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Thursday, June 7, 2018

Powhatan Foster

Powhatan Thomas Foster (Barbara Faulconer)

     For a number of years now, I have wanted to write about Powhatan Foster, who was a friend and an employee of my great grandfather, George Washington Estes Row. Powhatan and George also served in Company E of the 9th Virginia Cavalry, although not at the same time. Over the past year, I have had the good fortune to be given access to resources that have made it possible for me to tell Powhatan's story with with the kind of detail that would not have been possible earlier.

Lily Foster Haney (Barbara Faulconer)

     Last year, Barbara Faulconer shared with me a splendid and richly detailed history of the Foster family written by Lily Foster Haney (1892-1973), a daughter of Powhatan Foster. Lily taught in the public schools of Spotsylvania County for many years, and she wrote her history in a lucid and flowing style that is a joy to read. In this essay, I will be quoting from her work with the notation '(LFH)' at the end of each passage that I include. In addition to Lily's writing, I have also benefited from the Haney family history researched and written by Wade Haney, a grandson of Powhatan.

Map detail of Spotsylvania County, 1863 (Fold

     Powhatan Thomas Foster was born in Spotsylvania on December 20, 1846. He was the third of ten children born to William Edwin Foster and the elaborately named Ada Engedi Ellentine Wheatley Harding. Powhatan's older brother, Oregon Dallas Foster, was also born in 1846 (on February 3). Powhatan was born either at his parents' house (indicated as "W Foster in the map detail above) or at "Aspen Hill," the farm of his grandfather, Robert Dudley Foster, immediately to the southwest of William Foster's home.

Robert Dudley Foster (

     Powhatan received what formal education he got from his mother's father, Mark Harding, who who was living in the household of William Edwin Foster during the 1850's. It is presumed that Powhatan and his siblings enjoyed the usual fun and games available to rural youngsters of that era. Two of Powhatan's uncles, James and Thomas, were about the same age as his brother Oregon (called "Dee" by the family and later known to the public as O. D. Foster) and himself. In a survey of the Foster farm written by her in 1936 for the Works Progress Administration, Mildred Barnum interviewed Lily Foster Haney and Lena Foster, the widow of Powhatan's younger brother William Beauregard Foster. From Mildred's interviews, we learn that some of the fun and games enjoyed by the Foster boys came with serious consequences: "One night these boys were having a party around a fire near the many outbuildings that a Virginia plantation had in those days. In a spirit of mischief they set fire to a pile of shavings near the cooper's shop, and as a result of this all of 'Marse Robert's' [Robert Dudley Foster] outbuildings went up in smoke. The boys went to bed but when the owner discovered the fire they were punished. Powhatan slipped out of bed and ran downstairs. His grandmother said 'Run, Honey, Run.' He replied 'Please open the door and you will see some running.'"
     When the Civil War began, the Foster men enlisted in the Virginia Cavalry. William Edwin Foster and his brothers James and Thomas joined Company E of the 9th Virginia Cavalry. William's brother, Warrenton Dudley Foster, fought with the 39th Cavalry Battalion and was captured by Federal troops along with Benjamin Cason Rawlings in November 1863. At the age of 15, Powhatan's brother Oregon enlisted in the 9th Cavalry on July 15, 1861.
     The compiled service records for Powhatan Foster do not exist in the National Archives. When he applied for a Confederate veteran's pension in January 1912, he affirmed that he joined the 9th Virginia Cavalry in Culpeper County in May 1863. Family tradition says that Powhatan ran away from home to join his kinfolk serving in the 9th Cavalry. The Foster men of the 9th were unaware that he had come until his name was called out during a roll call shortly after his arrival. Powhatan served with the 9th Cavalry until its remnants were surrendered by General Lee at Appomattox in April 1865.
     He was an excellent horseman and became a courier to General J. E. B. Stuart. "Once he was taking a message from Verdiersville to General Lee near Fredericksburg. His orders were to swallow the message if captured. The Yankees were between the two generals. He ran into the enemy near Shady Grove Church but was not captured. Dad had some narrow escapes but was never hurt, the hat band was shot off his hat was the closest call" (LFH).
     Confederate troops briefly occupied Oakley farm on Catharpin Road after the departure of Union forces (for a full account of the Union occupation of Oakley, please read my post The Letter from Maria Dobyns). Four mounted scouts were dispatched from there to the farm of Caroline Todd near the intersection of Catharpin and Brock Roads in order to learn of the disposition and strength of the Union troops there. These scouts were John Cooper, Marcus Chewning, Eli Jones and Powhatan Foster. In the past few days, Chewning and Cooper had already performed deeds that ensured that their names would be known to history. Mount View farm, which once stood on modern Hill-Ewell Drive, had been occupied by a squad of Union soldiers. Marcus Chewning, a relative of the Chewnings who owned Mount View, rode up to the house and at once realized that enemy soldiers were inside. In a bold move, Chewning rode around the house and yelled and otherwise made as much noise as possible, and fooled the Union soldiers into thinking that they were surrounded by a larger force. These men came out and surrendered to Chewning. John Cooper is generally credited with shooting Union Major William Baldwin Darlington as he stood in the yard at Oakley. Cooper had been perched in a cherry tree across the road at Hazel Hill; his rifle was equipped with a telescopic sight. After his leg was amputated, Major Darlington was taken to the house of William Buchanan near Shady Grove Church. Five weeks later, he was liberated by General Phil Sheridan's cavalry as they made their way through Spotsylvania to Trevilian Station in Louisa County.
     While trotting through a patch of woods near the spring on the Todd farm, Powhatan and his fellow scouts suddenly found themselves confronting a large force of Union cavalry. Powhatan shot the first Federal soldier he saw, who then toppled into the spring (Powhatan later said that this was the only enemy soldier he was certain he killed during the war). Powhatan and his comrades then wheeled their horses about, and made a mad dash through the yard of the Todd farm, trying to get back to Oakley. As they came to the yard gate, three of them successfully leaped over. Eli Jones's horse crashed into the gate and fell. As the others sped on, they called back to him "Goodbye, Eli" for they were certain they would never see him again, as the Union troopers were already fast closing in on them. However, Jones jumped back on his horse, which had not been hurt, and in seconds caught up with his companions, and all four made it safely back to Oakley.
     After the war, Powhatan returned to his father's farm and remained there, working as a farmer and laborer in the local saw mills, until his marriage in 1883. However, he did have an adventure on the high seas when he served on a merchant vessel that sailed to South America. "While there he got a monkey to bring home. This monkey was so mischievous he was always in trouble with the sailors. Finally the monkey disappeared and Dad thought the sailors killed him. Dad was gone a long time on this sailing trip and was reported dead. When he returned a friend told him he heard he was dead. Dad said 'I heard it too, but I knew it was a damned lie when I heard it'" (LFH).

Powhatan Foster (Babara Faulconer)

     During the late 1870's and early 1880's, Powhatan worked at the saw mill of George Washington Estes Row, which was located on the farm of Joseph Talley near Todd's Tavern. His name appeared several times in the business ledgers of Mr. Row:

     He also worked at the saw mill of his brother Oregon, who was in business in Fredericksburg. In addition to being a lumberman, Oregon was also a grocer, served on the city council and was the town's post master. His years of success allowed him and his family to live comfortably in the historic "Sentry Box" house. Meanwhile, despite his best efforts, Powhatan could never quite equal his brother's achievements.

Oregon Dallas Foster (

     By the early 1880's, Powhatan was courting Ernestine Virginia Knighton, a daughter of Robert S. Knighton and Georgianna Herring. He loved to attend the local dances, and it was at one of these get togethers that he made his move: "When he proposed to Mother, he was at a dance, he wrote a note, fastened it to the end of a switch and passed it over to her, asking her if she would marry him to look up and smile. Mother's name was Ernestine Virginia, but he always called her Susie" (LFH). Powhatan and Ernestine married at her parents' house on October 18, 1883.
     During the early years of their marriage, Powhatan and Ernestine "lived in a small house at Buchanan's Corner [at the intersection of West Catharpin and Robert E. Lee Drive]. They ran a little store for Mr. Buchanan" (LFH). The first three of their eight children were born during this time, and are shown in the photograph below:

Powhatan Foster and family (Barbara Faulconer)

     About 1890, Powhatan built a house on West Catharpin Road on land that had belonged to his father, who died in 1885. Shown here is a photograph of the place, and a drawing done by Lily Foster Haney. This house was called "New Danielsville:"

New Danielsville (Barbara Faulconer)

(Lily Foster Haney)

     Powhatan worked as a subsistence farmer, earned $1 a day working as a sawyer in the local mills and even worked for a time at nearby White Hall gold mine. Lily noted that while working for the saw mills, Powhatan spent the entire week living in one of the on-site shanties (these shanties also  existed at the Row saw mill). He came home on Saturdays and returned to the mill on Sunday evenings. Working in a 19th century saw mill was a dangerous undertaking. In 1893, Powhatan suffered an injury serious enough to be reported in The Free Lance:

The Free Lance 7 February 1893

     Although he would be remembered as a "small man in stature, with a big heart," he also had a volcanic temper which would subside as quickly as it erupted. His daughter Lily remembered this episode in particular: "One Saturday night he was at Sheppard's store when a young fellow made a rude remark about some lady--the fellow was drinking--up shot Dad's fist and knocked him down--his nose bled and he had a black eye. Dad's fist was hurt too.  Dad knew Eddie was in no condition to go home so he brought him to our house, washed his face and put him to bed. Next morning he lent him a clean shirt and we all went to Craig's [Baptist Church] to an all day meeting. Of course people noticed Dad's hand and asked what was wrong. Dad told them to find the fellow with the black eye and they would know" (LFH).
     Unlike his brother Oregon, Powhatan was a staunch Democrat (Oregon was active in Republican Party affairs and represented Fredericksburg at the 1888 Republican National Convention). Powhatan dipped his toe into local politics, and ran unsuccessfully for a county supervisor seat in 1895 and 1899, and he also fell short in his bid to become a justice of the peace in 1907.

The Free Lance 16 April 1895

     Of course, there were also happy times for the Foster family, which is evident in this article from The Free Lance:

The Free Lance 3 November 1910

     However, the year 1914 would be marked by a succession of tragedies in the Foster family. Oregon Dallas Foster died on June 26. On November 13, fourteen-year-old Robert Edwin "Ned" Foster, the older of Powhatan and Virginia's two sons, died of rheumatism.

Ned Foster (Barbara Faulconer)

     Just three months prior to Ned's death, on August 10, 1914, the life of Powhatan Thomas Foster came to an abrupt and violent end at the saw mill of C. W. Howard. The particulars were provided in two obituaries published in The Free Lance:

The Free Lance 13 August 1914

The Free Lance 18 August 1914

Death certificate of Powhatan Foster (

     Powhatan was buried in the Foster family cemetery, in which the graves were marked by simple field stones. About 20 years later, Lily Foster Haney made arrangements to have the body of her father to be removed to the Confederate Cemetery at Spotsylvania Court House so that he could lie at rest in the company of his fellow soldiers. In late 1935, Mrs. Charles R. "Bertie" Andrews ordered a headstone for Powhatan from the War Department. Bertie's father, Thomas Addison Harris, had served in Company E of the 9th Virginia Cavalry.




Barnum, Mildred. "The Foster Place and Foster Graveyard." The Works Progress Administration of Virginia, November 18, 1936.

Haney, Lily Foster. "Family, Friends & Neighbors: Lily Foster Haney's Autobiography",1970.

Haney, Wade R. "History and Genealogy of the Albert and Sophie Haney Family." Researched and compiled by R. Wade Haney, 1998.


  1. Pat - my brother stumbled across your site while reading a book about the Civil War. Powhatan Foster was our great grandfather, and Lily Haney was my Great Aunt. I fondly remember being about 10 years old and visiting her house on a family trip from Washington state to Virginia. My grandmother, Anna, was one of Powhatan's daughters and went to Washington state. I actually think the description above may have been in reference to her but California was incorrect as she and her husband, who also worked in the lumber industry, left Virginia and moved to the Puget Sound area of Washington. I would love to follow up with some more contacts. When we visited we met cousins and relatives in Fredricksburg and West Virgina. Of course we have long ago lost contact with them.

  2. Thanks, Penni. If you will send a private message to Spotsylvania Memory's Facebook page and let me have your email address, I will be glad to put you in touch with your relatives who helped me with this article.