Directly across from Wolf Hill Garden Center at the corner of Linebrook Road and Rt. 1 (61 Turnpike Road) is an uninhabited building known as the Corporal John Foster Inn. The original construction is dated at about 1780, although the name of the original builder is uncertain. Stories told about John Foster and the tavern he operated there offer very entertaining records of the ancient Linebrook neighborhood.
The Legend of a Very Eccentric Man
In A Pen Ramble in Linebrook, 1884,MVB Perley wrote “This is ancient territory….Early in the present century there was the very eccentric sign of a very eccentric man. It has found its way into literature and has been told as an entertaining story by travelers far and wide. His title was corporal, his trade blacksmith, his business landlord and his sign read:
I shoe the horse, I shoe the ox
I carry the nails in my box
I make the nail, I set the shoe
And entertain some strangers too
At times he would not reply when questioned unless addressed by his title. He was as obliging and generous as he was eccentric.”
The sign that hung at Foster’s Tavern has been stored in a barn at the Ipswich Museum for a century.
From The Diary of Rev. William Bentley:
“Oct 30 1811: I left Salem with Mr. H. Crowinshield to see Line Brook vulgarly known as Firetown, a section of Ipswich Topsfield & Rowley at the acute angle in which they meet. Never did I find so many opinions about the distance & the course of any place… I returned to the former road from which I had turned and in about a mile I crossed Newbury turnpike at a Tavern kept by one Foster in LineBrook. Foster by trade was a blacksmith by business a landlord. His sign hanging near the tavern door read as follows: “ I shoe the horse, I shoe the ox, I carry the nails in my box, I make the nail, I set the shoe, And entertain some strangers too“. As it is the last place I have visited it is the most destitute of the means of enriching a farmer, and if the tastes of the people can be guessed by the rhymes on Foster’s sign their minds are of higher improvements than their barren country I found.”
Thomas Franklin Waters noted for the Ipswich Historical Society that “The quaint old sign of Corporal Foster that hung many years before his hostelry on the old Boston Turnpike in Linebrook is now our property by the kind gift of Mr Fred H Plouff. In after years it became a gate at the entrance to Mr Edward PloufFs, son in law of the Corporal. While serving this base purpose it was painted to match the dwelling but swung in the wind and rain until the ancient lettering again appeared. Old and decrepit, bruised and battered it came at last to our kindly haven but now restored with loving fidelity to its original coloring it has renewed its youth like the eagle and clearly as in the day when the Corporal’s masterpiece was first displayed. It declares the two fold business of the smithy and hostelry in its quaint rhyme.”
Who Was Corporal John Foster?
Corporal John Foster was a blacksmith and taverner, born in Ipswich in 1777, died in 1841 and is buried at the Old Linebrook burying ground. Perhaps he was the son of the John Foster who was a member of Captain Whipple’s Company which suffered greatly during the 1757 siege of Fort William Henry during the French and Indian War. It is more likely that he was the son of Jonathan Foster, who was the son of Caleb Foster, both of whom lived in Linebrook. The senior John Foster was born in 1704 and died in 1799. In the late 19th and early 20th century, this was the home of John Swift Spiller, “a farm and market man.”
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