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John T. Foster, Jr. and Sarah Whitmer Foster Collection

Identifier: MSS 0546

Scope and Content

This collection contains writings by John T. and Sarah Whitmer Foster, along with original material they collected as part of that research. Included in contents are the 1866 diary of John Sanford Swaim, an abolitionist minister in Civil War era Jacksonville, and photographs and memoirs pertaining to the family of Henry Bethune Philips, an important Duval County judge and civil servant. The Fosters were especially interested in early tourism and settlement in Florida, and the role of Harriet Beecher Stowe and others in promoting Florida as a destination spot.

The diary of John Sanford Swaim (1806-1875) prompted the Fosters to begin research on the origins of modern Florida. In the1860s, Florida increasingly became a place of tourism, northern immigration, and novel agriculture with the planting of citrus. Swaim, a senior northern minister and abolitionist, arrived as a missionary in Jacksonville in 1864 and soon turned his attention to politics and promoting the state of Florida. He believed the best way to change Florida and to make it more amenable to African American suffrage, was to build up a voting population of white northerners who would act and vote in accordance with pro-union traditions. To help make this happen, Swaim promoted Florida in newspapers in New Jersey, foreshadowing similar efforts from Harriet Beecher Stowe who would go on to publish articles in major cities. Ultimately, Swaim published eleven articles about the state and Stowe published over fifty. He also worked to increase educational opportunities for African Americans, organizing the Cookman Institute, the state’s first high school for people of color, and later founding Duval High School. In his ministry, he focused primarily on African American communities, starting two churches in Jacksonville one of which, Ebenezer United Methodist Church, is still active. The sanctuary of other church, Snyder Memorial, has served a variety of public uses since its ministry ended in 1992. Swaim had three sons and one daughter with his wife Catherine: Thomas, Matthias, Jacob, and Mary. The three sons moved to Florida as well and became active in their father’s work. Thomas ran a local business until his death in 1885. Matthias was Principal of Duval High School, and Jacob became involved in local politics, serving as Treasurer of Duval County. Jacob later left Florida to take a job in Newark, New Jersey. He donated the Swaim family papers to the New Jersey State Historical Society. Swaim’s diary from 1866, however, was found among the papers of his grandson, Wilbur Welling Swaim. The Philips materials came to the Fosters from the granddaughter of Henry Bethune Philips. The collection includes a transcription of the diary made by the Fosters.

In 1886, Wilbur Swaim, his wife Elizabeth, and former Florida governor Harrison Reed and wife, Chloe Merrick Reed, organized Grace M. E. Church in South Jacksonville. Later Swaim would sponsor the renaming of the church to honor both his wife Elizabeth after her death in 1924 and the building of a new sanctuary. Elizabeth Swaim Methodist Church became one of few churches in Florida named for a woman. In the late 1930s, this northern church joined in the reunification of Methodist churches. Recently, the Elizabeth Swaim United Methodist Church was renamed the San Marco United Methodist Church to better connect with the community

Henry Bethune Philips, prominent in the history of Jacksonville, was born in 1857 on what is now called the Red Bank Plantation House in Duval County, Florida. His father Albert was a prominent planter who migrated from Georgia in the early nineteenth century. Philips attended Emory College in 1877-78 and later studied law at Vanderbilt University in 1880. Shortly after, Philips met and married Stella Tuttle, from Cherry Valley, Ohio. He then returned to Jacksonville where he split his time between his law practice and the family plantation for the next two decades. During this time, he and Stella had four children: Charlotte, Matthew, and twins Henry and Harold. After Stella’s death in 1902, Philips remarried in 1904 to Catherine Elizabeth Smith and had three more children: Margaret, Mary, and E. Bethune.

In 1891, Philips was appointed Judge of the Criminal Court of Duval County and also continued his law practice in other courts. Ten years later he was promoted to Judge of the Duval County Court and remained so for the next 20 years, until his retirement in 1921.

For decades, Philips endorsed the Florida Good Roads Movement. In 1915, Philips drafted the legislation that created the State Road Department. In 1921, Philips was appointed to the State Road Board where he was elected as its chairman. Philips Highway, between St. Augustine and Jacksonville, is named for him, as is the Jacksonville Philips Center.

The Philips materials include one of the judge’s letter books, a short memoir by Charlotte Philips Terrill, other memorabilia, and 76 photographs of the family.

In addition to these materials, the collection also contains memoirs and family histories of John T. Foster’s family, along with a copy of his book on spirituality A Personal Search for God Beyond Churches (Kindle Direct Publishing, 2019).


  • Creation: 1866 - 1998



The collection is open for research.

Biographical/Historical Note

John Foster is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. He is the author of At the Dawn of Tourism in Florida (FHS Press, 2019) and of three monographs with his wife, Sarah Whitmer Foster: Beechers, Stowes, and Yankee Strangers (UFP, 2nd Printing, 1999); Contentment and the Pursuit of Ambition (Rose Digital Publishing, 2011); and Calling Yankees to Florida (FHS Press, 2nd Edition, 2019). The pair also served as editors for two additional books. John Foster has published extensively in the Florida Historical Quarterly as well as several other prestigious scholarly journals. His work includes topics on Reconstruction-era Florida, Africa, African Americans, and instructional design. He is the leading expert on the life of Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Beecher family in Florida.

Sarah Whitmer Foster was Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at Florida A&M University. Her work focused on Reconstruction Florida, the Beecher family, and the role of women in the founding of modern Florida. In addition to her co-authored works with John Foster, Sarah also wrote a biographical article about Florida first lady, Chloe Merrick Reed. She was an active member of the National Council of Churches and, along with her husband, represented the Church World Service in Southern Africa during apartheid. She passed away in 2015.


2 Linear Feet (4 Boxes)

Language of Materials



A collection of research materials and original source materials collected and preserved by John T. Foster Jr. and Sarah Whitmer Foster, especially pertaining to their work on Reconstruction-era Florida and northeast Florida in the 19th century.


Photographs of the Philips family were removed where possible from their photo album mounts, protected, and labelled. The Swaim pocket diary is boxed for protection.


University of Florida Smathers Library Building

Acquisition Information

Donated by John T. Foster Jr.

Processing Information

Covers to Philips photo album retained, separate from photos.

Books donated by John T. Foster have been cataloged into the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History.

A Guide to the John T. Foster, Jr. and Sarah Whitmer Foster Collection
Finding aid created by Rachel Laue and James Cusick
July 2022
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America