Friday, September 11, 2009

A HILL COUNTRY FAMILY: Forrister, Forrester, or Foster?


by Terry Thornton

One of my favorite adult friends when I was a child was blacksmith Arnie Forrister of Monroe County. Mr. Forrister was born in 1915 in Mississippi and, as far as I know, lived all his life in the country just south of Smithville. When I knew him first, he had a blacksmith shop at the intersection of today's Parham Store Road and Forrester Lane. At some point he also opened and ran a country store on Parham Store Road.

Location of Arnie Forrister's Blacksmith Shop

Mr. Arnie and my father were great friends --- and Mr. Arnie was always one to have something funny or witty to say. He was a joy to be around and his blacksmith shop was a wonder to behold. I got my first views of hot molten metals being forged and shaped and tempered in Mr. Arnie's shop as he repaired various items of farm machinery or built some metal device my father thought he needed . He was never too busy to explain what he was doing and why as he shaped red hot pieces of iron into plows or into one-of-a-kind replacement parts.

It was always a treat to watch him finish a project by plunging the freshly shaped and still glowing hot piece of metal into a barrel of water to temper and to cool it. It was at Mr. Arnie's blacksmith shop where I saw first-hand the effects of fire and water. And it was from observing Mr. Arnie that I learned metals were like putty when the elements of fire and force and muscle and intellect came into play.

I remember the problem Mr. Arnie created for himself and then loved to tell all us kids. He was so very proud of his wedding ring that he rarely removed it. Once when welding, an electrical arc occurred between his gold wedding band and the welding machine which caused his wedding band to instantly heat up. He dropped the welding torch and grabbed the ring pulling it and much of the skin off his finger in the process. His wound was so great I never think of welding without remember his burnt finger.

Arnie Forrister is difficult to trace on the census records because most people spell and pronounce his name "Foster." His grave marker surname is spelled FORRISTER; he is on the 1920 Monroe County Mississippi census as FOSTER. His father is listed as WALTER J. FOSTER on the 1920 and 1910 Monroe County census reports. His grandfather is probably JOHN D. FOSTER who is listed on the 1910 Monroe County census also. The road past the location of his old blacksmith shop is FORRESTER Lane according to both Google Maps and the official Monroe County MDOT Highway Map.

But whatever the spelling of the surname, FORRISTER, FORRESTER, or FOSTER, Arnie Forrister was a friend and a pleasure to be around. Whenever I hear the phrase, village blacksmith, I have a mental image of Mr. Arnie in his shop making metal do what he wanted it to do.

Below is a photograph of his grave marker at New Hope Cemetery, Parham, Monroe County, Mississippi, followed by a brief summary of the 1910 and 1920 census reports of Mr. Forrister's family.

The 1920 Monroe County census of Smithville Precinct shows ARNEY FOSTER, 4 years and 9 months old, born in Mississippi, living in the household of his father WALTER J. FOSTER (33, born Alabama) and his mother DOCIA FOSTER (30, born Mississippi) and his sister CLEO FOSTER (10, born Mississippi).

The 1910 Monroe County census of the First District shows WALTER FOSTER (24, Alabama) and DOCIA FOSTER (19, Mississippi) and CLEO FOSTER (4 months, Mississippi) living next door to JOHN D. FOSTER (63, Mississippi) and MARTHA FOSTER (51, born Mississippi).

If you have information, documents, or photographs to share of the FORRISTER/FORRESTER/FOSTER family of Monroe County, I'd very much like to hear from you.


Arnie Forrister, Grave Marker Photograph, New Hope Cemetery, Parham, Monroe County, Mississippi, by Terry Thornton. 2008.

Foster Family Census Information transcribed from the 1910 and 1920 Monroe County Mississippi Census Reports images available online through Heritage Quest. Accessed via the Lee-Itawamba County Mississippi Library on August 15, 2009.

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