William Edward Foster Family Papers
Scope and Contents
The William Edward Foster Family Papers includes correspondence from Foster to family prior to and during the Civil War, letters to/from Foster and his wife, Cora, from the 1870s into the 20th century, a few letters written about Foster, and a collection of letters to and from other family members. In addition, there are family papers consisting of genealogy/family history research, photographs and copies of family members and gravestones, newspaper clippings, pages from a family bible, handwritten fragments of poetry, and other ephemera. Items in the collection range in date from 1800-1931, with many materials undated, but the bulk of the collection is from about 1850-1884.
Most of the letters have donor-provided transcripts in which no wording, spelling, or punctuation has been changed. A transcript has been created by Special Collections staff for one additional letter.
- 1820-1931, n.d.
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is open for research.
Permission to publish from original materials in the William Edward Foster Papers must be obtained from Special Collections, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va.
Some originals of photocopied letters from 1858 to 1861 are held by the Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University. See their finding aid for a description. Use of these materials is guided by the Princeton University Library policy for this collection.
William Edward Foster [Sr.] (1795-1843) was born in 1795 in Matthews County, Virginia, though he spent most of his life in North Carolina. In 1833, he married Mary Eleanor Wiatt (sometimes Wyatt) (1812-1894) from Wake County, North Carolina. Mary was the daughter of John and Cecilia Dabney Wiatt. The couple had four children: Cecilia Dabney Foster Lawrence (1835-1894); Cora M. Foster Yarborough (1838-?); Eleanor Foster Yarborough (1840-1925); and William Edward Foster (1843-1906). Foster [Sr.] and his family were living in Louisburg, North Carolina by the 1840s. Foster [Sr.] was in Georgia, on route to Alabama on business when, according to newspaper accounts, he was murdered by an enslaved person traveling with him on April 5, 1843. His son, William Edward Foster, was born on April 15, 1843, not long after Mary E. Foster received word of her husband’s death. Mary E. Foster died in 1894.
William Edward Foster was born in Louisburg, North Carolina. For a large portion of his childhood his formal guardian was a Mr. Massenberg. He studied at the Louisburg Academy and, in 1858, went to Princeton until 1861. According to his letters, he was among the last of the southern students from seceded states to be at Princeton, and he, too, left in late April or early May of 1861. He enlisted with Company L, 15th Regiment, North Carolina Infantry, though records and his own letters suggest he was also a part of Company E, 1st Regiment, North Carolina Cavalry. He was wounded at Goodall’s Tavern, Virginia, in 1864.
Following the war, Foster spent some time in Texas before returning to North Carolina. In 1874, he married Cora Elizabeth Beves (1856-1931). The couple had six children: Mary Cecilia (usually called Cecilia) (later Johnson) (1875-1944), Dorson Beves (1877-1954), John Wiatt (1879-1964), Susan Morris (later Stoker) (1882-1971), Dora B. (1889-1920), and Willie Dabney (later Mooneyham) (1894-1937). William worked for a number of businesses in the Franklin County and Raleigh, North Carolina area as a secretary, treasurer, or bookkeeper (in similar capacities with different titles). William died in 1906 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Cora E. Beves Foster was born in Franklin County, North Carolina, in 1856 to Captain S. D. and Susan Morris Beves. Based on a memoir fragment in the collection, she likely knew William at least as early as 1870, several years before they were married. She had at least three siblings, all of whom wrote to the couple after 1874: T. M. (a brother), Pattie, and Annie. Prior to her death in 1931, Cora Foster lived with her eldest daughter, Mary Cecilia Foster Johnson.
William E. Foster’s sisters are among the correspondents of the letters. Cecilia Dabney Foster married Edward Lawrence, who died about 1863. Cecilia later became an Episcopal nun. Cora M. Foster married John B. Yarborough and they had four children: Elliot, Kenneth, Cora, and Gertrude. Eleanor Scott Foster married Richard Yarborough and they had at least 10 children: Richard, James, Mary, Elizabeth, John, Edith, William, Edward, Eleanor, and Lula.
0.6 Cubic Feet (1 box)
Language of Materials
The William Edward Foster Family Papers includes correspondence to and from various members of the Foster family, especially William E. Foster and wife, Cora, as well as several members of the Wiatt family (William E. Foster's mother's maiden name) from about 1800-1920 (the bulk of the materials are from 1850-1884). The collection also contains a group of family papers and genealogy materials, mostly undated.
Please note: The majority of this collection relates to William E. [Edward] Foster (1843-1906) and his descendants, but some materials reference his father, who was also named William Edward Foster (1795-1843). Items in the collection do not use designations of “Sr.” or “Jr.” to differentiate between the two men, but throughout the finding aid we have added “[Sr.]” after references to the elder William Edward Foster for the sake of clarity.
The William Edward Foster Family Papers are organized into two series by material type. Series I: Correspondence contains four subseries.
Subseries I: From William E. Foster, c.1850-1884 consists of letters from William E. Foster, mostly to various family members (especially his mother) from about 1850/1851 to 1884. The bulk of these letter were written to his mother in the time leading up to the Civil War and during his service. These letters document his leaving Princeton to return to the south due to his Confederate sympathies and his experiences in North Carolina infantry and cavalry regiments around Yorktown, Suffolk, and Richmond, and parts of North Carolina (among other places). Several letters after the war recount his experiences in Texas, and the letters after the early 1870s are more about his family life. This subseries is arranged in chronological order.
Subseries II: To William E. and/or Cora E. (Beves) Foster, 1850-1921, n.d. include letters to William prior to their marriage (1850), and then later letters to one or both of the couple (after 1874). Letters are largely from family members—William’s sisters, his mother, Cora’s family, and her friends. Most contain family and personal news. This subseries is arranged in chronological order.
Subseries III: About William E. Foster contains a small collection of letters about Foster from various sources. This includes a letter to his guardian while he was a child at school (1856), a letter to accompany him back to the south after leaving Princeton in 1861, and several professional letters of preference (1896). This subseries is arranged in chronological order.
Subseries IV: Other Family Correspondence, 1800-1892, n.d. consists of letters written by related families or other generations than William E. and Cora Foster. There are letters among the Wiatt family (Mary E. Wiatt, later Foster, was William’s mother) from the early 19th century. A collection of 1830s letters document some of the relationship between William’s parents, William Edward Foster [Sr.], and Mary E. Foster while William [Sr.], traveled. There are two late 19th century letters to Mary E. Foster, one from her daughter Cecilia, and one condolence letter Cecilia’s death in 1894. There is also a small set of letters to two of William and Cora’s daughters, Dora and Willie. This subseries is organized by correspondent and then chronologically within each folder.
Series II: Family Papers includes three subseries. Please note: the majority of the materials in this series are undated.
Subseries I: Genealogy Materials, 1843, 1921, n.d. includes several pages from a family bible, indicating birth and marriage information for Wiatts and Fosters, and a selection of newspaper clippings and photocopies of clippings for William Edward Foster [Sr.], William E. Foster, and Cora Beves Foster. In addition, this subseries contains more contemporary genealogy research collected on the Foster, Wiatt, and Yarborough families. This subseries is arranged by material type.
Subseries II: Images includes original photographs of William E. and Cora B. Foster. It also includes print outs of photographs of their gravestone and portraits of William’s sisters, Eleanor Foster Yarborough and Cecilia Dabney Foster Lawrence. This subseries is arranged by material type.
Subseries III: Papers contains some family papers and ephemera, especially some handwritten essays and poems (likely the work on William E. Foster and William Edward Foster [Sr.]), a memoir fragment by William E. Foster regarding his religious experiences, including his baptism in 1870, and an 1843 almanac. This subseries is arranged by material type.
Part of the William Edward Foster Papers were donated to Special Collections in 2011. Additional materials were donated in 2015.
Note on Names
Please note: The majority of this collection relates to William E. [Edward] Foster (1843-1906) and his descendants, but some materials reference his father, who was also named William Edward Foster (1795-1843). Items in the collection do not use designations of "Sr." or "Jr." to differentiate between the two men, but throughout the finding aid we have added "[Sr.]" after references to the elder William Edward Foster for the sake of clarity.
- Beves family
- Civil War
- Foster, Cecilia, 1875-1944
- Foster, Cora E. (Cora Elizabeth Beves), 1856-1931
- Foster, Dora B. (Dora Branch), 1889-1920
- Foster, Mary E. (Mary Eleanor Wiatt), 1812-1894
- Foster, William Edward, 1795-1843
- Foster, William Edward, 1843-1906
- Foster, Willie D.
- Lawrence, Cecilia D. (Cecilia Dabney Foster), 1835-1894
- Local/Regional History and Appalachian South
- United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865
- Wiatt (Wyatt) family
- William Edward Foster Family
- Yarborough family
- Foster, Cora E. (Cora Elizabeth Beves), 1856-1931 (Person)
- Foster, Mary E. (Mary Eleanor Wiatt), 1812-1894 (Person)
- Foster, William Edward, 1795-1843 (Person)
- Foster, William Edward, 1843-1906 (Person)
- Lawrence, Cecilia D. (Cecilia Dabney Foster), 1835-1894 (Person)
- William Edward Foster Family (Family)
- William Edward Foster Family Papers, 1820-1931, n.d.
- Kira A. Dietz, Archivist
- ©2017 Virginia Tech. All rights reserved.
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script
- Language of description note
- 2022-10: Updated description to person-first language when discussing enslaved people. adw
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