He was born in Marton, near Chirbury, Shropshire, at a house today called Bray's Tenement (now owned by the nicholls family), on Marton Crest, in 1658. He was educated at Oswestry School and Oxford University, where he earned a B.A. degree with All Souls College and a M.A. with Hart Hall.
After leaving the university he was appointed vicar of Over Whitacre, and Rector of St Giles Church' Sheldon in Warwickshire, where he wrote his Catechetical Lectures. Henry Compton, Bishop of London, appointed him in 1696 as his commissary to organize the Church of England in Maryland, and he was in that colony in 1699–1700. He took a great interest in colonial missions, especially among the Native Americans, and it is to his efforts that the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (founded 1701), now known as USPG, owes its existence.
He also projected a successful scheme for establishing parish libraries in England and America, out of which grew the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (founded 1698). Bray envisioned a library for each parish in America:
To obtain books for these libraries, requests are to be made to the learned authors now living, to give copies of their books, and to others, especially merchants to the foreign plantations, to give money, of all of which there shall be a full account published.
These libraries were meant to encourage the spread of the Anglican church in Britain's colonies, and as such were primarily composed of theological works. It was a major endeavour, as at the time the only other public libraries in the American colonies were at a small number of universities. At the time of his death he had succeeded in establishing 80 such libraries in England and Wales and 39 in America.
From 1706 until his death in February 1730 he was rector of St Botolph's, Aldgate, London, where he engaged in further philanthropic and literary pursuits.
A memorial plaque was erected in 1901 in the parish church at Chirbury. He is also honoured with a feast day on the liturgical of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America on February 15.
- A Memorial Representing the Present State of Religion, on the Continent of North-America, by Thomas Bray
- Dickins, Gordon (1987). An Illustrated Literary Guide to Shropshire. Shropshire Libraries. pp. 9, 102. ISBN 0-903802-37-6.
- Steiner, Bernard (October 1896). "Rev. Thomas Bray and His American Libraries". American Historical Review 2 (1): 59–75. Retrieved March 20, 2013.
- Steiner, Bernard. "Rev. Thomas Bray and his American Libraries". The American Historical Review October 1896, pp 59-75.
- Houlette, W. D. (1934). Parish libraries and the work of the Reverend Thomas Bray. Library Quarterly, 4588-609.
- Laugher, C. T. (1973). Thomas Bray's grand design; libraries of the Church of England in America, 1695-1785, by Charles T. Laugher. Chicago, American Library Association, 1973.
- William D. Houlette. Parish Libraries and the Work of the Reverend Thomas Bray. The Library Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Oct., 1934), pp. 588–609
- Joseph Towne Wheeler, "Thomas Bray and the Maryland Parochial Libraries," Maryland Historical Magazine (1939): 246-65
- Samuel Clyde McCulloch. Dr. Thomas Bray's Trip to Maryland: A Study in Militant Anglican Humanitarianism. The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Jan., 1945), pp. 15–32
- Samuel Clyde McCulloch. Dr. Thomas Bray's Commissary Work in London, 1696-1699. The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 2, No. 4 (Oct., 1945), pp. 334–348
- Charlotte Fletcher. The Reverend Thomas Bray, M. Alexandre Vattemare, and Library Science. The Library Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Apr., 1957), pp. 95–99
- Verner W. Crane. Dr. Thomas Bray and the Charitable Colony Project, 1730. The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Jan., 1962), pp. 49–63
- David R. MacDonald The Transit of the Anglican Mind to the Maryland Colony: Thomas Bray & the Bray Libraries of Christ Church Durham Nanjemoy, Maryland 1696-1701 ISBN 978-1-929569-31-1 
- Thomas Bray papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.
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