Charles A. Foster

Charles A. Foster (1827-1900)

[Kansas Historical Society]

Charles Amos Foster was born in Boston and attended public school before joining the Navy in 1841. In 1845 he joined the Merchant Marines and served until 1847. He returned to Boston to head the mail and distribution department of the Carpet-Bag, a weekly humor magazine. In 1851 Foster entered Harvard Law School, graduating in 1853 and was admitted to the bar early in 1855.[Territorial Kansas on Line, Foster] With his new bride, Elizabeth, Foster joined the New England Emigrant Aid Company Fifth Spring Party in April 1855. The couple settled in the Company's town of Osawatomie. [Barry, New England Emigrant Aid, 232]

Foster quickly became active in free-state activities. He attended the first free-state party meeting in Lawrence in August 1885 and was remembered for challenging James H. Lane, a leading light of the party:

"Charles Foster, a young and eloquent lawyer from Boston, in a speech took special pains to rehearse [Lane's] past history, not at all complimentary to Col. Lane. At the conclusion everybody expected a reply. But the Colonel not appearing, the chairman, Judge Schulyer, cried out with a strong voice which ought to have been heard a block away 'Where is the redoubtable Colonel?' Still no "Colonel" appeared! It was not long, however, before he offered a set of apt, pointed resolutions, which every member of the convention could not help voting for."[Goodnow, Personal Reminiscences, 246]

He attended the Big Spring meeting and was appointed assistant secretary of the Topeka Convention in October 1855. In 1856 Foster was indicted in Judge Cato's court on the charge of conspiring against the peace and dignity of the Territory of Kansas. The charge arose out of his association with John Brown after the sack of Lawrence and before the Pottawatomie Massacre in 1856. There was testimony that Foster was present when "Old" John Brown declared some of his party were going on a "secret expedition," presumably to the Pottawatomie Creek settlement. [Malin, The Hoogland Examination, 140] Foster evaded capture and later issued an affidavit asserting that John Brown "was not present [at Pottawatomie] but that he knew it was going to be done, that he approved it, the men deserved it & the evidence they did was in his own possession."[KSHS, John Brown Collection]

The Carpet-Bag, America's first humor magazine, was published in Boston 1851-1853. It made history running Mark Twain's first story in 1852.

Despite the indictment, Foster continued as a senator in the Topeka Free- State Legislature until its dispersal in July 1856. He was a delegate to the Leavenworth Constitutional Convention in 1858 and made an appeal to Congress from the convention floor not to adopt the pro-slavery Lecomption Constitution, saying, "that bastard instrument should never be recognized." [New York Herald, April 12, 1858]

He was nominated as State Attorney General under the Leavenworth Constitution. [Kansas Historical Collection 3:11] Despite his respectability as a candidate for elected office, Foster continued to flirt with the more radical elements in the free-state cause. Governor Denver reported in June 1858 that Foster had spoken at a public dinner:

"[Unlike the responsible position taken by Charles Robinson condemning terrorist acts] I have met with men occupying high positions who not only encouraged these outrages in private but justified them in public. Prominent among these in Charles A. Foster, the party nominee for the office of attorney general under the Leavenworth constitution. who made a speech at the town of Osawatomie in my presence, and attempted to justify [Jayhawker Leader James] Montgomery, but was very severely handled for it by Judge Wright at the time."[Kansas Historical Collection 5:535]

In 1860 Foster considered affairs in Kansas to be securely in the hands of free-state forces and he moved back to Massachusetts. He served as inspector of customs in the Port of Boston and was active in local politics until his death. [Territorial Kansas on Line, Foster]

Charles Clark