horatio W. Foster (1816 – 1860)


Horatio W. Foster, The Lowell Advertizer, June 27, 1938, Microfilm Collection, Pollard Memorial Library.


Horatio W. Foster (1816-1860) born in Boston, Massachusetts, son of Charlotte Williams, Ponkapoag, teacher and Samuel F. Foster, black, hairdresser. They were active in Boston’s civil rights movement for citizens of color. Samuel Foster died in 1820, Charlotte Williams Foster became the first teacher in the primary school for children of color. She married Nicholas Myers in 1835 and shortly after the family moved to Lowell. In Lowell, Horatio Foster became an active member of the Middlesex County Anti-Slavery Society.

The Middlesex County Antislavery Society was established in 1834 to the New England Anti-Slavery Society with the mission to “increase a knowledge of the nature and circumstances of Slavery—to ascertain its history—trace its influence on individuals and communities, and examine the different schemes for its abolition by inviting correspondence—by encouraging lectures, and discussions both written and verbal at its meetings, and by promoting the publication and distribution of such original and selected matter as may be considered worthy." The membership of the society—which included both men and women, represented towns around region.

On November 14, 1839, Middlesex County Anti-Slavery Society organized a three-day Anti-Slavery Fundraising Fair. Held in the large room on the upper of floor of City Hall (now Old City Hall) on Merrimack Street with:

“Quantities of beautiful and useful goods for sale from various towns in the county… all money to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society - - aprons, stockings, children’s clothing, hoods, fashionable silk and straw bonnets, purses and pocketbooks, chimney ornaments, perfumery, pincushions, needle books, work baskets, gentlemen’s linen, toys and books for children."

The proceeds would all be given to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society for their activities. Among the coordinators were, Mrs. Catherine Rugg, Mrs. Olivia Fox, and Horatio Foster. Together with other prominent Boston women activists, including Lydia Maria Child (abolitionist and author), and Maria Weston Chapman (abolitionist and organizer) ‘when pincushions are periodicals, and needlebooks are tracts, discussion can hardly be stifled or slavery perpetuated’—

Horatio W. Foster married Mary Ann Elizabeth Henry on September 30, 1840 in St. Paul's Episcopal Church, North Providence, Rhode island. Returning to Lowell to work and raise the family, they had 3 girls and 2 boys, four were born in Lowell and their last son was born in Providence, Rhode Island.

In the 1840s, anti-slavery organizations in New England were thrown into turmoil by disagreement over aspects of abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison, editor of “The Liberator,” support of women holding an equal role in the meetings, and the position of ending slavery through moral persuasion. Others found it difficult to accept an equal role for women and men, and they also wanted to use political efforts to achieve changes. The result was a split from Garrison’s Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and the formation of the Massachusetts Abolition Society.

Conflict over the role of women rocked members of the Middlesex County Anti-Slavery Society. Horatio Foster an agent and correspondent for both “The Liberator,” Boston, edited by William Garrison; and “The North Star,” Rochester, NY, edited by Frederick Douglass responded. In an attempt to bridge the division Horatio Foster published a letter calling for unity in “The North Star.” In the 1850s, it became clear that the ballot was the only way to end slavery in the United States.

In the 1830s and 1840s, thousands of Lowell’s Yankee female textile workers provided financial and/or moral support to the cause of abolition and anti-slavery. In 1843, they were interested in forming a Lowell Female Anti-Slavery Society, Horatio Foster offered his help. He used his connections with Maria Weston Chapman to establish this new ant-slavery organization. Once formed they invited Frederick Douglass, Charles Remond, Abby Kelley Foster, George Latimer, and other speakers to present lectures at the Appleton Street (Congregational) Church, Middlesex Mechanics Hall, and City Hall.

From the 1830s until the early 1850s, Horatio Foster was a very prosperous and successful hairdresser and wig and hair oil manufacturer, he advertised locally and throughout New England. His Hairdresser and Barber Shop was on Central Street and later Market Street. His home was on Chapel Hill near Gorham Street. An advertisement in 1849, claims he was selling 50,000 bottles of hair oil a year. In 1851, Horatio Foster moved his family and business to Providence, Rhode Island. In addition to managing his business, Foster continued his anti-slavery activities; and worked with Frederick Douglass in establishing an industrial college for young black students.

Horatio W. Foster died in 1860 in Providence, Rhode Island. His correspondence can be found in collections and newspapers around the country including: American Antiquarian Society; Black Abolitionists Papers; Boston Public Library; Maria Weston Chapman; Concord Public Library; Frederick Douglass; William Lloyd Garrison; Library of Congress; and Jeremiah Burke Sanderson.

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