Stephen Collins Foster was born to William Barclay Foster and Eliza Clayland Foster in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, on July 4th, 1826 -- the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The failing family business and excessive drinking ruined his father. Foster’s brothers sought their luck in other towns and his sisters got married.

Because of financial losses in 1830, the family was forced to give up their idyllic residence situated on a bluff overlooking the river. There followed a series of changing accomodations in the gray city of Allegheny.  This early uprooting left its mark on the young Stephen, who escaped into a fantasy world. From now on he spent a lot of time with young poets and journalists.


... was Foster’s first published song. He was just 18 years old. The song was dedicated to his friend Susan Pentland from Allegheny.

Susan Pentland

The lyrics were written by George Pope Morris, who supplied lyrics in the tradition of the romantic ballad for many popular songs, a tradition which Foster would later make so much his own.

At the age of 20, he was still working as a bookkeeper in his brother’s shipping company in Cincinnati. One year later the world was paying attention to his songs.

his parents

his parents

“The White Cottage” (ca. 1828)

“The White Cottage” (ca. 1828)

Orginal page of »Open Thy Lattice Love«

original script of  »Open Thy Lattice Love«

Foster grew up in a family in which playing instruments was natural, particularly by his oldest sister Charlotte. Young Stephen was entrusted early with the music of Thomas Moore and Robert Burns, both of whom were representatives of the romantic ballad. The nostalgic melancholy of the Irish poet Thomas Moore held an immediate appeal for Foster.

Susan Pentland was a daughter of the Foster’s Allegheny neighbors. Foster moved in a group of young writers and journalists at that time, which was known as the “Five Nice Young Men.” One of these, Andrew Robinson, married Susan Pentland in 1849.