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Thomas Coram was born in Lyme Regis, Dorset, England. At 11 years old he was sent to sea. Therefore, he was never afforded a proper education. In 1694, he settled in what is now Dighton, Massachusetts, then part of Taunton. For ten years Thomas lived in Dighton and founded a shipyard there.
In 1700 Thomas married Eunice Waite. Although happily married they never had children. He returned to London in 1704 and obtained an act of Parliament giving a bounty on the importation of tar from the colonies. He carried on business for some time. During the War of the Spanish Succession, he commanded a merchant ship and acquired the title of captain. In 1712, he obtained a role in Trinity House, Deptford, a private corporation that combined public responsibilities with charitable purposes.
Thomas became known for his public spirit. He again obtained an act of parliament taking off the prohibition upon deals from Germany and the Netherlands. In 1732, he was appointed one of the trustees for Georgia Colony, then founded through the efforts of James Oglethorpe.
In 1735, he introduced a plan for settling unemployed English artisans in Nova Scotia. The plan was approved by the board of trade and, after a time, was carried out before Thomas’ death. Richard Brocklesby said that on some occasion, he obtained a change in the colonial regulations in the interest of English hatters, and refused to take any reward from them except a hat.
While regularly traveling to London concerning his business interests, Thomas was frequently shocked by the sight of infants exposed in the streets, often in a dying state. He began efforts for the foundation of a foundling hospital. This institution was to be a children’s home for children and orphans who could not be properly cared for. He labored for seventeen years, and he induced many ladies of rank to sign a memorial. A charter, signed by King George II, was at last obtained for the Foundling Hospital in 1739 and considerable sums were subscribed. In 1741 some houses were first taken in Hatton Garden, where these homeless children were first admitted. A parcel of land was bought for £7,000 in Bloomsbury. Lord Salisbury, the owner, insisted that the whole of his ground “as far as Gray’s Inn Lane” should be taken; but he subscribed £500 himself. The foundation stone of the hospital was laid on 16 September 1742 and on October 1745, the west wing was finished and the children were removed from Hatton Garden.
Thomas continued investing in the hospital and continued being elected to the General Committee until 1742. But at the May Day meeting in 1742, he received too few votes to qualify, and as a result, he no longer had any say in the management of the hospital.
He died on 29 March 1751, aged 83, and was buried on 3 April in the chapel of the Foundling Hospital. In 1935, the Foundling Hospital moved from Bloomsbury to a new site in Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire, and the old Hospital building was demolished. A chapel was erected at the Berkhamsted Hospital with a crypt specially designed to hold Coram’s remains. In 1955, the building was sold and Coram’s remains were exhumed and moved to the Church of St Andrew, Holborn in London. The chapel still stands today, now part of Ashlyns School.
Thomas attributed his desire for philanthropic works by saying in his own words. “descended from virtuous good parentage on both sides.”
- Staff (1998), Thomas Coram Foundation- A brief history of the Foundation and services on the Site (PDF), retrieved 1 August 2015.
- Taylor, James Stephen (October 2006) . “Coram, Thomas (c.1668–1751)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/6282. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Waterhouse, Ellis (1994), Painting in Britain 1530–1790 (5th ed.), New Haven and London: Yale University Press, p. 175, ISBN 0300058330.
- Howell, Caro (2014), The Foundling Museum: An Introduction (1st ed.), London: Foundling Museum, p. 10, ISBN 9780955180897.
- Wagner, Gillian (2004), Thomas Coram, Gent. 1668-1751 (1st ed.), London: Boydell Press, p. 7, ISBN 9781783270606.
- Staff (2017), Story of Thomas Coram, retrieved 7 February 2017.
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