Jeffrey Green

Jeffrey is a historian
based south of London

156: Agnes Foster, Jamaican Salvationist 1823-1910

After researching the presence of black people in the Salvation Army in England in the Victorian era (see page 101 of this site) I noticed that Salvation Army web pages in Jamaica stated that one of the two founders was Agnes Foster, who had been born in slavery and had been taken to England where she lived for forty years. I added a note to page 101.

Although the enumerators of the census in Britain cannot be relied on – their information often came from family and neighbours, after all – it has been possible to trace Agnes Foster born in Jamaica in the British census of 1851, 1861, 1871 and 1881: and later. This research uncovered her presence in England in the period 1848 to 1910.

1851 census: Recorded as living in Aldbrough (Yorkshire) aged 30, the enumerator has her name as “Agness”. She was with her farmer husband and their two-year-old daughter Mary (born in Hull).

1861 census: Recorded at Cliff Top, the Spa, Aldbrough in Yorkshire she was married to a hayman farming 113 acres and employing three labourers. John Foster was aged 57 and had been born south of the River Humber (Lincolnshire). She had been born in Jamaica around 1823 and was aged 38. Three children were listed: Agnes (aged 10), William (aged 8) and Jane L. (aged 6) all born in Aldbrough. There were three servants.

1871 census: Recorded at Salf Hill in Aldbrough, John Foster was 72, farming 113 acres. His birthplace was stated to have been in Adlingfleet. The baptism records of Adlingfleet suggest he was the son of Joseph and Sarah Foster and had been baptised in 1798. Agnes his wife was recorded as born in Jamaica and aged 46. [It was not unusual for the census, held every ten years, to note people whose ages were not arithmetically straightforward] There were four children, for their daughter Mary, here aged 21, had been absent in 1861. She had been born in Hull. The other previously noted children were all nine years older now, and had middle initials: Sarah A, William B. and Jane L. B. were again listed as locally born. Only Jane was still at school. Sarah A – listed as Agnes in 1861 – was indeed Sarah Agnes Foster, for her birth registration of 23 June 1851 has both names. Jane Letitia Bizzett Foster’s birth was registered in the last quarter of 1855. There were three servants.

When she had registered the birth of Sarah Agnes in 1851 the mother stated she had been ‘formerly Bizett’ and on-line searching for that surname with two ZZs, we find her marriage to John Foster had been in the parish church of St Botolph in Aldgate, just east of the City’s historic boundary of London on 16 December 1848. Her husband was a ‘farmer’, son of Joseph Foster a farmer and she was the daughter of Alexander Bizzett (‘planter West Indies’). Both John and Agnes were unmarried and ‘of full years’ living in Aldgate.

1881 census: Recorded Agnes Foster, a widow, living at 8 Vernon Avenue in Barton, in Eccles (Manchester). She was aged 56. With her was Jane, now 25 described as a ‘teacher of music’ plus a female lodger. Other residents in the street had solid respectable jobs (the house still stands, dominated by an urban motorway).

Agnes Foster seems to have returned to Kingston, Jamaica, in 1885 and started her unofficial pioneering of the Jamaican Salvation Army in 1887. She is known as ‘Mother Foster’. Investigations with the Salvation Army’s historical library in London indicate she was an Army officer in 1883, resigning on 4 May 1883 when she was an officer in South Shields having been a soldier in the corps in Eccles. When the Kingston (Jamaica) work was officially opened at the beginning of 1888 the first issue of Kingston’s War Cry said a daughter was an officer of the Salvation Army in England. That daughter has not been identified in the archives of the Salvation Army in London.

John Foster whose death was recorded in the Aldbrough district was a man aged 78 whose death was registered in the quarter ending September 1884. But Agnes Foster was listed in the 1881 census [recorded 3 April 1881] as a widow. The Middlesbrough Daily Gazette reported on the Salvation Army and their news included [29 January 1880] an assault on member John Foster, [7 March 1881] the presence of  ‘Mr and Mrs Foster’ at an Army gathering in Loftus but an unclear mention on 25 May 1881 was followed many months later [21 March 1882] with a mention that Jim Foster had delivered an address in Loftus at a meeting noting the second anniversary of the Army’s branch in Loftus.

Their music teacher daughter married John Harvey and at the time of the 1891 census they were living at 25 Murray Road in Bedminster (Bristol) with their six-months-old daughter Agnes M. Harvey: surely named for her black grandmother? Jane L. B. Harvey died in Bedminster in 1893, aged 37.

Agnes Foster returned from Jamaica and is listed at 219 Gate Street in Swinton, Eccles, in the 1891 census. A widow born in Jamaica, aged 67, her occupation was ‘evangelist’. She was a visitor in the house of Jacob Lamb, an ironmonger. In the British census of 1901 Agnes Foster, a Jamaica-born widow aged 74 was living in two rooms at 56 North Hill in Bedminster (in the St Paul’s neighbourhood of Bristol). The Jamaica Gleaner of 25 October 1902 had noted she was living in Eccles with a daughter, and said the same on 12 May 1910 when reporting her death on 18 March 1910 aged 90. British death registrations have that in Eccles. The registration of death was made the next day by her daughter in law ‘A E Foster’ who lived at 16 Gleaves Road in Eccles. The death from old age (she was 87) took place at 35 St James Street, Eccles. Both of these addresses are in central Eccles. Probate was granted in April 1910 and the estate worth £129 went to her widowed daughter-in-law, Annie Elizabeth Foster.

Agnes and John Foster gave their only son (born 1853) the names William Bizzett and that enabled his marriage to be traced to Hull in early 1877. His wife was Annie Elizabeth Crawford. He died near Eccles in the spring of 1908, aged 55.

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Aldbrough is on the Yorkshire coast – in fact, it is steadily falling into the North Sea.

The Legacies of British Slave-ownership site of University College London notes that Alexander Bizzett of Jamaica in October 1835 had been paid £1,442 17s 0d compensation for 72 slaves freed in 1834 (claim T71/864). His will (at the National Archives, Kew, ref PROB 11/1948) mentions three sisters in Scotland, and four children including Agnes. It seems probable that Agnes was illegitimate and perhaps went to England when she inherited funds: for Alexander Bizzett’s Chesterfield plantation in Surrey, Jamaica was over 250 acres. An idea of family wealth is that the will (dated January 1840) leaves £300 to his youngest daughter Elizabeth.

Ruth Macdonald of the Salvation Army International Heritage Centre, London, provided the Eccles, South Shields and Jamaica 1888 Army information. Many thanks : and to Kathy Chater for the Middlesbrough newspaper details, and suggesting the will and the Slave-ownership documents. David Killingray told me of the Gleaner information.

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