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ANDOVER — Lucy Foster, who was born in Boston in 1767, was taken from her family at age 4 and offered as a gift at the wedding of an Andover farmer and his wife.

She spent a dozen years as a slave in the home of Hannah and Job Foster, who granted her freedom when she was 16, said Char Lyons, church historian at South Church in Andover. The church became Foster’s spiritual home, and when she died in 1845, she was buried in an unmarked grave in its burial grounds.

On Saturday morning, seven girls about the same age Foster was when she was released from slavery unveiled a purple slate gravestone honoring the woman who lived in Andover in bondage and freedom.

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The effort by students from The Academy at Penguin Hall, a school for girls in Wenham, was the culmination of a yearlong elective called “Out of the Shadows.” The course sought to shed light on Foster’s life and give her a proper memorial.

“We’re proving that Lucy was here. She was relevant and important to society. She deserves her remembrance; she deserves her place,” said Lila Caplan, 17, a junior from Swampscott.

The students said learning about Lucy Foster transformed their understanding of the role Northern states played in furthering slavery in the United States.

“A lot of us thought that, ‘Oh it didn’t happen as much up here in the North’ and it wasn’t as prominent. But it was, just in a different way,” said Elise Welch, a junior from Manchester-by-the-Sea.

“We’re proving that Lucy was here. She was relevant and important to society. She deserves her remembrance; she deserves her place,” said Lila Caplan (right), 17, a junior from Swampscott, who sat next to Caroline Buck.
“We’re proving that Lucy was here. She was relevant and important to society. She deserves her remembrance; she deserves her place,” said Lila Caplan (right), 17, a junior from Swampscott, who sat next to Caroline Buck.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Foster’s gravestone was publicly unveiled following a memorial service at South Church that celebrated her life and the students’ commitment to honoring her. While it took 174 years for Foster to get a gravestone, remnants of her life in Andover have been well documented in archeological circles since the 1940s.

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Whitney Battle-Baptiste, an associate professor of anthropology and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said Foster’s former home on Woburn Street is considered the first African-American residence to be explored by archeologists. It was excavated in 1943 by Adelaide and Ripley Bullen, records show.

Foster’s home sat on an acre of land left to her by Hannah Foster, who died in 1812, the Bullens wrote in 1945. Hannah Foster also left Lucy Foster a cow and a small amount of money, the students said.

Their research found that Lucy Foster, who had two children, likely supported herself by running an outdoor tavern at her home and and got some financial help from South Church. Her residence was also believed to be a stop on the Underground Railroad, they said. It burned in 1845, the same year Lucy Foster died, the Bullens wrote.

Artifacts found at Lucy Foster’s homestead.
Artifacts found at Lucy Foster’s homestead.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Battle-Baptiste wrote about Foster’s residence in her 2011 book, “Black Feminist Archeology.” Some artifacts unearthed there, including Foster’s pottery, are on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., she said.

“Lucy Foster was captive as a child of 4 years old. She was a wedding gift. These pieces of pottery are property. So was she. That happened here in Andover,” Battle-Baptiste said during the memorial service.

The students focused on Foster last fall after their teacher, Linda Meditz, presented them with a challenge: Find a woman who was buried nearby in an unmarked grave after living as a slave and give her a headstone. Meditz said her inspiration was Phillis, a slave owned by the Rev. Stephen Williams in Longmeadow during the 1700s.

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“What do you think? Could we take on this project,” Meditz recalled telling the class.

The students seized on the idea, she said.

Caroline Buck, 18, a senior from Andover, said she learned about Foster from Lyons and Elaine Clements, executive director of the Andover Center for History & Culture.

“I went into school the next day. I found Dr. Meditz and said, ‘I think we found someone,’ ” Buck said.

Michael Updike, a slate artist and sculptor from Newbury, said he read about the project in a local newspaper and offered to help.

Working with the students, Updike created a stone featuring some of the designs from Lucy Foster’s pottery. He etched a tea cup and herring bone into the back of the stone and signed his name. The students also signed the back of the stone with metal styluses in the portion of the stone that was buried.

“It’s an optimistic monument. There are so many controversial monuments regarding slavery and the South and the North. This is a very hopeful gesture,” Updike said.

Lyons said the exact location of Foster’s unmarked grave is unknown, and the new gravestone was positioned near the burial sites of Foster family members.

Her epitaph reads: “Born into captivity in Boston / Came to her freedom in Andover / Known by God and her community.

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Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.