The America effect
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In the early 1690s, a London merchant engaged the young Thomas Coram to sail to America and oversee the supply of cheap merchant ships for the ever-increasing cross-Atlantic trade. By 1693, we know that Coram was in Boston, where he met his future wife, and that in 1697 or 1698 he moved to Taunton, some 40 miles away, where he set up his own shipbuilding business.
The ten years that Coram spent in America were to have a profound effect on his life. He seems to have relished being free of the restricions of English society and inspired by the opportunities the new country offered him.
It was not an entirely one-way relationship though. Coram had an important influence on America in the shape of vigorous campaigning for the rights of minority groups. He also left a direct legacy of books aimed at encouraging the spread of Anglicanism.
I have reason to believe that they are some of the very worst of the creation, and to compleat and cloak their black action, have in their serpentine manner endeavoured to stigmatize my Reputation with the best of the country, and some of the Countrey Justices thereabouts have been so partial in their administrations.Much against his combative nature, he and Eunice returned to Boston and sailed for England. Despite his intentions – he did not sell his house in Taunton until 1742 - he never came back to America.
Visitors to Taunton today can still see Thomas Coram’s home, at 2130 Water Street. It is privately owned and occupied and has changed little. Around 1700, Coram went into partnership with another shipwright and English inhabitant of Taunton, John Hathaway. They built homes next door to each other, and from them could oversee their jointly-owned shipyard and wharf. John Hathaway’s house, built a year or two later, is number 2120. Today the site is owned by the Taunton Yacht Club which bought the area known today as Coram Shipyard and Coram Wharf in 1895.
…if ever hereafter the inhabitants of the town of Taunton should be more civilized than they now are, and if they should incline to have a Church of England built amongst them, or in their town…He left the land in trust with the King’s Chapel in Boston, where he worshipped, along with a substantial collection of books. books became the basis for the parish’s ministry. By the mid-19th century, Taunton had grown to be a busy port. The townspeople were from a wide range of Christian denominations, including a strong and growing Episcopal community. The church took Saint Thomas as its patron, in part to honour Thomas Coram. The third and present St Thomas’ Church was consecrated in 1859, and was funded entirely by subscription. The church’s 250th anniversary celebration in 1978 was attended by the Bishop of London and representatives of the Coram Foundation. Today the church archives are held in a room in the parish house.