« Bray, Guido de. Bray, Thomas Brazil »

Bray, Thomas

BRAY, THOMAS: Church of England; b. at Merton, near Cherbury (17 m. s.w. of Shrewsbury), Shropshire, 1656; d. in London Feb. 15, 1730. He studied at Oxford (B.A., All Souls, 1678; M.A., Hart Hall, 1693; B.D. and D.D., Magdalen, 1696), took orders about 1678, and soon won friends and advancement by his "exemplary behaviour and distinguished diligence." In 1690 he became rector of Sheldon, Warwickshire. In 1696 Bishop Compton of London appointed him commissary for Maryland. He was unable to sail for the colony until Dec., 1699, landed in Mar., 1700, but after a residence of less than six months returned to England, finding he could better promote the interests of the province there. From 1706 he was rector of St. Botolph Without, Aldgate, London.

Bray's Varied and Effective Activity.

Bray's life furnishes a striking example of what can be accomplished by energy, good judgment, and disinterested benevolence. As soon as he was appointed commissary for Maryland he took up the work, and, while detained in England, tried to find there suitable men to send out as missionaries and formed a plan to provide them with books. He did not limit his good services to Maryland, and his plan grew into a scheme for a "Protestant congregation pro propaganda fide by charter from the king." When this failed in spite of persistent endeavor, he organized a voluntary society to provide libraries at home and abroad and to support schools and missions for the colonies and the heathen. The first meeting was held Mar. 8, 1699, and this was the beginning of the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge. In June,1701, he divided its work and procured a royal charter for a second society—the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. From his appointment as commissary till he was able to sail he bore his own expenses and he paid the costs of his voyage. By his return he forfeited his salary, which was available only when he was in Maryland. A present of £400 he devoted to public use. He collected and managed a fund for the instruction of the negroes in the provinces, and, at the age of seventy-one, became interested in the prisoners in the London jails and undertook to ameliorate their condition. It is believed that he influenced General Oglethorpe to found the colony of Georgia. His benefactions were continued by numerous bequests in his will.

Libraries in America.

Bray's exertions resulted in the foundation of nearly forty libraries in America. In 1699, just before he sailed for Maryland, he wrote that he had sent books to the value of £2,400 into the plantations, "whereby thirty libraries have been already advanced, and a foundation is laid of seventy libraries more." The greater number 255 were in Maryland, but there were several in Virginia, two in North Carolina, and one each in Boston, Rhode Island, New York City, Albany, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Charleston. That at Annapolis, Md., was the largest collection of books at the time in the plantations and was the first lending library in the British colonies. Its remains are now in the possession of St. John's College, Annapolis. The remnant of the Boston library is in the Boston Athenæum.

The Bray Associates.

After a severe illness in 1723 Bray chose four friends to assist in the management of the negro schools and continue his work after his death. Thus originated "Dr. Bray's Associates for Founding Clerical Libraries and Supporting Negro Schools," an association which has continued to exist and in 1906 reported 130 libraries maintained in England and Wales and 153 in sixty-seven colonial and missionary dioceses; during the year two new libraries were founded and negro schools were maintained in Nova Scotia and the Bahama Islands. The total number of libraries founded in Great Britain and the colonies is over 500. About eighty of the total number were founded by Dr. Bray, exclusive of those established in America. A reorganization of the "Associates" was effected in 1905, and a division of the funds was made whereby the income of an endowment amounting to about £7,000 will be applied to the support of the schools; the remainder of the funds, amounting to about £4,500, will be used to establish, maintain, or augment theological libraries in Great Britain or elsewhere for the use of clergymen of the Church of England and students who are candidates for holy orders.


While at Sheldon, Bray planned A Course of Lectures upon the Church Catechism, in 4 volumes, and completed vol. i, twenty-six lectures, On the Preliminary Questions and Answers (Oxford, 1696); the book proved popular, brought him upward of £700, extended his reputation to London, and helped to secure his appointment as commissary; vols. ii–iv were not completed. In connection with his library plans he published: Bibliotheca parochialis, or a scheme of such theological heads as are requisite to be studied by every pastor of a parish, with a catalogue of books (London, 1697; 2d ed., much changed, 1707); An Essay towards Promoting All Necessary and Useful Knowledge (1697), closing with a catalogue of sixty-three books "designed to lay the foundation of lending-libraries to be fixed in all the market-towns in England "; Bibliotheca catechetica, or the country curate's library (1702); and Primordia bibliothecaria (1726), in which he gives "several schemes of parochial libraries" and outlines a method "to proceed by a gradual progression from strength to strength, from a collection not much exceeding in value £1 to £100." Several Circular Letters to the Clergy of Maryland (1701) treats of the "work of catechising" and the "duty of preaching," with many practical directions for the use of books; a list for a "layman's library" is appended. Of interest as Americana are: a sermon on Apostolic Charity, preceded by A General View of the English Colonies in America with Respect to Religion (London, 1698); a sermon on The Necessity of an Early Religion, preached before the Assembly of Maryland (Annapolis, 1700; the earliest extant work printed in Maryland); The Acts of Dr. Bray's Visitation at Annapolis, May 23–25, 1700 (London, 1700; reprinted in F. L. Hawks's Contributions to the Ecclesiastical History of the United States, vol. ii, New York, 1839, pp. 497–523); A Memorial Representing the Present State of Religion on the Continent of North America (1700). He was a strong Anti-Romanist, and another noteworthy publication was Papal Usurpation and Persecution (1712), intended as a supplement to Fox's Book of Martyrs. The materials gathered for this volume and a continuation of it, which he did not complete, he left to Sion College, London.

Bibliography: Bray's Life and Designs, written probably, by Richard Rawlinson (d. 1755) and preserved in manuscript in the Bodleian Library, has been made the basis of all subsequent accounts (such as Public Spirit Illustrated in the Life and Designs of the Rev. Thomas Bray, London, 1746, 2d ed., with notes and the report of the "Associates" for 1807, by Henry J. Todd, 1808), and has been printed in full, with valuable notes and Selected Works Relating to Maryland, by B. C. Steiner, Maryland Historical Society Fund Publication no. 37, Baltimore, 1901. An article by Mr. Steiner in The American Historical Review, ii (1897), 59–75, gives an account of Bray's American libraries. Some information concerning the fate of those in England may be found in the Transactions and Proceedings of the First Annual Meeting of the Library Association of the United Kingdom, pp. 51–53, 145–150, London, 1879. A paper by J. F. Hurst on Parochial Libraries in the Colonial Period, in Papers of the American Society of Church History, vol. ii, part 1, New York, 1890, deals with the Bray libraries. The "Associates" (address, 19 Delahay St., London, S. W.) publish an annual report which contains a brief Memoir of Dr. Bray.

« Bray, Guido de. Bray, Thomas Brazil »
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