Death of Stephen Foster 

U.S. #879 was issued in Bardstown, Kentucky, where Foster was inspired to write “My Old Kentucky Home.”

On January 13, 1864, Stephen Foster, the “father of American music,” died in New York City.

Stephen Collins Foster was born on July 4, 1826, in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania. The youngest of nine children, Foster attended private schools and taught himself to play the clarinet, violin, guitar, flute, and piano.

Foster never received a formal education in musical composition but wrote his first song, “Tioga Waltz,” when he was just 14 years old. He published his first song, “Open Thy Lattice Love,” three years later. Foster briefly attended college, but took a trip to Pittsburgh and never went back to school. Instead, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to work as a bookkeeper for his brother’s steamship company.

U.S. #879 – Classic First Day Cover.

While in Cincinnati, Foster wrote his first successful songs between 1848 and 1849. Among these songs was “Oh! Susanna,” which became a popular anthem of the California Gold Rush. Also during this time, he published Foster’s Ethiopian Melodies, which included “Nelly Was a Lady,” popularized by the Christy Minstrels.

U.S. #2636 pictures My Old Kentucky Home State Park, named after Foster’s famed song.

After that success, Foster moved back to Pennsylvania and signed a contract with the Christy Minstrels. This would lead to perhaps his most successful musical period. In the early 1850s, he wrote several now-famous songs, including “Camptown Races,” “Nelly By,” “Ring de Banjo,” “Old Folks at Home” (also known as “Swanee River”), “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Old Dog Tray,” and “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair.” Many of Foster’s songs had southern themes, though he never lived there and only visited once.

After the Civil War broke out and Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers, Foster set the poem “We Are Coming, Father Abra’am” to music. There is little information about Foster’s final years, though he wrote the song “Beautiful Dreamer” sometime between 1862 and 1864. In January 1864, he had a bad fever and fell, suffering a gruesome wound. After he was discovered and taken to the hospital, Stephen Foster died on January 13, 1864, at just 37 years old.

U.S. #2636 – Silk First Day Cover picturing Stephen Foster.

In the years since his death, Foster’s music went on to become even more widespread and popular. Title 36 of the US Code names January 13 as Stephen Foster Memorial Day. There are two state parks named in his honor, and another in honor of one of his songs: My Old Kentucky Home State Park. “My Old Kentucky Home” is the state song of Kentucky and “Old Folks at Home” is the state song of Florida.

Click here to listen to some of Foster’s songs.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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2017: A Year in Review – on Stamps!

Take a look back the major events of 2017 through stamps.  And be sure to check back tomorrow for more events and stamps.

On October 24, 2017, Albert Einstein’s “Theory of Happiness” note sold for $1.56 million. Einstein penned the note in 1922 for a Tokyo bellboy, either because he refused to accept a tip, or Einstein didn’t have the small change. He told the bellboy if he was lucky, it might be worth more than spare change one day. The note said, “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”


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In June 2017, President Trump announced that the US would withdraw itself from the Paris Climate Agreement as soon as possible, which be 2019. Trump explained that the agreement would “undermine the US economy” and put the country at a “permanent disadvantage.” The move sparked widespread complaints both in the US and internationally. However, many American companies insisted they would continue to stick the provisions of the agreement even in the US does withdraw.
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  1. I used to hear his songs in camp meetings when I was a boy in the 1930s, but I haven’t heard a Stephen Foster song in years, except for My Old Kentucky Home. I wonder where in our current culture Stephen Foster songs are evenl familiar to our young people. His songs had lovely rhythm and melody, and seemed so to fit so well with guitar accompaniment. Thanks for bringing his songs back to life.

  2. Never realized so many childhood songs came from one person, Stephen Foster. A lot of fun popular music from such a short life.

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