Advertisement
You Can Be in a Hud Indy Ad Too
Historic Rivertowns
People

The Woman Who Inspired the Memorial at AME Zion Church

• Bookmarks: 36


January 30, 2017

by Charlene Weigel

p.-6-Jan-Tina-Whitely-and-Diane-Pratt-with-Foster-PhotoFoster Memorial AME Zion Church is an airy space with a vaulted ceiling, polished wooden pews and arched stained-glass windows. A small, framed photograph of a woman sits in the vestibule. She meets the camera with a direct gaze. Light brightens one eye; shadows obscure the other. Her halo of curls is silvered by age. Her lips, pursed with determination, are edged with wrinkles from a lifetime of smiles. The caption reads, “Mrs. Amanda Foster, The Founder. December 27, 1807 – July 26, 1904.”

Foster’s life is inspirational and elusive. Her story, like that of many 19th century black Americans, consists of gaps partially bridged by oral history, and legal and census documents. There is also a brief biographical sketch of Foster written by a friend. Few facts, but a legacy that speaks for itself.

Advertisement
Donate to The Hudson Independent

Baby Amanda faced formidable odds. Her biographical sketch indicates she was born free to an enslaved woman in the household of Governor DeWitt Clinton. The smaller of twin girls, she was deemed “hardly worth the trouble of trying to raise,” and given away by the Governor’s wife. Who was her father? What happened to her mother? Her twin sister? What was her birth surname? Even these basic facts were not recorded.

At 15, she married John Bowman and gained a surname. Foster had already been in the workforce for seven years, hired at eight to care for a child of a wealthy Albany family. She later worked as a baby nurse and steamboat stewardess. She leveraged this work experience with an innate financial acumen to become a successful Tarrytown entrepreneur, running her own candy store on Main Street while working as a barber. She and John Bowman were able to buy property and build a house, without a mortgage, on the western end of Main Street. Years later, Amanda had amassed enough wealth on her own to purchase more property in the area, an unusual feat for a black woman at the time.

In addition to her business talent, Foster possessed a fearless moral clarity. Traveling south as a baby nurse in 1839, she witnessed slavery and slave auctions. In Kentucky, Foster helped a young girl head north on the Underground Railroad by giving away her own free papers. Foster risked arrest since it was illegal in Kentucky to help an enslaved person escape, and because she had to make her way north without papers. Diane Pratt, a current Church member, said she learned in Sunday school of Foster’s support for enslaved people fleeing north. Pratt’s comments echoed those of Henry King, Jr., author of the biographical sketch, that “among the leading Abolitionists, she takes a leading part.”

Foster had a religious conversion experience in her early 20s, and cited her faith as her “shield and comfort” for the rest of her life. She drew on that faith through the loss of John Bowman and her second husband, Henry Foster. Before Henry Foster died, he made her promise to build a church to house the growing Tarrytown AME Zion congregation that they and two others had founded. With characteristic determination, Foster reached out for donations to many well-known local residents whom she had befriended. Washington Irving, General Benedict, Dr. John Todd, the Cobbs and others responded. Foster purchased a lot on Wildey Street, and the cornerstone for the present Church was laid in 1864.

The Fosters adopted two children: William H. and Amanda. Descendants of both children remained active in the Church. Countless other members over the past 150 years referred to Foster as “mother” for her role in the birth of their congregation. That congregation today is small but mighty, and a force for good in the rivertowns. In December, Church member Tina Whitely was already working with other local churches and synagogues on the annual interdenominational service for Martin Luther King Day.

Whitely and Pratt were frank in describing the challenges facing the Church today, including an aging congregation and a foundation that needs repair. But Whitely said she finds inspiration in “a little lady’s determination.” Like Amanda Foster, Whitely, Pratt and the congregation continue to muscle through obstacles. The foundation of Foster Memorial AME Zion Church that matters most is strong indeed.

Read or leave a comment on this story...


Advertisement
Andrea Martone - real estate in Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown and the Rivertowns

Tarrytown Board Promulgates Revised ADU Bill

Here's the full text of the Board of Trustees' revised proposal for a local law governing Accessory Dwelling Units that...
Read More

Tarrytown Trustees Not Ready to Provide Home Port for Fireboat

By Rick Pezzullo-- It appears a fireboat that was part of two historic events in New York City will not...
Read More

DA Holds Panel on Sexual Predators

By Jeff Wilson-- Do you know where your children are? Many parents would answer with relief that their kids are...
Read More

Shimsky Sworn In (for the Fourth Time)

By Barrett Seaman— In the company of dozens of fellow Westchester Democrats Thursday evening, newly elected Assemblywoman representing the 92nd...
Read More

Hearts With Messages Displayed on Village Streets

By Robert Kimmel-- With Valentine’s Day approaching, hearts will be appearing on lamp posts along several streets in Tarrytown and...
Read More

Tyre Nichols Murder Draws Social Justice Activists to Irvington Rally

By Barrett Seaman— Some 70 or 80 local activists, politicians and other concerned citizens gathered outside Irvington Village Hall Sunday...
Read More

First-Year Coach Has Masters School Boys Basketball Team Thinking Big

By Tom Pedulla--- Junior guard Adam Bello does not mince words when asked about the recent history of boys’ basketball...
Read More

Public Vote Ahead for Cannabis Dispensaries in Dobbs Ferry

By Rick Pezzullo--- Residents in the Village of Dobbs Ferry will have the final say as to whether to embrace...
Read More

Sleepy Hollow Seeks $1M to Demolish Building Near Former GM Site

By Rick Pezzullo--- The Sleepy Hollow Board of Trustees unanimously voted Tuesday to apply for more than $1 million in...
Read More

Bethany Arts Community’s Third Annual Black History Month Exhibition Celebrates Westchester’s Mavericks

By W.B. King-- Driving south on Route 9 in Irvington, it’s hard not to notice Villa Lewaro, an Italianate styled...
Read More
36 recommended
2286 views
bookmark icon