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One day Stephen went into the office of his brother, Morrison Foster, a well known Pittsburgher, and asked him to suggest the name of a Southern river of two syllables to use in a song he was writing, Several names were presented by Mr. Foster, but none met with the approval of the composer. An atlas was opened at the map of the United States, and the Southern states scanned. Mr. Morrison Foster's finger stopped on a little river in Florida called the Swanee. Stephen was so delighted with this name that he would look no farther, but immediately inscribed it in his famous song of "Old Folks At Home."
In 1850 he was married to Miss Jane Denny McDowell, daughter of Dr. Andrew N. McDowell, a leading Pittsburgh physician, and as he had received a very flattering offer from some New York publishers to make his home in that city, he removed there with his wife. He liked the city very much and remained there about a year, but one day the longing came to him to return to his old home, so he disposed of his effects and without delay returned to Pittsburgh.
From this time, until the death of his father and mother, Stephen remained in Pittsburgh. His father was for four years before his death an invalid, and Foster was always attentive and devoted to him. After his death he wrote his well-known song " Massa's in de Cold, Cold Ground," which was an expression of his own feelings at the loss of his father.
" Old Dog Tray" was written in remembrance of an old setter that was given to Stephen by an old friend of the family, Col. Matthew I. Stewart, and who was his constant companion for years. Mr. F. W. McKee, of Pittsburgh, relates the following interesting incident in connection with the writing of this song, which was told him by Mr. D. C. Herbst, who was a friend of Foster's. Mr.. Herbst said that he and Foster were out calling together one night and returned home rather late, Foster staying over night with Mr. Herbst. In the middle of the night Stephen suddenly arose and lighting a candle, began to write from an inspiration that had come to him. In the morning he showed his friend Herbst his copy, which was the famous song of " Old Dog Tray." Many of his songs were written on the spur of the moment in this way. Mr. Henry Kleber said that Foster would often rush into a grocery store and jot down lines on the rough brown wrapping paper, which were afterwards shaped into some of his most popular airs.
In 1852, Foster took a trip down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans with his brother, Dunning Foster, who was at that time the proprietor of a large river packet.