Bray, Thomas

, D.D. an eminent learned and pious divine of the seventeenth century, was born at Marton in Shropshire, in 1656, where his parents were persons of good reputation. His infancy discovering promising parts, he was early sent to the school at Oswestry, in the same county, and his close application to school-learning, determining his parents to dedicate him to religion and learning, he was entered of Hart-hall, Oxford. Here he soon made a considerable proficiency in divinity, as well as other studies necessary for the profession for which he was intended: but, labouring under the common disadvantages of a narrow fortune, his circumstances not permitting a longer residence at Oxford, he left the university soon after he had commenced bachelor of arts. Much about this time he entered into holy orders; and the first duty he had was that of a parish near Bridgenorth in Shropshire, his | native county, from which curacy he soon removed into Warwickshire, officiating as chaplain in sir Thomas Price’s family, of Park-hall, and had the donative of Lac Marsin given him by sir Thomas, which proved very advantageous; for living now in the neighbourhood of Coieshill, his exemplary behaviour, and distinguished diligence in his calling, introduced him into the acquaintance of Mr. Kettlewell, sir Charles Holt, and the lord Simon Digby. One incident which contributed to establish his character at this juncture, was his preaching the assize sermon at Warwick, on which occasion Mr. Bray, though but young, acquitted himself to the satisfaction of the whole audience, particularly the lord Digby, who was afterwards pleased to honour him with many proofs of his friendship and esteem, recommending him to the worthy and honourable patronage of his brother, the fifth lord Digby, who some time after gave him the vicarage of Over-Whitacre in the same county, since augmented, by his patron’s uncommon generosity, with the great tithes. In 1690, the rectory of Sheldon being vacant, by Mr. Digby Bull’s refusing to take the oaths at the revolution, his lordship presented Mr. Bray to it; which preferment he held till about a quarter of a year before his death, when he resigned it by reason of his* advanced age, and the known worth and abilities of his appointed successor, the Rev. Mr. Carpenter. Dec. 12, 1693, he took his master of arts degree in Hart-hall, Oxford. In this parish of Sheldon he composed his “Catechetical Lectures,” a work which met with general approbation and encouragement, and produced to him the sum of 700l. This publication, which drew him out of his rural privacy to London, determined Dr. Compton, bishop of London, to pitch upon him as a proper person to model the infant church of Maryland, and establish it upon a solid foundation.*

*

In 1691 and 1692, the then governor and assembly of Maryland divided that province into parishes, and established a legal maintenance for respective ministers. In the month of October 1395, they took into consideration the expediency of having some one clergyman to preside over the rest; and, in order to support some such superintendant commissary or iuffragan, they unanimously agreed in a petitionary act to their then majesties king William and queen Mary, to annex for ever the judicial office of the commissary, before in the disposal of the governor, to that which is purely ecclesiastical, and at the appointment of the bishop of London, to whom they wrote 10 desire him to seud them over some unexceptionable experienced clergyman for the intended office,

Accordingly, in April 1696, he proposed to Mr. Bray to go, on the terms of having the judicial office | of commissary, valued, as was represented to him, at four hundred pounds per annum, conferred upon him, for his support in that service. Mr. Bray, disregarding his own interest, and the great profit which would have arisen from finishing his course of lectures on the plan he had formed, soon determined, in his own mind, that there might be a greater field for doing good in the Plantations, than by his labours here, and no longer demurred to the proposal, than to inquire into the state of the country, and inform himself what was most wanting to excite good ministers to embark in that design, as well as enable them most effectually to promote it. With this view he laid before the bishops the following considerations: That none but the poorer sort of clergy could be persuaded to leave their friends, and change their native country for one so remote; that such persons could not be able sufficiently to supply themselveswith books; that without such a competent provision of books, they could not answer the design of their mission; that a library would be the best encouragement to studious and sober men to undertake the service; and that, as the great inducement to himself to go, would be to do the most good of which he could be capable, he therefore purposed, that if they thought fit to encourage and assist htm in providing parochial libraries for the ministers, he would then accept of the commissary’s office in Maryland. This proposal for parochial libraries being well approved of by the bishops, and due encouragement being promised in the prosecution of the design, both by their lordships and others, he set himself with all possible application to provide missionaries, and to furnish them with libraries, intending, as soon as he should have sent both, to follow after himself. But, upon his accepting of this employment of commissary of Maryland, it fell to his share to solicit at home whatever other matters related to that church, more particularly to the settlement and establishment thereof, which he laboured to promote with unwearied diligence, and spared neither expence or trouble. But, above all, it was his greatest care, to endeavour to send over to Maryland, and the other colonies, pious men, of exemplary lives and conversations, and to furnish those whom he had a hand in sending, with good libraries of necessary and useful bdbks, to render them capable of answering the ends of their mission, and instructing the people in all things ecessary to their salvation. The sense of the clergy and | inhabitants, with respect to these’important services, was testified by the solemn letters of thanks, returned him from the assemblies of Maryland, from the vestries of Bos* ton and Baintrie in New England, from Newfoundland, Rhode Island, New York, Philadelphia, North Carolina, Bermudas, and by the acknowledgments of the royal African company, on account of those procured for their factories. About the same time it was, that the secretary of Maryland, sir Thomas Lawrence, with Mr. Bray, waited on the then princess of Denmark, in behalf of that province, humbly to request her gracious acceptance of the governor’s and country’s dutiful respects, in having denominated the metropolis of the province, then but lately built, from her royal highness’s name, Annapolis: and Mr. Bray being soon after favoured with a noble benefaction from the same royal hand, towards his libraries in America, he dedicated the first library in those parts, fixed at Annapolis, and which had books of the choicest kind belonging to it, to the value of four hundred pounds, to her memory, by the title of the Annapolitan Library, which words were inscribed on the several books. Another design was also set on foot, much about the same time, by Dr. Bray, to raise lending libraries in every deanery throughout England and Wales, out of which the neighbouring clergy might borrow the books they had occasion for, and where they might consult upon matters relating to their function, and to learning. Upon this, many lending libraries were founded in several parts of the kingdom, besides above a hundred and fifty parochial ones in Great Britain and the plantations, from ten to fifty pounds value, those in South Britain being afterwards secured to posterity, by an act of parliament passed for that purpose in 1708. Soon after, upon the repeated instances of the governor and some of the country, Mr. Bray was at the charge of taking the degree of doctor of divinity, which, though it might be of some use, as procuring a certain degree of respect, did then but ill comport with his circumstances. He took his degrees of bachelor of divinity, and doctor, together, by accumulation, not of Hart hall where he was entered, but of Magdalen college, Dec. 17, 1696. Soon after, the better to promote his main design of libraries, and to give the missionaries directions in prosecuting their theological studies, he published two books, one entitled, “Bibiiothee* Paroctnalis or, a Scheme of such | Theological and other heads, as seem requisite to be perused, or occasionally consulted by the reverend Clergy, together with a catalogue of books, which may be profitably read on each of those points,” &c. The other, “Apostolic Charity, its nature and excellency considered, in a discourse upon Daniel xii. 3. preached at St. Paul’s, at the ordination of some Protestant Missionaries to be sent into the plantations. To which is prefixed, a general view of the English colonies in America, in order to show what provision is wanting for the propagation of Christianity in those parts, together with proposals for the promoting the same r to induce such of the clergy of this kingdom, as are persons of sobriety and abilities, to accept of a mission.” During this interval, viz. in the year 1697, a bill being brought into the house of commons to alienate lands given, to superstitious uses, and to vest them in Greenwich hospital, he preferred a petition to the house, that some share thereof might be appropriated for the propagation of religion in the Plantations, and that the same should be vested in a body politic, to be erected for that purpose; which petition was received very well in the house, and a fourth part of all that should be discovered, after one moiety to the discoverer, was readily and unanimously allotted by the committee for that use, it being thought by far more reasonable, to appropriate some part at least of what was given to superstitious uses, to uses truly pious, than altogether to other, though charitable purposes: but the bill was never suffered to be reported. In the year 1698, failing of a public and settled provision by law, for carrying on the service of the church in Maryland, and the other plantations, he addressed his majesty for a grant of some arrears of taxes due to the crown; and some time after, was obliged to be at the charge and trouble of going over to the king in Holland, to have the grant completed. The recovery of these arrears of taxes was represented as very feasible and very valuable, and also without any grievance *o the subject: but as they proved troublesome to be recovered, so they were scarcely of any value. All designs failing of getting a public fund for the propagation of the Gospel in foreign parts, he thereupon formed a design, of which he then drew the plan, of having a Protestant confregation, pro jide propaganda, by charter from the king, ut this he was obliged to defer till a more favourable opportunity. However, to prepare the way for such a | charlet-society, he soon after made it his endeavour, to find worthy persons ready to form a voluntary society, both to carry on the service already begun for the Plantations, and to propagate Christian knowledge as well at home as abroad, hoping afterwards to get such a society incorporated. This he laid before the bishop of London, in the year 1697, and a society was constituted on this plan; and though the design of having them incorporated by charter could not then be brought to bear, yet they still subsisted and acted as a voluntary society. But their number and benefactions at last increasing, a different constitution and more extensive powers appeared necessary for the success of the undertaking: application was therefore made, by Dr. Bray, to his then majesty king William, for his royal charter. The doctor’s petition to his majesty, with other papers relating to the corporation to be erected for the propagation of the gospel in foreign parts, was read May 5, 1701; and his majesty’s letters patent, under the great seal of England, for erecting a corporation, by the name of “The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in foreign parts,” was laid before the society, and read the ninth of June following. He received no advantage all this time from his commissary’s place in Maryland; neither was any allowance made him at home, or preferment give him, to support the charge of living altogether in town, to solicit the establishment and endowment of the church of Maryland, and to provide missionaries for that and all the colonies on the Continent; which, excepting Virginia, lay upon him; all the benefactions that were received being to be laid out to raise them libraries, which also he did faster than money came in to answer the charge. This being observed by some of his friends, they endeavoured to persuade him to lay his design of going abroad aside, and take two good preferments that were then offered him at home, of as good or better value than what was proposed to him in Maryland, viz. that of sub-almoner, and the donative of Aldgate, in the city of London. But he declined all offers that were inconsistent with his going to Maryland, as soon as it should become proper for him to take that voyage. By the year 1699, having waited upwards of two years for the return of the act of religion from Maryland, with such amendments as would render it without exception at the court of England; and it being presumed by his superiors, that it would be requisite the doctor should now hasten | over, as well to encourage the passing of that act in their assemblies, as to promote other matters for the service of religion there, it was signified to him from them that they would have him take the opportunity of the first ship; and indeed, the doctor having, by this time, tried all ways he could think of, and done all he was able to do here, to serve those parts, and according to proposal having provided Maryland, as also many other colonies, with a competent number of missionaries, and furnished them with good libraries, to be fixed in the places where they were sent, to remain there for ever, he was himself eager to follow, and did so accordingly, even, in the winter, though he had no allowance made him towards his charge of the voyage, and the service he was to do; but was forced to dispose of his own small effects, and raise money on credit to support him. With this poor encouragement, and thus, on his own provision, he took the voyage, December 16, 1699, and set sail from the Downs the twentieth of the same month; but was driven back into Plymouth-sound on Christmas-eve, and remained in harbour almost all the holydays, where his time was not unusefully spent, in the recovery of a tolerable library there out of dust and rubbish, which was also indebted to him for a benefaction of books and where he left a proposal for taking in subscriptions to make it a sea- port library, for the use of missionaries and sea-chaplains, as well as others. After an extremely tedious and dangerous passage, the doctor arrived at Maryland the twelfth of March, where he applied himself immediately to repair the breach made in the settlement of the parochial clergy; in order to which he consulted, in the first place, the governor, whom he found ready to concur in all proper methods for the re-establishment of their maintenance. Before the next assembly, which was to be in May following, he sent to all the clergy on the western shore, who only could come together in that season, to learn from them the disposition of the people, and to advise with them what was proper to be done, in order to dispose the members of the assembly to re-enact their law next meeting. Soon after he had dismissed their clergy, he made his parochial visitation, as far as it was possible for him at that season; in which, he met with very singular respect from persons of the best condition in the country, which the doctor turned to the advantage of that poor church. During the sessions of the assembly, and whilst the re-establishment of the church | was depending, he preachod very proper and seasonable sermons, with a tendency to incline the country to the establishment of the church and clergy; all which were so well received, that he had the thanks of the assembly, by messages from the house. The doctor was providentially on such good term* with the assembly, that they ordered the attorney-general to advise with him in drawing up the bill; and that he himself might be the better advised in that case, he sent for the most experienced clergy within reach, to suggest to him, what they found would be of advantage to them and the church, to be inserted in, or left out of it; by which means the constitution of that church had much the advantage of any in America. It may not be amiss to observe in this place, that as well during the general court or assize, which preceded the assembly, and lasted thirteen days, as during the sessions of the assembly itself, he was under a necessity of entertaining the gentlemen of the province, who universally visited him; a charge, however, which he thought requisite as circumstances then were, that he might strengthen his interest in them, the better to promote the establishment of the clergy’s maintenance. The bill being prepared, passed with a nemiilt contradicente; but it was on all hands declared and confessed, that it was very providential that Dr. Bray came into the country at that juncture. Soon after the assembly was up, the commissary cited the whole clergy of the province to a general visitation at Annapolis, to be held May 22, 1700. At the close of this visitation, the clergy taking into consideration, that the opposition of the Quakers against the establishment of that church would in all probability continue, so as to get the law for its establishment so lately re-enacted, annulled again at home, they entered into debates, whether it would not be of consequence to the preservation and final settlement of that church, that the doctor should be requested to go home with the law, and to solicit the royal assent. It had been before voted, at the passing the bill in the house of burgesses, that he should be desired to request his grace of Canterbury, and the bishop of London, to favour that good law, by obtaining his majesty’s royal assent to it with all convenient speed; and the members who gave him an account of passing their vote, told him withal, that it was the general opinion of the house, that he could be most serviceable by waiting personally on their lordships, rather, than by letters, in which he conld not crowd all that might be | necessary to be represented concerning the then state of the church, and the necessity, at that time, of their utmost patronage: and it was in debate, whether this should not be the desire of the assembly; but it was thought too unreasonable a request from them, who were sensible of the great danger and fatigue he had already been at in the service of that province, as they had a few days before acknowledged by a message of thanks from that house. Such were the sentiments of the members of the assembly, as to the necessity of his coming home to solicit the establishment of that church; and the clergy meeting at their visitation, some weeks after, represented to him, as the earnest desire of the more sensible persons throughout the country, as well as of the assembly-men, that he should go over with the law for England; being aware that its opponents would make the utmost efforts against the establishment of that church, by false representations at home of the numbers and riches of their party, and by insinuating, that to impose upon them an established maintenance for the clergy, would be prejudicial to the interest of the province, by obliging so many wealthy traders to remove from thence, the falsity of which, or any other suggestions, they thought him best able to make appear, by the information he had gained from this visitation, There were also many other advantages to the church in those parts, which they proposed by his coming home at that time, upon the consideration of all which he took his voyage soon after. He was no sooner arrived in England, but he found their apprehensions in Maryland’not ill grounded; but the objections raised against the plan, Dr. Bray refuted, by a printed memorial, representing truly the state of the church of Maryland, to the full satisfaction of all to whom it was communicated. The quakers’ opposition to the establishment now depending, was carried by united councils and contributions; but the doctor refuted their specious objections by unanswerable reasons, and placed the affair in such an advantageous light, that his majesty decided, without any appearance of hesitation, in the church’s favour, and gave the royal assent in these remarkable words: “Have the Quakers the benefit of a toleration? let the established church have an established maintenance.” This chargeable and laborious undertaking having swallowed up the doctor’s own small fortune, lord Weymouth generously presented him with a bill of 300l. for his own private use, a, | large portion of which the doctor devoted to the advancement of his farther designs. Though he was vested with the character of commissary, yet no share of the revenue proposed was annexed to it; and his generosity even induced him to throw in two sums of fifty pounds each, that were presented to himself in Maryland, towards defraying the charges of their libraries and law. After the return of Dr. Bray from thence in 1701, he published his “Circular Letters to the Clergy of Maryland,” a memorial, representing the present state of religion on the continent of North America, and the acts of his visitation held at Annapolis; for which he had the thanks of the society above mentioned. Not only the bishop of London approved entirely of all these transactions, but also the archbishop of Canterbury declared, that he was well satisfied with the reasons of Dr. Bray’s return from the West Indies, and added, that his mission thither would be of the greatest consequence imaginable to the establishment of religion in those parts. In 1706, he had the donative of St. Botolph without Aldgate offered him again, which he then accepted of, worth about 150l. per annum. In the year 1712, the doctor printed his “Martyrology; or, Papal Usurpation,” in folio. That nothing might be wanting to enrich and adorn the work, he established a correspondence with learned foreigners of the first distinction, and called in the assistance of the most eminent hands. This work consists of some choice and learned treatises of celebrated authors, which were grown very scarce, ranged and digested into as regular an history as the nature of the subject would admit. He proposed to compile a second volume, and had, at no small expence and pains, furnished himself with materials for it; but he was afterwards obliged to lay the prosecution, of his design aside, and bequeathed by will his valuable collection of Martyrological Memoirs, both printed and manuscript, to Sion college. He was, indeed, so great a master of the history of popery, that few authors could be presumed able, with equal accuracy and learning, to trace the origin and growth of those exorbitant claims which are made by the see of Rome. He was happily formed by nature both for the active and for the retired life. Charity to the souls of other men, was wrought up to the highest pitch in his own: every reflection on the dark and forlorn condition of the Indians and negroes, excited in his bosoin the most generous emotions of pity and concern. His | voyage to Holland, to solicit king William’s protection and encouragement to his good designs, and the proofs he gave of a public spirit and disinterested zeal, in such a series of generous undertakings, obtained him the esteem of M. d‘Allone of the Hague, a gentleman not more celebrated for his penetration and address in state affairs, than for a pious disposition of mind. An epistolary correspondence commenced very early between him and the doctor upon this subject; the result of which was, that M. d’Allone gave in his life-time a sum to be applied to the conversion of negroes, desiring the doctor to accept the management and disposal of it. But that a standing provision might be inade for this purpose, M. d’Allone bequeathed by will a certain sum, viz. 900 pounds, out of his English estate, to Dr. Bray and his associates, towards erecting a capital fund or stock, for converting the negroes in the British plantations. This was in the year 1723, much about which time Dr. Bray had an extremely dangerous fit of illness, so that his life and recovery were despaired of. In the year 1726, he was employed in composing and printing hi* “Directorium Missionarium,” his “Primordia Bibliothecaria,” and some other tracts of the like kind. About this time he also wrote a short account of Mr. Rawlet, the author of “The Christian Monitor;” and reprinted the Life of Mr. Gilpin. Some of these were calculated for the use of the mission; and in one he has endeavoured to shew, that civilizing the Indians must be the first step in any successful attempt for their conversion. In his “Primordia Bibliothecaria,” we have several schemes of parochial libraries, and a method laid down to proceed by a gradual progression, from a collection not much exceeding one pound in value, to one of a hundred. His attention to other good works occasioned no discontinuance of this design, the success of which was so much the object of his desires; and accordingly benefactions came in so fast, that he had business enough upon his hands to form the libraries, desired. As trie furnishing the parochial clergy with the means of instruction, would be an effectual method to promote Christian knowledge, so another expedient, manifestly subservient to the same end, would be, he thought, to imprint on the minds of those who are designed for the ministry, previously to their admission, a just sense of its various duties, and their great importance. With a view to this, he reprinted the “Ecclesiastes of Erasmus.” In the year 1727, | an acquaintance of Dr. Bray’s made a casual visit to Whitechapel prison; and his representation of the miserable state of the prisoners had such an effect on the doctor, that he immediately applied himself to solicit benefactions in order to relieve them; and he had soon contributions sufficient to provide a quantity of bread, beef, and broth, on Sundays, and now and then on the intermediate days, for this prison and the Borough compter. To temporal, he always subjoined spiritual, provisions; and to enure them to the most distasteful part of their office, the intended missionaries were here employed in reading and preaching. On this occasion that scene of inhumanity was imperfectly discovered, which afterwards some worthy patriots of the house of commons took so much pains to inquire into and redress. Being now far advanced in years, and continually reminded of his approaching change, by the imbecility and decays of old age, he was desirous of enlarging the number of his associates, and adding such to them, ^in whose zeal and integrity he might repose an entire confidence. His inquiry into the state of the gaols, made him acquainted with Mr. (afterwards general) Oglethorpe, who accepted the trust himself, and engaged several others, some of the first rank and distinction, to act with him and the former associates. In short, most of the religious societies and good designs in London, owe grateful acknowledgment to his memory, and are, in a great measure, formed on the plans he projected; particularly the society for the reformation of manners, charity schools, and the society for the relief of poor proselytes, &c. The doctor having thus happily lodged his principal designs in the hands of able managers, departed this life February 15, 1730, in the seventy-third year of his age, leaving issue a son and daughter.

Besides the works above mentioned, the accurate editor of the new edition of his life, informs us that he printed “Proposals for the encouragement and promoting of religion and learning in the foreign plantations,” in a folio sheet with the addition of “The present state of Maryland.1

1

Public spirit illustrated in the Life and Designs of the Rev. T. Bray, D. D.” 8vo, 1746, of which a much improved edition was published by the Rev. H. J. Todd, 8vo. 1808.