Foster Origins

There have been a number of explanations as to how the name “Foster” originated in England.

The main line is that Foster is a contracted spelling of Forester, a term which described an official in charge of a forest.  In the Middle Ages, the forests and woods were almost always owned or controlled by the lord of the manor.  But people had no reservations about sneaking in and taking firewood, game, or whatever else was available.  To keep the poaching to a minimum, the lord retained a man to watch the forest - often called a Forester.  John Forester, who was recorded in the 1183 Pipe Rolls of the county of Surrey, was the first recorded bearer of this time.

After Forester, Forster became the more usual spelling and then Foster established itself as the most widely used.  Thus Great Foresters, originally built as a royal hunting lodge in Windsor forest, is now known as Great Fosters.  We do find evidence of the Foster name by the thirteenth century if the children’s nursery rhyme Doctor Foster is anything to go by. 

Other Possible Foster Origins

Another possible occupational origin is that of a saddle tree maker, an important occupation seven hundred or so years ago.  Here the derivation is from the Old French fustier, itself originating from the word fustre, meaning a block of wood.  This term was introduced into Britain after the Norman invasion. The name in English became Foyster and later often Foster.  Secondly, and again occupational, the name may describe a maker or user of forcetier, these being steel shears widely used in both agriculture and textile production.  However, Fawcett is the main name that derives from this activity.

The next origin is more unusual. Here the derivation is from a shortened spelling of the olde English pre-seventh century compound cild-fostre and as such is an occupational nickname for a foster parent or possibly a foster child.  John Foster, who was recorded in the 1373 Court Roll of the borough of Colchester, Essex, was of this source.

Then there is the Frankish Saint Vedast who enjoyed a cult following in Belgium and England in early medieval times.  In England he was known as Saint Foster. There is still a church in London called St. Vedast alias Foster.  It is located on Foster Lane in Cheapside.  The church burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, was bombed during the London blitz and rebuilt again, and is now the church of the Actors' Union.

Germanic Origins.  Forster (with an umlaut) or Foerster is a Germanic surname.  As in England, the name means forester or forest ranger.  Forster may also have been an inhabitant of Forst, a town in the Rheinpfalz.  For immigrants into America, the name has often been anglicized to Foster.
A Historical Lineage

There is, however, one family lineage of Fosters which has been carefully traced to pre-1066 times.

This Foster family has an ancestry which dates back, according to the family research, to an early period in Flanders. The recorded history of the family begins with Anarcher, the Great Forester of Flanders, who died in the year 837. 

The family name was at first Forrester.  According to family accounts, the first man of that name in England was Sir Richard Forester, whose sister, Matilda, was married to William the Conqueror.  In 1191, Sir John Foster accompanied Richard I to Palestine during the Crusades, saved his life at Acre, and was granted Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland.  There the family resided for over five hundred years.  There are also links with this family to Scotland and Ireland.

Two books recount this ancient history.  Dr. Billie Glen Foster published his tome The Fosters Family of Flanders, England and America in 1990.  As the title implies, he extended the family line to early immigrants into colonial Virginia.  The second author is Gerry Forster, whose work The History of the Forster Family and Clan, completed in 2003, is available on the internet.  This book covers the Northumbrian Forsters and the Scottish Forresters.

A link between the Great Forester of Flanders and Foster descendants in America is still probably unproven.  Reginald Foster, an early immigrant into New England, was thought at one time to provide this connection.   But the English genealogy here looks dubious.  A more recent focus has been on a Rchard Foster who immigrated into Virginia.  Unfortunately, there is uncertainty as to which Richard Foster immigrant was the forebear of later Fosters in America.