Thomas Coram was born in Lyme Regis, Dorset in 1668, his mother died when he was three years old and his father was believed to be a master mariner. Thomas never received a proper education and at eleven he went to sea.
By the time he was 26 years old, he was in the American colonies and had settled in Taunton, Massachusetts, operating a ship-building company. By a deed dated December 1703, he gave 59 acres of land at Taunton to be used for a schoolhouse, whenever the people should desire the establishment of the Church of England. In the deed, he is described as “of Boston, sometimes residing in Taunton”.
In 1717, he unsuccessfully promoted the idea of founding a colony to be called ‘Georgia’ in what is today Maine as a philanthropic venture.
In 1720 he returned to England where he was appalled by the many abandoned, homeless children living on the streets of London. After a 19 year battle he was rewarded when in 1739 George II gave him a Royal Charter to create the Foundlings Hospital. The Charter aimed to establish a “hospital for the maintenance and education of exposed and destitute young children”.
Coram was neither wealthy nor well connected, but his commitment to his causes persuaded others to support him. Radical in his thought and method, he fought to protect the rights of those who couldn’t do so for themselves. He triumphed over the prejudices of a society which tolerated child poverty and abandonment, argued for the education of girls, and spoke up for destitute sailors, and unemployed soldiers.
The Foundlings Hospital is regarded as the world’s first incorporated charity.