William McFadden Foster

William McFadden Foster

William Foster was born on 25 Oct 1815 in Meadville, Crawford Co., PA to David Foster and Rebecca McFadden

He was one of two male survivors of the Forlorn Hope. Both men were fathers and had left family members back at Donner Lake. All the other men in Forlorn Hope, with the exception of Franklin Graves, age 59, were bachelors. 

Foster married Sarah Ann Charlotte Murphy on 29 December, 1842 in Clark Co. MO; he became the son-in-law of Levinah W. Jackson.

Not much is known about William Foster’s youth. According to William G. Murphy, Foster was the mate on the boat the Murphy family took from Nauvoo in December 1842. The ship became icebound and two romances sprang up between the crew and the passengers.

Foster and his shipmate William Pike were married to Sarah and Harriet Murphy respectively on December 29 by a justice of the peace in Clark County, Missouri, across the river from Nauvoo.

Foster left the ship and appears to have followed the carpenter’s trade in St. Louis. He and Sarah were living there when their first child, George, was born.

In the annals of the Donner Party William Foster is best remembered as the man who killed Sutter’s vaqueros, Luis and Salvador, for food. He does not seem to have been much blamed for this act; William Eddy’s account, related to J. Quinn Thornton, emphasizes that Foster was deranged at the time.
Regarding his later personality, Peter H. Burnett wrote:

Foster was a man of excellent common sense, and his intelligence had not been affected, like those of many others. His statement was clear, consistent, and intelligible.

Peter H. Burnett

After the disaster Foster worked as a carpenter in San Francisco, but later joined his brothers-in-law, Michael C. Nye and Charles Covillaud, in a ranching venture. During the gold rush he and Nye prospected for gold; Foster’s Bar on the Yuba was named for him.

Foster was a founder and prominent early settler of Marysville, but in the mid-1850s he and his growing family moved to Carver County, Minnesota. An attempt to found a community called San Francisco failed, and they returned to California about 1860.

Foster had seven children: Jeremiah George, Alice E., Georgiana C., William Budd, Minnesota “Minnie,” Harriet “Hattie,” Frances S.

William Foster died of cancer on 25 Feb 1874 in San Francisco, CA. A convert to Catholicism, he was buried in the cemetery of the old Mission Dolores.

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