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.”