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John Mather Foster
McLean County, Illinois

JOHN MATHER FOSTER is one of the most prosperous farmers and influential citizens of Dale township, McLean county, Illinois. His career has been most remarkable, yet his success is by no means the result of fortunate circumstances, for it has come to him through energy, labor and perseverance, directed by an evenly balanced mind and by honorable business principles. He is a man of keen discrimination and sound judgment, and in business affairs is energetic, prompt and notably reliable.

Mr. Foster was born in Meigs township, Muskingum county, Ohio, May 30, 1833, a son of John and Celia Ann (Ballou) Foster, natives of New Hampshire and Ohio respectively. The paternal grandfather, John Mather Foster, Sr., a descendant of Increase Mather, of colonial fame, was educated for the ministry, but preferring the legal profession, he afterward read law. From New Hampshire he removed to Massachusetts, and when the father of our subject was eleven years old went to Ohio, where he engaged in the practice of his chosen profession and also taught school. He died in that state. He married Mrs. Alice (West) Carlyle, who was the grandmother of our subject. He had one brother, William S. Foster, who served as a colonel in the Revolutionary war. John Foster, father of our subject, came from New Hampshire to Indiana at the age of eleven years, remaining until the age of seventeen, when, finding that the man he was working for was not reliable financially, he left without any money and walked back to his old home in Ohio, in company with his uncle, William Stevens, sleeping out many nights on the way, or in barns whenever he could get permission.

On reaching home he began work for his uncle, Col. William Foster, and with the money thus earned paid off an indebtedness of three dollars and seventeen cents. He then had ten dollars in silver remaining, and with this he began life for himself. At first he worked at any employment which he could find, and finally saved enough money with which to purchase a small tract of land at one dollar and a quarter per acre. This he cleared and improved himself, and after building a little home thereon, he married Miss Celia Ann Ballou. a daughter of Welcome Ballou, a representative of a prominent pioneer family of Ohio from Rhode Island. Her mother, who bore the maiden name of Arelia Taft, was a native of Massachusetts. Mr. Foster brought his bride on horseback to the home he had prepared for her, and as he prospered in his farming operations he added to his place from time to time until he had a good sized farm, which he finally sold to his only brother, Dan Foster, for ten thousand dollars. Upon that place our subject was born.

The father went to New York and invested seven thousand dollars in a stock of goods, which he took to Cumberland, Ohio, opening up a store at that place. Although this was his first experience in mercantile trade, he prospered in his new undertaking and continued in business there for several years. He had the entire confidence and respect of his fellow citizens and was called upon to fill many township offices. On selling his store he purchased a farm adjoining the town, and there he continued to make his home until coming west, though he retained the place for some time afterward, it being finally sold by our subject for thirty thousand one hundred dollars.

He was extensively interested in sheep raising, and one year sold ten thousand pounds of wool for over ten thousand dollars. In Vermont he purchased seventy-three of the Spanish merino sheep, for which he paid seven thousand six hundred dollars, which he took to his home, where he already held from five hundred to one thousand Pennsylvania merinos and blacktops. He was the first in his community to import those animals; he crossed the breeds and has sold many as high as three hundred dollars a head.

In 1866 Mr. Foster came to McLean county, in company with his wife's parents and our subject, having the year previous purchased the farm in Dale township now owned and occupied by his son, who at that time was given charge of the place, while he practically lived retired for many years. He also purchased nine hundred and forty-five acres in Ford county, which afterward became the property of our subject's sons, Charles, John, Loren and Ivan. It is under a high state of cultivation and pleasantly located near Gibson City.

The father had charge of that farm until failing eyesight rendered him almost blind. He always lived with our subject, and here died May 11, 1898, when almost ninety-two years of age, his birth having occurred November 12, 1806. He was a shrewd, capable business man, and his advice was often sought by his neighbors and friends, who held him in high regard on account of his sterling worth and many excellencies of character.

Politically, he was first a Whig and later a Republican. His estimable wife, who was born June 27, 1812, is still living. Of the five children born to them, three reached years of maturity, but only our subject and Mrs. Eliza McClellan, of Champaign county, Illinois, are now living.

During his boyhood and youth, John M. Foster, of this review, received a good practical education and for two years he successfully engaged in teaching school. When his father retired from mercantile life and purchased his farm near Cumberland our subject was given charge of the sheep, which was a very responsible position. He discharged his duties in a highly satisfactory manner, however, and displayed excellent business ability in the sale of both sheep and wool.

In his native state, Mr. Foster married Miss Electa B. Moore, of Noble county, Ohio, who died before he came west, leaving one son, Charles M., a prosperous farmer of Ford county, Illinois, who was four years old when brought by his father to this state.

Mr. Foster was again married, April 1, 1868, his second union being with Miss Alice King, who was born August 29, 1847, a daughter of William and Ann King, of Bloomington township. Four children blessed this union: John Stanhope, born October 9, 1870, married Ella Vaughan, and is now engaged in farming in Ford county; Loren K. , born March 25, 1875, married Myrta Moberly, by whom he has one child, and now has charge of his father's farm; Ivan V., born August 22, 1879, died January 14, 1897; and Alice Ballou, born December 14, 1882, is at home.

After successfully managing his father's farm for a few years, Mr. Foster was given a small place, to which he has added from time to time as his financial resources have increased until he now has almost eight hundred acres of valuable land in Bloomington and Dale township, being one of its heaviest tax payers. He generally raises from five to twenty thousand bushels of corn annually and now has sixty thousand bushels upon the place, the crops of three years. As a stock raiser he has also met with excellent success, making a specialty of hogs and shorthorn cattle.

In his political views, Mr. Foster has always been a stalwart Republican, and was a great admirer of President Garfield, of whom his mother was a second cousin; he has never cared for political preferment but for twenty-five years has most creditably and acceptably served as school director in his district. In the progress of his community he has ever manifested a deep interest and has ever taken his part in support of those measures calculated to prove of public benefit.

[The Biographical record of McLean County, Illinois - S.J. Clarke Publishing Company - (1899)]


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