When Thomas Coram returned to England from America, he continued his relationship with the country in the shape of determined campaigning. Projects he was involved in included establishing a colony for the poor, the education of native Americans and relief for poor sailors stranded in London.
While in America, Coram had met and befriended the Rev Thomas Bray, the Anglican clergyman behind the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Bray was especially interested in setting up public libraries in Britain and America, and to establish colonial missions to native Americans. Coram was an enthusiastic supporter of Bray’s work, especially through the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which Bray founded. Their close friendship continued on Coram’s return to London.
Coram and the founding of Georgia
Before Bray died, he suggested a colony be founded for the ‘necessitous poor’ in South Carolina. Coram had by early 1730 become closely involved in this venture and went as part of an initial delegation to the Board of Trade to discuss the new settlement. He accompanied James Oglethorpe, MP and social reformer and another close associate of Bray, who eventually founded the colony of Georgia. Coram’s knowledge and experience were invaluable and he became a trustee in the venture.
Coram worked hard to make Georgia a success. He raised funds and attended meetings regularly about its progress. He argued fiercely with his fellow trustees over their refusal to allow women equal rights of inheritance. This was deterring people from coming to settle in the colony and it offended Coram’s sense of fair play. Later, when the rules were amended, Egmont, a fellow trustee, wrote in his diary that, ‘Captain Coram, who was violent for female succession was much pleased with the intended act.’ Coram was also against slavery and at the same meeting, the trustees reaffirmed their refusal to allow slavery in the colony.
Coram’s support for native Americans
Coram must have been aware of the slave trade. However, he seems to have been more interested in promoting and supporting native Americans, with whom he lived and worked when in America. He was especially concerned that native American girls were educated. This reflected a key theme in his plans for the Foundling Hospital in that girls as well as boys received an education; the general view at the time was that education was not as important for females. When two Mohicans came to London to apply to the king for redress after their people had been defrauded of their land, Coram took up their case and argued fiercely for them.
Coram, a benefactor to Harvard
Coram and Jeremiah Belcher, Governor of Massachusetts from 1730, wrote regularly to each other, discussing developments in each other’s countries. Coram often promoted Belcher’s interests and position as Governor in London.
Coram also corresponded for many years with Benjamin Colman, an associate of Bray who had travelled to London and who, on his return, took charge of a Congregational church in Boston. The Puritan/Congregationalists were by this time concerned to widen their appeal and their philosophy reflects those changes in attitudes. Coram and Colman exchanged letters regularly, and many of Coram’s letters survive in historical collections in the US.
Colman was very successful in securing patronage for Harvard. Coram sent him a gift of 24 text books to be used by professors and tutors of divinity at Harvard. Later, Coram learned from a Boston newspaper sent to him by his sister-in-law that Colman had ordained three missionaries to preach to the native Americans. Coram was encouraged by this - it was in keeping with his own concerns for the education and welfare of native Americans. He was also concerned to counter the influence of French Jesuit priests who were working among the native Americans in the disputed territory in Nova Scotia. Coram offered to send more books, this time for the missionaries to use in their work and asked Colman to consult the president of Harvard about the acceptability of his plan. Within the year, a chest of assorted books had been sent out and Coram encouraged others to make similar donations.
Coram’s campaign for sailors from America
Coram always had a special interest in the needs of those who had come to London from America. Concerned at the hardship suffered by New England sailors in the city, he set up a bank to provide relief for them and wrote to Colman about the problems they faced.
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Teaching children about Thomas Coram
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