African American Passport History – Who was Walter Foster?

African American Passport History – Who was Walter Foster? You don´t find nowadays many early passports of African American people. Why? One reason is surely there were not many in early 20th Century (or before) who had a passport issued. This topic would be definitely an most interesting one to research further on why it was like this.

But thanks to Dave Miller and his Flickr account we learn more about African American passport applicants. Visit Dave´s site and learn more about the topic. You will find great passport pictures and vivid stories.

Walter Foster was an African American music hall and vaudeville entertainer who appears to have come to Europe around 1904 and stayed there. He is described as a singer, dancer and comedian, and was 4’ 11” in height. Although he testified (inconsistently) in affidavits attached to his applications for US passports that he had traveled back to the US several times, I haven’t found any evidence on passenger lists that he actually did so.

He married Matilda Polak, (born, The Hague, Holland, 6th April 1885) in Cardiff England on 22nd May, 1910. It is notable that Walter and Matilda were in Petrograd Russia in August 1917 and may have been there during the October Revolution in November of that year. By August 1918 they have emerged in Norway.

Walter & Mathilda Foster
Passport pictures from the passport application most likely from 1914 when Emergency passports were issued for US citizens


Walter Foster testifies that his father was William Foster, a farmer of “Garrisburg”or “Garysburg” Virginia. Walter names this town as the place of his birth on his later passport applications, but claims Northampton Co, NC in earlier documents. He was born March 4th, 1877 or 1878.

He variously claimed permanent residence in the US as Garrisburg, VA or 140 W 27th St, New York City. His movements throughout Europe can be broadly traced through his passport applications.

Walter Foster
Walter Foster: theatrical artist born in North Carolina. Foster was living in Istanbul, Turkey at the time of this photo (c. 1915). His passport application says he was “going to Romania to look for work.”

Jan 1914 – In Constantinople, Turkey applying for travel to “Russia, Bulgaria, Servia Romania”. (Sep 1914 US Consular Registration in Constantinople. Gives profession as “dancing comedian”. Local address is The Eden Palace Hotel, Rue Dervich, Pera)

Dec 1914 – In Constantinople – applying to go to Romania to find work.

Dec 1915 – In Bucharest – applying to stay in Romania to fulfill theatrical contracts.

Aug 1917 – In Petrograd, Russia – applying to stay in Russia on theatrical business.

Aug 1918 – in Christiania, Norway – applying for travel within Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

Feb 1920 – in Brussels, Belgium – applying for travel in Belgium, France, Holland.

Sep 1922 – in The Hague, Holland – applying for travel in Holland, England, France, Belgium.

Walter Foster died in Valletta, Malta on January 11th, 1924 of heart disease in the company of his wife, Matilda. He was buried in the Ta Braxia Cemetery in Valletta.


Matilda Polak Foster, Dutch entertainer and wife of Walter Foster.

Matilda Polak was born 6 Apr 1874 in The Hague, Holland. She was a music hall/vaudeville entertainer. She married the American singer/dancer/comedian Walter Foster (b 4 Mar 1879, Northampton Co, NC) in Cardiff England on 22 May 1910. The couple traveled and worked together throughout Europe, Turkey and Russia until Walter’s death.

Matilda’s passport application records reflect those of her husband for the most part.

1915 Constantinople to Bucharest, Romania,

1917 Petrograd, Russia

1920 Brussels

In 1921 she sought a separate passport so that she could travel from Barcelona Spain to The Hague so that she could attend her mother’s golden wedding anniversary. Walter apparently stayed behind in Spain. The family’s address in The Hague is given as “Limburgetirumstraat”.


Affidavit to Explain Protracted Foreign Residence and to Overcome Presumption of Expatriation

11th July 1917

Walter Foster

“ceased to reside in the US about September 1906” and has since resided principally in Petrograd Russia, England, France, Romania, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Egypt.

Arrived in Petrograd 1st Oct 1916. Reasons for residence “Have been in the theatrical business during my foreign residence and have made a better living abroad than I could at home. I made an attempt to get home shortly before the outbreak of the war – I was in Constantinople at the time – but the following conditions prevented it.”

“Have made no visits to the United States since establishing a residence abroad.”

“Have mother and father, William Foster, at Garysburg Virginia”


 Affidavit to Explain Protracted Foreign Residence and to Overcome Presumption of Expatriation

23rd Aug 1922

Walter Foster ceased to reside in the US about March 1917. Residing temporarily at England, France, Italy, Belgium, Scandinavia, Russia, Holland.

“Before the war, I came to Europe about once a year, where I fulfilled theatrical contracts (singing and dancing). I left the United States for the same purpose in 1913, but returned to American and remained there until March 1917, since which time I have been to the countries above-mentioned, where I have had contracts to sing and dance at the various capitals. I expect to leave The Hague for Italy on Sept. 25-1922,as I have an engagement to perform at the “Salon Marguerita”, Rome.”

“I first came to Europe for theatrical performances in 1904 and returned to the U.S. in 1907; returned to Europe 1908-1909? & to the U.S. in about a year (1907-10?); then left the US in 1913 and returned in 1915 to America. Have been in Europe now since 1917.”

George Foster (brother) Garrisburg, Virginia

Philip Foster (father),

“My father is a farmer and during my stays in the United States I help him to farm his land.”

Don’t miss the exciting news!

FREE Collecting Guideline!

We don’t spam!, the ONLY website on Passport History you need to know.

FAQ Passport History
Passport collection, passport renewal, old passports for sale, vintage passport, emergency passport renewal, same day passport, passport application, pasaporte passeport паспорт 护照 パスポート جواز سفر पासपोर्ट

1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...