JAMES T. FOSTER is one of the best known citizens of Menard county, acquainted with early events which form its pioneer history, as well as with the business, intellectual and moral development, which comprise its annals in later days. He was born in Marion county, Indiana, near the city of Indianapolis, July 25, 1836. His parents, Augustin E. and Permelia (Wright) Foster, were natives of Kentucky, in which state they remained for a few years after their marriage and then removed to Indiana. It is believed that the Foster family is of Scotch lineage, and it is definitely known that they were early colonists of Virginia and Maryland. Augustin E. Foster was a farmer by occupation and in the fall of 1843 he removed with his family from Indiana to Sangamon county, Illinois, settling near Curran, and about ten miles from the city of Springfield, where his son James was reared. The country was new and unimproved and wild game of all kinds was abundant, including deer, turkeys, prairie chickens, quails, brants and ducks. There were also many coons and opossums, wolves and foxes. Mr. Foster of this review often saw the mule trains upon the track of what is now the Wabash Railroad and he heard the first steam cars come in on that road. He was in Springfield the day the first train of cars came in over the road of the Chicago & Alton in 1853, and there was great excitement in the city. In April, 1867, he came to Greenview, to which place on Saturday, about the middle of June, that year, the railroad was completed. The citizens of Greenview had promised the workmen if they would complete the line to the village on that day they should have all the beer they could drink. The last rails were laid about six o'clock in the afternoon and that evening a "jollification" was held and there was great excitement in Greenview.
The old Foster homestead was the place for religious meetings in those early days for there was no church near and the family entertained the pioneer ministers, including such men as Peter Cartwright, Peter Akers, John S. Barger, A. Bradshaw, Wingate Newman, Benjamin Newman, I.S. Kimber-all of sacred memory, now gone to their reward. In those early days James T. Foster and his brothers would often sit up late and shell corn, and each would load a sack full upon a horse the next morning and thus proceed to mill. The mills were then operated by horse or water power, and they would wait all day for their grist to be ground. Occasionally they would hitch the yoke of oxen to the wagon and make the trip in that way, and after their return their mother would bake a fine pone of corn in a skillet on the hearth in front of the fire and a fine joint of meat or a chicken was cooked on the crane over the big fire in the old fashioned fireplace, and all were happy and contented. James T. Foster attended the common schools, wherein were taught spelling, reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, grammar and United States history. He finished his course when about seventeen years of age and then gave his entire attention to his farm work. He made a hand plowing corn when but eight years of age. It was about that time that he rode three miles to join a temperance society and took a pledge that he has kept inviolate to this day, never using tobacco or liquor in any form nor let profanity pass his lips. He followed the occupation of farming for a number of years after attaining his majority. After his marriage he engaged in agricultural pursuits in Sangamon county until April, 1863, when he removed to Menard county and lived upon the farm now owned by Baney Brothers. After two years he removed to Middletown, Logan county, there remaining from the spring of 1865 until the spring of 1867. The first year he rode the Middletown circuit as an assistant Methodist preacher, then taught school for nine months and worked at the mason's trade for three months, also plastering and laying brick. In the spring of 1867 he removed to Greenview, where he continued to work at the mason's trade for two years, after which he engaged in clerking in a hardware store for ten years He next began buying grain, in which business he continued for six years, and then resumed work at the mason's trade. When he arrived in Greenview, in the spring of 1867, there were only fifteen dwellings here, one hotel, one dry-goods store, one grocery store, a drug store, a harness shop and one church-the Cumberland Presbyterian, of which the Rev. R.D. Miller was pastor. All who were heads of families have died or moved away and only three of those who were children at that time remain, namely: Mrs. Rose Estill, Mrs. P.J. Palmquist and Charles Wilkinson.
At the time of the Civil war Mr. Foster was drafted in 1864 and paid a substitute to go in his place He was elected justice of the peace for Greenview precinct in the fall of 1880, to fill out the unexpired term of D.T. Hughes, and after a year was re-elected in the fall of 1881, for a term of four years. In that time many noted lawsuits were tried before him and prominent lawyers of this and other counties appeared before him to plead their suits. In politics he has always been a Republican where state and national issues are involved but at municipal and county elections he has always voted independently of party ties. He cast his first presidential vote for Abraham Lincoln and voted for the great war governor, Richard Yates. He has voted at every election since the town was incorporated, save one in the spring of 1902, when on account of his crippled condition he could not go to the polls, having fallen on the sidewalk on the 10th of February, 1902, and sustained injuries which have caused him to go upon crutches continually since. He has voted for every president since Lincoln with the exception of Cleveland.
In the spring of 1865 Mr. Foster became a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, filled all the chairs of the local lodge and remained a member for many years. He was reared in the faith of the Methodist church, which he joined in the fall of 1850, remaining one of its members until 1886, when the church of Greenview was disbanded and he took his church letter to the First Presbyterian church of Greenview, of which he and his wife are now members. He is serving as superintendent of the Sunday-school and is an ardent church worker, but not a strict sectarian, believing in the union of churches and reciprocal relations between all churches and that if the heart and the purposes of life are not right there is nothing in the name.
On the 10th of April, 1856, Mr. Foster was married, in Mason county, to Miss Martha E. Smith, a daughter of James H. and Martha C. (Davis) Smith, natives of Indiana. The family had previously lived in Kentucky, and the grandfather of Mrs. Foster came from Ireland to the United States. His father was an English lord. Mr. and Mrs. Foster lost two children in infancy and reared six, of whom three have since died, namely: Mrs. Martha Bell Leppert, Mrs. Etta P. Olds and Adda May Foster. Those living are Thomas Leroy, Maggie E., and Mrs. Sarah E. Gunston, of Middletown, Illinois. The son was married September 2, 1903, to Miss Minnie Reeves, of Petersburg, and took his bride to his parent's home, where they still live.
Mr. Foster can recall many interesting events concerning local and state history. He went to Chatham, Illinois, to see the Mexican soldiers when they were camped there in 1845, on their way to St. Louis, where they were to take boats for Mexico. He was present at the great political rally in Springfield, Illinois, August 8, 1860, when Lincoln attempted to speak but his auditors crowded around him so closely that they broke down the wooden platform on which he was standing. He was also present at the funeral of the lamented Lincoln, seeing him twice while he was lying in state. He was in the long procession and was but a few feet away from Bishop Simpson when he preached the funeral. He often saw Lincoln in his early life and had a long talk with him after his election and before he started for Washington. Mr. Foster was also well acquainted with Lincoln's law partner, W.H. Herndon. He first saw Springfield in the fall of 1843, when the city was but a small village. He could start from home and drive to Springfield, passing the corner of only two farms and driving in almost a straight line across the prairies, where in places the grass was as high as a man's head. He can remember when prairie fires would break out and all the people would fight them, even the women, arraying themselves in woolen garments, assisting. They would first plow around the ignited tract and then back fire, and at times the flames were so widespread that it seemed as if the whole world was on fire.
Mr. Foster is now in his sixty-ninth year, his wife in her sixty-eighth year. He has long been a resident of central Illinois and no history of this county could be complete without the record of his life, so widely and favorably is he known and so active has he been in advancing local progress in his community.