1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

    List of finding aids

    R.I.H.S. Library page

    R.I.H.S. home page

 Theodore Foster Papers

 Providence Town Clerk and Rhode Island Senator, Providence.

 Papers, circa 1640s-1820s. Bulk 1846-1823.

 Size: 2.5 linear feet

 Catalog number: MSS 424

 Processed by: Rick Stattler and Robin Flynn, November 1997

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            Theodore Foster (1752-1828) was born in Brookfield, Mass., the son of Judge Jedediah Foster and Dorothy Dwight. He graduated from Rhode Island College in 1770, studied law and settled in Providence, entering in practice with his brothers Dwight and Peregrine Foster. He was elected town clerk of Providence in 1775, and served through 1787. Though he did not serve in the Army during the Revolution, he did serve as Secretary on the Rhode Island Council of War. He also became a close associate of former governor Stephen Hopkins, who taught the younger man about the early history of the colony and gave him a considerable collection of original manuscripts. In 1788, Foster became notable as a leading advocate of ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Upon the ratification in 1790, one of the new state's first acts was the election of Foster as Senator. He was an active Federalist and supporter of Washington, and served in the senate through 1803. He then retired from public life to his estate in Foster, R.I., which had been named in his honor in 1781. There he and his college classmate Dr. Solomon Drowne found, in the words of Foster's biographer, "abundant scope for the gratification of their literary and classical predilections". He devoted much of his time to the collection of source material on the history of Rhode Island, either in the original or through his own transcriptions. In 1822, he was instrumental in the founding of the Rhode Island Historical Society. Though his extensive notes were never published in his lifetime, his efforts still had an enormous impact on the historiography of the state. He died in 1828.

            He married Lydia Fenner (d.1801), a sister of future governor Arthur Fenner, in 1771. They had two surviving children. Theodosia was born in 1772 and married Stephen Tillinghast. Theodore Dwight Foster was born in 1780.  He married his second wife Esther Bowen Millard in 1803 and they had five children: Maxwell Stewart Foster (b.1804); Samuel Willis Foster, (1806-1850); Dwight Cranston Foster (1808-1852); Theodore Raeejeph Foster (1812-1865); Ruth Lydia Foster (b. 1814).

            An excellent biography of Foster by William E. Foster was published in Collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society, Volume VII (1885), pages 111 to 134. It accompanies a heavily annotated edition of one of his draft histories of Rhode Island (pages 67 to 94). See also The Minutes of the Rhode Island Convention of March 1790 (Rhode Island Historical Society, 1929), an edition of another of Foster's works, which also has an extensive introductory note.

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Scope and content:

            The collection is quite diverse. It contains correspondence to Foster spanning roughly 50 years (much of it from the Revolutionary War era and early years of the new nation), as well as letters to his father Jedediah and other persons. Letters from leading national and state citizens such as Henry Knox, Alexander Hamilton, John Brown, Henry Marchant, Governor William Greene, and Governor Arthur Fenner can be found in the papers. Foster's personal diaries and copious research notes on the history of Rhode Island are also here, as well as genealogies on families such as Pyncheon, Fenner, Crawford, Whipple, Foster, and others. Diary entries include a wide range of interesting topics: reflections on a Narragansett Indian's visit to town and the general plight of the natives; administration of local smallpox vaccinations; a visit to Newport by George Washington; Newport residents' views on quartering troops during the war; descriptions and thoughts on local crimes and accidents. Additionally, the collection contains Foster's minutes from the 1790 R. I. Constitutional Convention, a detailed 1778 tax list for Providence, notes and observations on law, and miscellaneous manuscript material such as the 17th century catechism of Foster's ancestor William Pyncheon.

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            The bulk of this collection was purchased from the heirs of Theodore Foster in 1833 for $300. This portion was "collated and stitched together" into twelve volumes of "Foster Papers" and four volumes of "Foster Correspondence" in 1837 (see R.I.H.S. Trustees Minutes, vol. 1, p. 219). A major addition was made in 1862 with a large gift from T.S. Drowne. Individual items were added throughout the 19th century, including: the 1790 Constitutional debate minutes from Charles Tillinghast in 1840; the "versification" donated in 1854 by Elizabeth Angell; transcriptions of three letters to Solomon Drown, donated by Henry Drowne in 1859; and the two volumes of historical notes donated by the children of David King in 1897. A single letter to Dwight Foster was added in 1970. The most recent addition was the account book, which was purchased in 1987 from dealer Terry Alford.

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Processing note:

            In the early 1890s, the Providence City Council passed a resolution that Providence town papers deposited at the Rhode Island Historical Society were to be "suitably repaired, classified, inserted in books, and indexed." Three record commissioners were appointed to the task. Any papers considered by the commissioners to belong to the city of Providence were extracted from the Society's holdings (with its approval) and incorporated into the Providence Town Papers, volumes 1 through 5, Series 2. These papers were removed from the Society and transferred to city ownership, only to be returned to the RIHS Manuscripts Division in 1952, where they remain today (MSS 214sg1).

            Among the papers reviewed for Providence-related material were those of Theodore Foster. One result of the review was a redistribution of a large portion of the Foster collection to the Providence Town Papers [and other collections that remained at the Society??: the R.I.H.S. Manuscripts collection (MSS 9003) and probably the Rhode Island Military Papers (MSS 673)]. The documents removed from Foster's papers were those originally in Series 1, volumes 1-5, 7, 10, 11, and 13. Researchers wishing to see the pre-dispersal contents of the above volumes can consult Indexes and Titles, R.I.H.S. Manuscripts, Volumes 1 and 2, and the handwritten Rhode Island Historical Society Manuscripts Index (Nine Volumes), which are kept with the R.I.H.S.M. Collection.

            The papers that remain in the original Theodore Foster collection are those in Series 1, volumes 6, 9, 12, and 16, and Series 2, boxes 1-4 (correspondence). In 1997, inventories were made of the contents of the volumes remaining in Series 1. Additionally, alphabetical and chronological indexes for the correspondence in Series 2 were constructed from a table of contents compiled in the 1890s. To make the indexes as accurate as possible, physical comparison was made between the old table of contents and each item in the correspondence series. As a final step, all of the loose volumes and diaries were placed into archival acid-free folders and boxes, and much of the correspondence was catalogued.

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Series 1: Volumes. (Please see processing notes regarding volumes 1-5, 10, 11, and 13.)

Box 1. (Folders contain contents of items that were originally bound into Volume 6.)

Folder 1. Table of contents, volume 6 (copy).

Folder 2. Contents page, volume 6 (copy).

Folder 3. Copy of will of Thomas Olney (date of will not apparent).

Folder 4. Copy of will of John Whipple, will dated May 16, 1685.

Folder 5. Copy of will of John Clark of Newport. Will dated April 20, 1676. Copied by Theodore             Foster June 4, 1813.

Folder 6. Copy of will of Samuel Cranston of Newport. Will dated March 17, 1726. Copied by             Theodore Foster March 5, 1811.

Folder 7. Copy of will of Richard Ward. Will dated July 17, 1755. Copier unknown.

Folder 8. Extracts from Providence Town Records concerning Fenner family including genealogical notes. Genealogical notes on Cranston family of Foster, Rhode Island, dated June 5, 1810. 

Folder 9. Genealogical notes, Fenner family, no date.  

Folder 10. Whipple family: extract of baptisms 1640-1656, from family church book, Dorchester             (Massachusetts?), Sept. 1, 1708.

Folder 11. "Historical memoirs of the Hon. William Pyncheon Esq., one of the original patentees of Massachusetts", draft by Theodore Foster?, date unknown.

            Birth dates of George Corliss, Sr., Waitstill Rhodes, and children (1717-1767).

Folder 12. Copy of genealogy of Governor Hopkins, "copied at Providence April 24, 1823."

Folder 13. Biographical sketch of Jedediah Foster, probably by Theodore Foster, c. 1779.

Folder 14. Genealogical notes and coats-of-arms of Foster and Cranston families, Jos. Balch?,             undated.

Folder 15. Foster family, genealogical tables I - III, appear to be by Theodore Foster.

Folder 16. Foster family, genealogical tables IV - VII, appear to be by Theodore Foster.

Folder 17. Genealogical notes, Foster family, "rec'd from William Foster of Canterbury in Connecticut, May 30, 1783."

Folder 18. Genealogical account of family of Dr. William McCrea, Aug. 5, 1793.

Folder 19. Deposition relating to Thomas Angell by Theodore Foster, Foster, RI, June 6, 1821.

Folder 20. Genealogical/biographical memoirs of Cranston and Crawford families, Theodore             Foster, undated.

Folder 21. Genealogical/biographical memoirs of Cranston family of Foster, Rhode Island,             Theodore Foster, undated.

Folder 22. Docket of defaulted actions, 1785-1791, Theodore Foster.

Folder 23. Principles of law, Theodore Foster, date not apparent.

Not in folders. Volumes I and II: Notes for a history of Providence, by Theodore Foster.

Box 2.

Folder 1. Volume 9.

Pages 3-21. History of Rhode Island, first chapter, Theodore Foster.

            Pages 22-26 blank.

            Pages 27- Extracts from Colonial Records, including lists of governors and deputies of                         colony of Rhode Island.

            Pages 31-50. "Time of Governor Samuel Cranston", 1715-1727.

            Pages 52-56. "Time of Governor Joseph Jenckes", 1727-1728.

            Pages 58-59. Genealogical notes on Howland family?, 17th century, copied from John                         Howland extracts, May 28, 1820.

            Pages 60-62 blank.

            Pages 63-64. Materials for a history of Rhode Island (extracts from other publications).

            Pages 65-73. Extracts from Rushworth's Historical Collections concerning 17th c.                         emigration from England to the American colonies.

            Pages 74-76 blank.

            Page 77. "Numbers of the inhabitants of the State at different periods", 1730-1791.                         Broken down by year, county, and ethnicity.

            Pages 78-82. Copy of letter dated Mar. 13, 1722/23 to Mr. Ephraim Wheten, "minister                         in Swanzey, New England" from Thomas Hollis, copied by Theodore Foster from                         Samuel Eddy's 1802 copy, Mar. 30, 1815.

            Pages 83-94. "An Electioneering Piece...from the handwriting of John Aplin Esq."                         concerning roles of governor, deputy governor, and assistant of Rhode Island in                         admitting or rejecting freemen at a General Election, copied by Foster Mar. 30,                         1815.

            Pages 94-96. Extract: "Association for purchasing Westquanaug, June the 8th, 1678."

            Pages 97-100 blank.

            Pages 101-111. "Materials for History of Rhode Island - Proceedings in the House of                         Commons of England...1750", extracts copied by Foster 1803.

            Pages 112-113 blank.

            Page 114. Foster notes concerning sugar colonies, sugar and rum??, origins of notes                         unknown.

            Page 115. Extract (dated 1688) from Historical Collections concerning formation of "body             politick" by Wm. Coddington and others. "Copied by Theo. Foster               from the original at the Secretary's Office Jany. 5, 1815."

            Page 116. Genealogical notes concerning Foster family copied from a Foster family bible,                         Jan. 5, 181-.

            Page 117-119. More extracts? Notes concerning elected officers and deputies, etc., "May                         session[?], 1715", also 1716 and 1722.

            Pages 120-122 blank.

            Pages 123-128. More extracts from House of Commons proceedings, 1751.

            Pages 129-130 blank.

            Page 131. Copies of letters: Francis Brinley to Richard Smith, undated, and Richard Smith                        to John Whipple, Oct. 25, 1680, "relative to the redemption of William Harris."

            Pages 132-134 blank.

            Pages 135-142. "Family Memorials: Instructions from the Provincial Congress [John                         Hancock, President] of Massachusetts to the Hon. Jedediah Foster Esq. [and                         others]...a few days before the commencement of the late War." Also copies of                         letters and handbills concerning outbreak of the war at Lexington and army matters,                     Apr. 11, 1775-Dec. 1776.

            Pages 143-145. Biographical sketches of William Brenton ("President of Providence                         Plantations 1660, 1662, and Gov. in 1666, 1669") and Hugh Buet, "one of the first                        purchasers and settlers of Providence."

            Pages 146-147 blank.

            Pages 148-149. Biographical sketches of Chad Brown and John Clarke.

            Pages 150-152 blank.

            Page 153. Biographical sketch of William Coddington.

            Pages 154-156 blank.

            Page 157. Biographical sketch of John Porter.

            Pages 158-164 blank.

            Pages 165-166. Biographical sketch of Richard Scott, "one of the 100 purchasers of                         Providence."

            Pages 167-168. Biographical sketch of Joshua? Turner, "came from England and settled                         in Cranston", and genealogical notes on Fenner? family.

            Page 169. Biographical sketch of Samuel Wilbore, "one of the Patentees in the Charter                         granted by King Charles II."

            Page 170 blank.

            Pages 171-176. "The General Court of Trials for the Colony Oct. 9th 1655 held at                         Newport", copied by Theo. Foster "with great difficulty...the handwriting being                         extremely difficult to read" from Mr. Lytherland's records, July 24, 1815.

            Pages 177-178 blank.

            Pages 179-186. Materials for a history of Rhode Island: administrations of governors                         Benedict Arnold, William Coddington, and John Cranston, 1670s.

            Pages 187-188 blank.

            Pages 189-204(h). Materials for Rhode Island history: administrations of William             Coddington II, Henry Bull, Samuel Cranston, governors, 1684-1701.

            Pages 205-208. More notes for Rhode Island history, c. 1702-1709.

            Pages 209-210. Extracts from [the?] American Library concerning early R. I. colonial                         history.

            Pages 213-214. "History of Rhode Island: Introduction."

            Pages 215-216. "Memorandums and extracts from William Harris will" from vol 1, page                         36 of Town [-?] Record of Providence.

            Page 217. Hopkins genealogy notes.

            Pages 219-226. Copies of gravestone inscriptions from Coddington, Cranston, and                         possibly Brenton burial plots, 1811.

            Pages 227-267. More materials for history of Rhode Island, including: extracts from                         DeStyle's Itinerary, "Collection of facts", extracts from Providence Town Records,                        genealogical notes, and church records.

            Page 268 blank.

            Pages 269-294. Copies of letters from Gen. Nathanael Greene to his wife and Jacob                         Greene, 1777-1785. Copied by Theodore Foster, January 1812.

            Pages 295-308. Materials for history of Rhode Island.

            Pages 309-312. Genealogy and lineage of Uncas, "Sachem of Moheag."

            Pages 313-316. "Detached Facts and Observations relative to the History of the State of                         Rhode Island from the Information of the Hon.bl Gov. Hopkins..."

Folder 2. Volume 12.

The volume contains the following:

            17th-century manuscript catechism belonging to William Pyncheon, original patentee of                         Massachusetts and ancestor of Theodore Foster, with note by Foster.

            A history of Kentucky and mileage tables.

            Listing of justices of Superior Court from 1688 to 1799, dated February 1799.

            Copy of petition to General Assembly of Magistrates, signed by Jedediah Foster and                         others, 1779?

            Extracts? on evidence in criminal and civil matters, and definitions of crimes.

            Charges delivered to the Grand Jury of the Supreme Court by Jedediah Foster, 1776.

            Copy: Letter by Elbridge Gerry to the Convention of the State of Massachusetts, regarding                  adoption of the Constitution, Jan. 21, 1788.

Folder 3. Account book, 1808-1815.

Folder 4. Minutes of the 1790 Rhode Island Constitutional Convention, recorded by Theodore             Foster. (These were published in 1929 in an excellent annotated edition under the title             The Minutes of the Rhode Island Convention of March 1790, which was reprinted             in 1967.)

Folder 5. Chronological list of Foster Papers in volumes 1-15.

Loose volumes (oversize):

Volume 8:

Contains genealogical accounts of families by the name of Pincheon, Foster, Williams, Olney, Crawford, Arnold, Westcott and others.

Volume 16:

Pages 1-6. 1778 tax list of Providence (very detailed).

            Page 7. Acts relating to Admiralty court, 1776, including trial appointments for prize                         cases.

Series 2: correspondence and diaries.

(See accompanying index for inventory of correspondence. Also, see Provenance, above, for notes about original arrangement of the letters.)

Box 1. Correspondence, volumes 1 and 2, pages 1-39, 1746-1791.

Box 2. Correspondence, volumes 1 and 2, pages 40-81, 1791-1795.

Box 3. Correspondence, volumes 3 and 4, pages 83-115, 1795-1823.

Box 4. Correspondence, volumes 3 and 4, pages 116-152, 1795-1823.

Box 5, folders 1-4. Diaries for 1765, 1767, 1768, 1775, 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, 1780, 1781,             1782, 1788, 1790, 1792, 1793, 1794, 1795, 1823, 1825.

Series 3: miscellaneous.

Box 5, folder 5. Receipt from Samuel Allen, 1785.

Box 5, folder 6. Commission as justice of peace, 1817.

Box 5, folder 7. Political letter of Theodore Foster set to verse by his nephew Polypod Foster.

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For names of most individuals, please see bolded names in alphabetical correspondence index.

Constitutional conventions - Rhode Island (1790)

Diaries, 1765-1825

Dudingston, Lt. William (dates?)

Fenner Family

Foster, Jedediah (1726-1779)

Foster, Theodore (1752-1828)

Foster Family

Gaspee (schooner)

Genealogy - Massachusetts

Genealogy - Rhode Island

Smallpox - Preventive inoculation

Narraganset Indians

Providence - History

Pyncheon Family

Rhode Island - History

Soldiers - Billeting

United States - Constitution

United States - History - Revolution, 1775-1783

Washington, George (1732-1783)

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