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Stephen Collins Foster was born in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, now part of Pittsburg, on the Fourth of July in 1826. That was a most important fourth; it marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, It was on that day, too, that the second and third Presidents of our nation died - John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
At the very moment that Stephen was born, his father was acting as "vice-president" of a boisterous celebration in "Foster's Grove." His part in the celebration was to toast "the Independence of of the United States, acquired," to use his own words, "by the blood and valor of our venerable progenitors. To us," he continued, "they bequeathed the dear-bought inheritance; to our care and protection they consigned it; and the most sacred obligations are upon us to transmit the glorious purchase, unfettered by power, to our innocent and beloved offspring." And just as the elder Foster was speaking these words, exactly at noon, a servant ran from the house telling of the arrival of another "innocent and beloved offspring." She begged that the saluting cannon be stilled lest they injure the baby's ear-drums.
Young Stephen was the tenth of eleven children, and since his little brother James died in infancy, he remained the youngest of the family. These Fosters were prominent people in Western Pennsylvania; they were active in both political and commercial affairs. The father, William Barclay Foster, was at one time Mayor of Allegheny, where he had settled after leaving Lawrenceville. The eldest son, William Barclay, Junior, was an engineer who laid out the route of many of the Ohio and Pennsylvania canals, and later that part of the Pennsylvania Railroad which crosses the Allegheny Mountains. When he died he was a vice-president of the Railroad. One of Stephen's sister, Ann Eliza, married Edward Buchanan, a brother of James Buchanan, fifteenth President of the United States. Another brother, Henry, was for a number of years in the Land Office at Washington. Morrison, the son nearest in age to Stephen, became prominent in business and in politics. Stephen was different from the rest of the children. He was a dreamer, and, above everything else, he loved music. He learned to play the flute and the violin, and he could pick out tunes on the piano. The other members of the family liked music, too, but they did not thing that a man should spend too much time at it. There was more important work to be done in a flourishing pioneer community; music should be kept within reasonable limits as a pleasant pastime. When Stephen went to boarding school he promised that he would not pay any attention to his music until after eight o'clock in the evening.
On one occasion Stephen's father to Brother William; "It is a source of much comfort to your mother and myself that Stephen does not appear to have any evil propensities to indulge; he seeks no associates, and his leisure hours are all devoted to music, for which he posses a strange talent." Stephen's mother also tried to relieve William's anxiety about his youngest brother when she wrote a month later: "He is not so much devoted to music as he once was; other studies seem to be elevated in his opinion."
And so it went, the family always trying to make Stephen conform to the accepted, conventional pattern, closing their eyes to the talent that would some day his name a household word throughout the world. They even tried to get him appointed to West Point, and Stephen himself suggested he Navy. Finally it was decided to send him to Cincinnati, where his brother Dunning had a commission business and would teach him to be a bookkeeper. So the twenty-year old Stephen sailed down the Ohio, on of the river-boats he would some day immortalize in song, far more entranced with the singing of the Negro deck-hands than with the figures he was to add for three long years.
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