William Forster was born in Tottenham. From a very early age, he demonstrated a spiritual frame of mind. After completing is education he followed his father’s profession as a land agent. He became an itinerant minister for several years, travelling to many parts of England and Scotland.
William visited Newgate prison with Stephen Grellet. The scenes shocked and sickened them. William, who would have known Elizabeth Fry from birth, contacted her and described the wretchedness of the women at Newgate. Elizabeth Fry gathered together a group of young women Friends and visited the prison. This was the start of Elizabeth Fry’s work as a prison reformer.
In October 1816 he married Anna Buxton (Elizabeth Fry’s sister). After the marriage they moved to Dorset.
William Forster in America
In 1820 William undertook a mission to America on behalf of the Society of Friends. This lasted for five years during which time he worked to prevent a rift that was appearing among American Friends. The separation went ahead, but William was considered to have done good service. He had a calm and peaceful tone which suited him to conciliatory work.
William made two further visits to America. One of these was due to a threatened split among Friends in Indiana over the slavery question. His efforts were successful. William was a strong advocate against slavery.
Famine in Ireland + Anti-slavery campaign
With the Society of Friends in general, William Forster was deeply concerned about the famine in Ireland caused by the failure of the potato crop in 1846. He visited Ireland with his son (William Edward) in 1846 and 1847 to investigate the conditions there prior to the formation of a Quaker committee for relief.
William’s health was poor in later years, but he still made an additional visit to America with other Friends (including his brother, Josiah) to present an anti-slavery address to the President and to Governors of the States. He met with President Pierce in October 1853, but was not encouraged by the response. He continued to meet with other people with influence.
In January 1854, William became severely ill while staying in Tennessee. After a few weeks, he died, aged 70. He is buried in the Friends’ burial ground at Friendsville.