Thomas Bray, an English clergyman and missionary, was a champion of literacy for priests and instrumental in founding the Church of England in Maryland.
Born in 1656 or 1658 in Shropshire, he attended Owesty School and Oxford. In his first clerical posting he penned one book of a four-volume series called Catechetical Lectures. The book sold well, and caught the attention of the Bishop of London, Henry Compton. Bishop Compton appointed him to organize the Church of England (CofE) In the colony of Maryland after Protestants had ousted the Catholic Lord Baltimore, and the British Crown had taken title to the colony. Though there were several CofE parishes already in the colony, there was no organization and not enough priests.
Bray set out for America in 1699, with two other priests. By the next year, he’d divided the county into 30 parishes and founded 17 parish libraries. Libraries were a passion with Bray. He bemoaned the lack of books available to clergy, fearing the effect on their ministries. Bray founded two Societies devoted to clergy education, the "Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge" and the "Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts". Both were quite successful.
Back in England, he was assigned as rector to the Church of St. Botolph’s, Aldgate, London. There he expanded his Catechetical Lectures and continued to found libraries, more than 80 in England and Wales. Eventually, there were more than 200 libraries in England and 100 in America because of his efforts. He is recognized for the first coordinated effort to establish libraries in the New World.
Thomas Bray died in 1730. He is buried at St. Botolph’s.