Amanda Foster

The corner of Wildey Street and Mechanics Avenue is home to the Foster Memorial AME Zion Church, thought to be one of the oldest African American churches in all of New York. Opened in 1864, it was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, and is still a thriving church today. It is named after one of the founders, Amanda Foster.

Charlene Weigel writing for The Hudson Independent newspaper explains how, Amanda Foster, “was born free to an en­slaved woman in the house­hold of Gov­er­nor De­Witt Clin­ton. The smaller of twin girls, she was deemed “hardly worth the trou­ble of try­ing to raise,” and given away by the Gov­er­nor’s wife. Who was her fa­ther? What hap­pened to her mother? Her twin sis­ter? What was her birth sur­name? Even these ba­sic facts were not recorded. At 15, she mar­ried John Bow­man and gained a sur­name. Fos­ter had al­ready been in the work­force for seven years, hired at eight to care for a child of a wealthy Al­bany fam­ily. She later worked as a baby nurse and steam­boat stew­ardess. She lever­aged this work ex­pe­ri­ence with an in­nate fi­nan­cial acu­men to be­come a suc­cess­ful Tar­ry­town en­tre­pre­neur, run­ning her own candy store on Main Street while work­ing as a bar­ber. She and John Bow­man were able to buy prop­erty and build a house, with­out a mort­gage, on the west­ern end of Main Street. Years later, Amanda had amassed enough wealth on her own to pur­chase more prop­erty in the area, an un­usual feat for a black woman at the time. In ad­di­tion to her busi­ness tal­ent, Fos­ter pos­sessed a fear­less moral clar­ity. Trav­el­ing south as a baby nurse in 1839, she wit­nessed slav­ery and slave auc­tions. In Ken­tucky, Fos­ter helped a young girl head north on the Un­der­ground Rail­road by giv­ing away her own free pa­pers. Fos­ter risked ar­rest since it was il­le­gal in Ken­tucky to help an en­slaved per­son es­cape, and be­cause she had to make her way north with­out pa­pers. Di­ane Pratt, a cur­rent Church mem­ber, said she learned in Sun­day school of Fos­ter’s sup­port for en­slaved peo­ple flee­ing north. Prat­t’s com­ments echoed those of Henry King, Jr., au­thor of the bi­o­graph­i­cal sketch, that “among the lead­ing Abo­li­tion­ists, she takes a lead­ing part.” Fos­ter had a re­li­gious con­ver­sion ex­pe­ri­ence in her early 20s, and cited her faith as her “shield and com­fort” for the rest of her life. She drew on that faith through the loss of John Bow­man and her sec­ond hus­band, Henry Fos­ter. Be­fore Henry Fos­ter died, he made her promise to build a church to house the grow­ing Tar­ry­town AME Zion con­gre­ga­tion that they and two oth­ers had founded. With char­ac­ter­is­tic de­ter­mi­na­tion, Fos­ter reached out for do­na­tions to many well-known lo­cal res­i­dents whom she had be­friended. Wash­ing­ton Irv­ing, Gen­eral Bene­dict, Dr. John Todd, the Cobbs and oth­ers re­sponded. Fos­ter pur­chased a lot on Wildey Street, and the cor­ner­stone for the pre­sent Church was laid in 1864.”