This is an update on the information in the document, “The Lineage of Thomas Coram”, mentioned by Patricia Jenkins in the start of this thread. Those documents were written in 1925 by L. W. Rigsby about a Thomas Coram (1776(?) – 1884) of Benevolence, Georgia (USA) and his descendants. Thanks to Rigsby for doing the original research and to Jenkins for preserving this file and making it available to the genealogical community.
Rigsby writes that Thomas Coram of Georgia is a descendant of William Coram (1756 – 1821). William Coram was born William Taylor in London, but was orphaned. Captain Thomas Coram, an English philosopher, took this boy under his charge and raised him. When William grew up, he came to America. At some point he changed his last name to Coram. William Coram served in the Revolution, as a private, rising to sergeant, in the Commander-in-Chief’s (i.e. George Washington’s) Guard. After the war, William married Ann and they had one child whom they named Thomas after Captain Coram. This latter Thomas Coram established the town of Benevolence, Georgia, named in memory of Captain Coram. Rigsby then documents the descendants of Thomas Coram of Benevolence. He concludes that “The name Benevolence is pregnant with meaning. Its meaning should be familiar to every Coram descendant, to every person in Randolph County and to every citizen of Georgia, for was it not named to illustrate the noble, unselfish qualities of one of the Trustees of the Original Georgia Colony?”
Here is the information I am adding to this story, providing the meaning to which Rigsby refers. This information is abstracted from “Thomas Coram, Gent., 1668 – 1751”, by Gillian Wagner, 2004. This book is in print and is recommended for anyone seeking to know more about Captain Coram’s life and accomplishments. Thomas Coram was “unique in being a man of great integrity in an age of corruption, with a generosity of spirit and a capacity for compassion that has rightly earned him a place in the history off this time.”
Thomas Coram was born in Lyme Regis, Dorset, England in 1668. His mother died when he was 4. He worked as a cabin boy aboard a ship when he was 11 and an apprentice in ship-building at 16. When Coram was 26, he led a company of ship builders to the Colony of Massachusetts to establish a ship-building business there. At 36, he returned to London with his new wife, Eunice. By the age of 45, Captain Coram had gained a reputation as a knowledgeable proponent for the economic, religious, and political development of the British colonies in America.
By 54, Captain Coram was ready to take on the project that made him famous: establishing the Foundling Hospital. This institution took in foundlings - i.e., infants who would have otherwise been abandoned - and raised them to be useful citizens. Coram would regularly see babies, probably born out of wedlock, abandoned to die in the gutters or trash piles in London. The stigma of illegitimacy attached to the mothers made it impossible for them to find work and provide for the babies, leaving them no choice but to abandon the babies. On the order of 1000 babies were abandoned each year in London alone. Captain Coram took it upon himself to right this horrifying situation.
Despite the obvious (to us) need for the facility, it took Captain Coram 17 years to get a charter from the King of England, which incorporated the Hospital as charity, the first such use of the laws of incorporation for charitable purposes. He eventually got the necessary support through the wives of aristocrats and many artists including William Hogarth, who painted a famous and ground-breaking portrait of Captain Coram, and George Frederick Handel, who performed his Messiah at the Hospital as a fund raiser. After the Hospital was up and running in 1741, he and Eunice did adopt a few of the children themselves and foundlings were regularly named after him and Eunice.
Captain Coram was also one of the 27 original trustees of the Colony of Georgia. He soon got into a dispute with the other Trustees over giving women the right to inherit property and he fell into disfavor. (Years later, Georgia adopted his position on women’s right of inheritance.) He did not have much to do with Georgia after that and never actually traveled there.
Captain Coram died in 1751, living in poverty having spent whatever money he had earned in supporting the Hospital and other charitable efforts.
There are a few observations that need to be noted about the Rigsby story in light of the Wagner information. First, it does seem likely that the Corams of Georgia are descended from a foundling who was raised at the Foundling Hospital under Captain Coram’s personal attention. The children at the Foundling Hospital looked upon Captain Coram and his wife Eunice as their parental figures. Thus, William would not have been a biological descendant of Captain Coram, but he probably thought of himself as a virtual descendant. On the other hand, there are some inconsistencies. William (Taylor) Coram was probably not an orphan, but rather a foundling. Captain Coram was not an English philosopher. He was a practical, poorly-educated ship builder. He could be called a philanthropist, although he advocated his projects with practical rather than philanthropic arguments. Also, some of the dates are questionable: the birth date of 1756 for William (Taylor) Coram is five years after Captain Coram died, and the birth date of 1776 for Thomas Coram (of Benevolence) is seven years prior to his parents’ marriage and would mean he lived to age 108.
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