Guillaume Thomas Francois Raynal
"We have it in our power to begin the world over again."
Thomas Paine, "Common Sense"
The information presented in this post is taken from the following sources:
Bockstruck, Lloyd DeWitt. Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants: Awarded by State Governments, ( Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., 1996.)
Clark Murtie Jane. Loyalists in the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War: Volume III, (Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1981.)
Coram, Robert. "Political Inquiries, to Which is Added a Plan for the Establishment of Schools Throughout the United States", in Online Library of Liberty: American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, Vol. 2, generated September 2011.)
Cotlar, Seth. "'Every Man Should Have Property': Robert Coram and the American Revolution's Legacy of Economic Populism", in Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation, edited by Alfred F. Young, Gary B. Nash, and Ray Raphael, (Alfred A, Knopf, New York, 2011.)
Hendrix, GeLee Corley and Morn McKoy Lindsey, compilers. The Jury Lists of South Carolina, 1778-1779, (Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., 1980.)
Holcomb, Brent H. South Carolina's State Grants - Volume One: Grant Books 1 Through 6, 1784-1790, (South Carolina Magazine of Ancestral Research, 2013.)
Lewis, James A. Neptune's Militia: The Frigate South Carolina During the American Revolution, (The Kent State University Press, 1999.)
Moss, Bobby Gilmer. Roster of South Carolina Patriots in the American Revolution, (Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1983.)
Morison, Samuel Eliot. John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography, (Little, Brown and Company, 1959.)
Pizzigati, Sam. "This July 4 Let's Hail a Patriot Not Yet in the Pantheon: Robert Coram", (Too Much!: A Commentary on Excess and Inequality, a project of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, DC, June 30, 2011.)
Revill, Janie. Copy of the Original Index Book - Showing the Revolutionary Claims Filed in South Carolina Between August 20, 1783 and August 31, 1786, (Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., 1969.)
"Saratoga". "Find a Grave Memorial - entry for Francis Coram (1758-1815), (www.findagravememorial.com, record added September 23, 2014.)
"Saratoga". "Find a Grave Memorial - entry for Thomas Coram (1757-1811), (www.findagravememorial.com, record added: September 23, 2014.)
Walsh, John Evangelist. Night on Fire: The First Complete Account of John Paul Jones's Greatest Battle, (McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1978.)
Letter, To Benjamin Franklin from Officers of the American Squadron: Affidavit, [30 October 1779], (Founders Online, National Archives, last updated: November 2, 2015.)
Letter, To Thomas Jefferson from Robert Coram, 5 March 1791, (Founders Online, National Archives, last updated: September 29, 2015.)
Pension Application of John Mayrant S32390
For around the last month, the writer of this blog has focused on other ships-of-war that were in some manner connected with the frigate South Carolina. First, there was the post concerning the brief histories and ultimate fates of the three British Royal Navy men-of-war that actually captured the frigate and most of her convoyed ships just off the Capes of the Delaware between December 20-21, 1782. This particular post was most rewarding for the writer of this blog due to the amount of published information there is concerning these men-of-war, even down to the short biographies there are on the men who actually built those men-of-war and where they constructed these specific ships. The next post addressed the three patriot privateer ships-of-war that were under escort by the frigate South Carolina, two of which were captured with a single ship-of-war escaping to bear the tale of the capture of the frigate South Carolina to her next port of call. There is less information on these vessels, most probably because they were privateers and thus privately owned vessels rather than official state ships like the three British Royal Navy men-of-war.
These posts all provided additional information applicable to the story of the frigate South Carolina and thus all belong here within this blog. But, the writer of this blog feels it is time to return to a post concerning living, breathing contributors to the history of the great frigate which is the focal subject of this blog. This specific man's contributions were an integral part of the final hours of the frigate South Carolina on December 20-21, 1782 in that he was an officer on board the frigate for not just one but, both cruises of the frigate South Carolina. But, his contributions did not cease with his capture on board the frigate that blustery December 21, 1782. Rather, these contributions extended far beyond the actual cessation of hostilities between Great Britain and the newly independent United States into the formation of the new way of life being created in this new country. This man was Robert Coram, a naval lieutenant on board the frigate South Carolina.
Like many of the residents of the colonies Robert Coram was the child of immigrants. But, also, unlike some of these same residents of the colonies, he was an immigrant himself, though so young that more than likely he was too young to remember the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean to his new home across the sea. According to Cotler's article, "Every Man Should Have Property:...", page 340, "...his parents, John and Ann Coram, had emigrated from Bristol, England, in 1765, bringing with them their seven young children, including four-year-old Robert.". Given this information concerning the Coram family, and specifically on Robert Coram's age in 1765, it would seem to indicate that Robert Coram was born at some point in 1761.
Since the beginning of the introduction of non-indigenous groups of people into North America, people have come for a variety of reasons. Some came for various different religious reasons. Others acme for a distant promise of owning the land that they worked. Not a few came to avoid prosecution by the law. According to Cotler's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 340:
"...John Coram was one of many immigrants to Charleston - a city on the eve of Revolution where nearly half the twelve thousands inhabitants were slaves - who sought to take advantage of South Carolina's booming economy built around the exportation of slave-produced goods and the importation of luxury items for the enjoyment of an increasingly confident planter elite.".
John Coram was one of those immigrants that came for the promise of economic gain and real profit that would lead to a potential climb in the eyes of the elite and well-established members of that society. He envisioned a niche that he could immediately fill and would soon see an increase in the family's status within the upper echelons of Charleston society. Initially, this worked for John Coram and according to Cotler's article, "Every Man Should Have Property..."page 340, "...for a short while John Coram occupied a comfortable niche within Charleston's middling ranks, forming partnerships with a few of the city's established merchants and setting up a popular store that offered imported consumer goods.".
But, as Cotlar's article, page 341, also points out, the affairs of the Coram family began to change for the worse in the first few years of the 1770s. According to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 341:
"Ann Coram died in 1770 and her young daughter followed in 1773. At the time of his wife's death, John Coram had decided to test the waters of the lucrative but risky slave trade, importing and selling nine Africans. For reasons that are not clear, these slaves were eventually seized by the government authorities, and Coram was unable to recover his substantial investment in the venture. In 1775 John tried to make a fresh start when he opened a small secondhand-goods store and took on extra work as a justice of the peace. But, as the colonies moved toward declaring independence, he was forced to acknowledge that his personal pursuit of happiness and economic independence in the new world had come up short.".
But, John Coram seemed, at least to his fellow Charlestonians, to at first support the legal and social changes and activities of the patriots within South Carolinian society and their efforts to throw off Royal control of their economy. According to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 342:
"...in 1769, when Robert was only eight, his father was among those merchants who circulated petitions in support of Charleston's non-importation agreements. As late as 1776 John served as a justice of the peace in Charleston, suggesting that he was not actively opposed to the patriots who had taken control of the city's governance. Perhaps John cooperated with the patriot movement for self-interested reasons, to allay suspicions that his neighbors may have harbored about the allegiance of this English emigre...".
John Coram, male head of the Coram household, seemed to follow the patriot path for the first few years of the American Revolution but, then his attitude began to change, it would seem. Again, according to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 342, "... the turning point for both John and Robert [Coram] came in the summer of 1778. Whatever ardor John may have felt for the patriot cause, it cooled, for that summer he refused to take an oath to the new South Carolina government, fled North America, and filed a Loyalist claim with the British.".
(Note: According to Hendrix and Lindsey's work, The Jury Lists of South Carolina, 1778-1779, page 10, John Coram's name appears on a petit jury list for the Parish of St. Philip and St. Michael. So, even as late as the same year he fled the colony of South Carolina and filed for a loyalists claim from the Crown of Great Britain, John Coram was still active in local South Carolina legal and political processes. On the very next page of this same jury lists, page 11, appears the names of Alexander Gillon and Christopher Gadsden. The presence of these two names alone meant that John Coram was moving in a more privileged part of society, as had been his intent from the beginning of his family's presence in South Carolina. So, it is conceivable that Alexander Gillon may well have known and was acquainted with the Coram family and knew of the patriot standing and opinions of the young Robert Coram. This foreknowledge of the quality of Robert Coram could have contributed to Commodore Alexander Gillon extending an offer and commission to the younger Coram to be a part of the drama that unfolded across the Atlantic Ocean and ultimately led Robert Coram to be on the decks of the frigate South Carolina.)
So, John Coram passed from the small scene of the overall Coram family action into obscurity. According to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 342, there is no historical, written evidence that Robert Coram either re-established contact with his father or maintained any type of communication with him at any point in the future after his father's flight from North America in the summer of 1778. John Coram's plight must have been lived out by many, many immigrants to America in the years just prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution. The hopes of advancement and possible unspoken or undocumented dreams of prosperity were frequently dashed just as the new society begins to show definite signs of disaffection and unrest, leading to a break with the mother country. The immigrant saw their hopes foiled by economic episodes of failure and disappointment as they watched their newly-adopted society begin to protest against the society that cradled that same immigrant. No matter how difficult their lives had been in "the old country", their allegiance most probably still lay there. Also, since childhood, that same immigrant had probably heard stories of the most forceful manner in which their homeland had dealt with rebels and dissenters. This immigrant knew and, to a degree, feared the powerful government and the unflinching manner in which she dealt out death to traitors to her laws and standards of conduct. It was a very small step to decide that one's true allegiance lay with the familiar hearth and home and civil, obedient behavior rather than with the grave uncertainty of rebellion against an established government that carried the final sentence of brutal death for all traitors who failed in their attempts to break away. John Coram might have seen these same features developing in Charleston's society and made the safe choice - flight from uncertainty, danger and treasonous activity and back to the familiar and stable government of his recent past, there to file a claim for lost or confiscated property, taken from a subject still loyal to the Crown.
In all truthfulness, as so well illustrated in Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", pages 340-342, we have no record of the thoughts and inner feelings of John Coram as he passed through these turbulent times of personal loss with the early death of his wife and young daughter, financial loss through confounded business prospects, and his possible confusion growing into estrangement concerning the rebellious path taken by the fellow countrymen of his adopted homeland. Whatever the courses these thoughts and feelings took, John Coram made his ultimate choice some time in the summer of 1778 and left the colonies for English Crown shelter.
(Note: Long after the departure of John Coram from the shores of North America, his legacy still remained. According to Clark's work, Loyalists in the Southern Campaign, page 430, on May 30, 1788, the South Carolina Auditor General's office submitted a report to the Committee of Finance concerning "Persons Whose Estates Remain Under Confiscation". The list that constitutes this report contains one hundred and forty-four names of loyalists who had their property confiscated by patriot officials during the American Revolution and sold at public auction. The list cites individuals alphabetically by last name. The name "John Coram" appears towards the middle of the first column of names.)
This background information brings us to the focal individual of this specific post - Robert Coram. John Coram was more than just concerned with his personal advancement in the economic community of Charleston, SC. He was also very devoted to the education of his children. According Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 341:
"...despite the difficulties he experienced in his business dealings, John seems to have succeeded in providing a good education for his children. Of the three Coram descendants who left a trace in the historical record, all took up careers that required a facility with the pen. Francis Coram worked as a scrivener in post-Revolutionary Charleston, and Thomas became a prominent engraver and artist in that same city. Robert, meanwhile, established himself as a teacher, author, and eventually a newspaper editor in Wilmington [DE].".
(Note: The above cited passage from Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 341, cites the name's of two of Robert Coram's brothers - Thomas and Francis Coram. But, this citation from Cotlar's article does not distinguish as to the age order of the three brothers. In fact, all that is known of Robert Coram is that he was around four years old when he was brought to South Carolina by his parents, John and Ann Coram, in 1765. Extrapolation from 1765 means that he was born at some point in time in 1761.The ordering of the three brother's names would seem to indicate that this might be the proper order from oldest to youngest. According to "Saratoga's" "Find a Grave Memorial" - entries for "Thomas Coram" and "Francis Coram" indicate that this is true. The entry for "Thomas Coram" cites that Thomas Coram was born in 1757 in Bristol, Bristol, England. He died in Charleston, SC on May 2. 1811. The entry states he was "...a veteran of the Revolutionary War. He came to America with his parents in 1763. He was a generous man to the widow and orphan.". The information given in the second and third sentences of the above brief entry match up with information given in Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", pages 340-341. The entry for "Francis Coram" cites that Francis Coram was born in 1758 in Brislington, Bristol, England. He died in Charleston, SC on October 20, 1815. There is no additional information associated with his entry in this source. Both of these men are buried in St. Philip's Church, West Cemetery in Charleston, SC.
But, there is indeed further information on both of these men. According to Moss's work, South Carolina Patriots, page 201, the following information is given concerning these three Coram brothers:
Francis Coram - he served in the militia and was at the fall of Charleston. Yearbook, 1897.
Thomas Coram - he served as an engraver making money. C.S.; A.A.14731/2A; Q55.
Robert Coran - he served as a lieutenant aboard the frigate South Carolina. S.C.H.&G., VII, 218.
So, these three brothers, not just Robert Coram, did service for the patriot Cause during the American Revolution. It is completely possible that Francis Coram might have been captured at the fall of Charleston and been one of the multitude of militiamen who were pardoned home after the capitulation of the besieged city. Thomas Coram's services seem to have been in the civilian sector but, were vital to the patriot Cause, nonetheless. Robert's services are part of the focus of this specific post and will be reserved for detailed examination below. This one of the very few instances in which Robert Coram's last name is spelled as "Coran". Spelling was rather fluid in the 18th century and these types of "misspellings" were quite common. This specific misspelling will lend weight to another possible misspelling and its asociated topic introduced later in this same post.
These two men were almost certainly the older brothers of Robert Coram. Their birth dates, their burial places, their places of origin and the facts of their immigration to America all match with the known facts of Robert Coram and his parents. Thus, both of these men - Thomas Coram and Francis Coram - were older brothers of Robert Coram. When they immigrated with their parents and the remainder of their siblings to America in 1765, Thomas was eight years old, Francis was seven years old, and Robert was four years old as stated already. But, they came over with their other four siblings and there is no indication as to the proper age order of these siblings and where in the order the three men fell. Only further research might elucidate this issue.)
That young Robert Coram's life was changed by the flight of his father, John Coram, from the colonies, there is no doubt. According to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 342:
"...within weeks of his father's departure, seventeen-year-old Robert had signed on a a petty naval officer with Alexander Gillon, a wealthy merchant and slaveholder who had come late to the patriot movement but quickly earned the trust and support of the city's radical white artisans. While many of South Carolina's wealthiest men moved cautiously toward war in 1775-1776 and worried that lesser men would challenge their power, Gillon seized the opportunity to establish his populist credentials.".
The text of Cotlar's article prior to this entry cited above indicates that Robert Coram's feelings and attitudes lay with the patriot Cause. But, even these facets of his education had older roots in his life due to the emphasis that his parents had placed on education in their children's lives. Again, according to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 341:
"Aside from paying to educate their sons, John and Ann Coram also instilled in them a profound belief in the broader importance of education. In the early 1800s Francis helped lead a movement to build institutions of higher education in South Carolina, while Thomas was a generous benefactor of Charleston's home for orphaned children.".
But, it seems that the similarities between the educations of the different brothers ended here. Robert, it would seem, was destined to take a quite separate path from at least his older two brothers. Again, Cotlar's article, page 341:
"Despite these similarities, the fact that Francis and Thomas stayed behind in Charleston after the war and accommodated themselves to that planter-dominated slave society indicates that they did not share the radically egalitarian politics that underlay their brother Robert's ideas about education. Indeed, given what we know about the nature of private education in pre-Revolutionary Charleston, Robert's schooling was designed primarily to provide him with the social graces necessary to ensure his integration into the city's elite circles. If it was in Charleston that Robert learned the intellectual independence and political assertiveness that marked the rest of his life, then he acquired those habits of mind outside the hours of instruction funded by his parents.".
Despite all the academic education Robert Coram had received by this point in time, his real world education was about to begin with his signing on as a midshipman - "...a petty naval officer..."- with Alexander Gillon, the newly appointed Commodore of the South Carolina Navy. According to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 342, there may have been at least a couple of reasons for young Robert Coram seeking out what would become an incredible adventure for him. The article states that:
"Why Coram cast his lot with Gillon in 1778 is not known. He may have become acquainted with Gillon by participating in the heady street politics of 1776-78. Or perhaps he wanted to send a message to his Loyalist father by heading off on a dangerous adventure on behalf of the patriot cause. Since there is no evidence that Robert ever reestablished contact with his father after their parting in 1778, political differences likely inspired young Robert to declare his own independence from his family and pursue unknown adventures in the Revolutionary Atlantic.".
For whatever reason Robert chose the path that he selected, he would choose to remain with Gillon for the duration of not only the first, maiden cruise of the frigate South Carolina from the Texel, Holland across the Atlantic Ocean ultimately to Philadelphia, PA but, also the final, brief cruise ending in the capture of the frigate by the three British Royal Navy men-of-war off the Capes of the Delaware on December 21, 1782. This type of dedication on "...behalf of the patriot cause..." seems to make light of the implication that Robert Coram desired to send a message to his departed loyalist father. Rather, it borders on a devotion to the essence of the revolutionary tenets expressed in the Declaration of Independence, especially in light of his course taken later in his life once the American Revolution had ended. In this sense, Robert Coram may stand alone among the crew and marines of the frigate South Carolina. He heard the stirring words of the Declaration of Independence and sincerely believed that they were applicable to all the men, and women, who also stood for those same stirring words and believed them, too.
In the heady days that followed the commencement of armed uprising against Great Britain, a number of the colonies realized that they needed naval protection for their exposed coastlines. In fact, all the colonies possessed coastlines but, only certain ones felt that they had the capabilities and resources to defend those coastlines. One of these colonies was South Carolina. After careful political debate and consideration, a decision was reached and actions were taken to defend South Carolina properly. According to Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 15:
"...while armed privateers and spur-of-the-moment arrangements might handle many maritime threats, only large warships permanently stationed in Charleston could provide the comprehensive security that South Carolina's trade and population required. As a result, the state sent a large and distinguished delegation to Europe to acquire the necessary ships - three frigates being the original objective. Thinking along the same lines as the Continental Congress about naval necessities, state leaders considered frigates just the right size of warship for South Carolina's needs. Fast, versatile, and mobile, they could be used for a variety of duties, from escorting convoys to sweeping the coast free of enemy privateers and raiders. They were also, of course, the cheapest of the large warships to acquire and maintain.".
Alexander Gillon was given the rank of Commodore of the South Carolina Navy and headed the delegation form the colony that proceeded to Europe, France more specifically. According to Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 15, "...there were three captains, John Joyner, William Robertson, and John McQueen, obviously one for each of the anticipated frigates... there was also a cadre of lesser officers, midshipmen, and aides - just how many is unclear, but Gillon mentioned an entourage of thirteen men shortly after arrival in Europe.". In the footnote section of Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 177 n. 13, Lewis states that, "... it is difficult at this juncture to be certain who the thirteen were. However, the following names are associated with Gillon early in France:... The first eleven appear in the Commodore's Ledger during a stop in Havana...". On both of these lists the name of Robert Coram appears. So, midshipman Robert Coram traveled to Havana, Cuba with Commodore Gillon and his entourage and experienced the wonder and alien world of a truly foreign port city of another colonial power of the New World. The majority of the entourage, including Robert Coram, would continue on to France on board the French privateer ship-of-war Gustavus. Commodore Gillon and a few others would travel to Nantes, France on board the Spanish packet ship Gaston. According to Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 17, there was more than likely a very good reason for switching ships in Havana from an American to a Spanish ship: "While Gillon diplomatically excused his visit to Havana as one forced by the hazards of sailing and weather, in fact he had good reason to put into this great Spanish naval base. If Gillon could switch ships in Havana and finish his trip under a Spanish flag, his voyage to Europe would most assuredly be safer.".
In France, Robert Coram must have had a frustrating time of military inactivity waiting for Commodore Gillon to negotiate with the French for a ship-of-war. According to Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, he traveled across France, Holland and Germany - all of these countries spoke languages in which Gillon was fluent - seeking funding, support, supplies, crewmen and marines and, most of all, a ship to take back to America and defend his adopted home state. According to Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 19:
"... in the course of all this travel, Gillon lost most of his entourage from South Carolina. Some returned home, and a number signed on temporarily with other American sea captains working out of France (particularly [John Paul] Jones); only a few stuck with Gillon throughout his frantic and so far generally unsuccessful efforts. The Commodore certainly approved most of this desertion since he could not possibly pay for everyone's upkeep without ships to command.".
Many did depart the Commodore's entourage during this time of searching the continent of Europe for available ships-of-war for the South Carolina patriot Cause. For instance, John McQueen and William Robertson most likely left Gillon because they became aware that their presence as commanding officers was no longer necessary for the dwindling number of ships-of-war that Gillon was most likely to procure from the French. Others possibly left out of boredom or inactivity. Robert Coram remained with Commodore Alexander Gillon, though after a brief voyage with Captain John Paul Jones. This voyage would provide Midshipman Robert Coram with his first baptism of fire under unique combat conditions - the most famous ship-on-ship combat of the American Revolution between the frigate Bon Homme Richard and the HMS Serapis.
It is not recorded when exactly the delegation of South Carolinians, among which was Robert Coram, reached France. According to Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 18, Gillon's smaller entourage reached Brest, France by mid-January 1779. Now began Gillon's attempts at gaining his objective - assembling a fleet of frigates for the service of South Carolina. And, now began the period of "hurry up and wait" for the rest of the South Carolinian entourage. According to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 343, after the passage of six months in both Nantes and Paris, Robert Coram and others heard of Captain John Paul Jones assembling a flotilla of ships-of-war for a foray against the British shipping around the British Isles. Jones was looking for men to crew these ships-of-war and was in France at the time. According to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 343, at this point, "....Coram tracked down Benjamin Franklin in Passy on May 9, 1779, and secured a letter of recommendation addressed to Captain Jones. A month later Coram signed up as an unpaid midshipman in the Bonhomme Richard.".
Robert Coram had sailed with Commodore Gillon to France with a desire to assist his country gain its true independence. He initially found himself inactive in France under the command of Commodore Gillon but, it was under the subsequent command of Captain John Paul Jones that he would first see combat. Again, according to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 343:
"...he [Coram] sailed on two missions [under John Paul Jones] that summer, and in the last one he commanded the mizzentop in the battle against the [HMS] Serapis, one of the most bloody and dramatic engagements of Jones's illustrious career. Young Coram apparently acquitted himself well, for Jones later commended him as "a brave, steady officer" who "behaved gallantly from the beginning to the end of the action.".
The squadron of ships-of-war that Captain John Paul Jones assembled that summer in France was an impressive one and, for the targeted British shipping, a particularly deadly one. According to Morison's work, John Paul Jones, page 187-191, the squadron consisted of five ships-of-war and were as follows:
Bon Homme Richard - a converted French East India merchant ship, Le Duc de Duras, that "...mounted 6 nine-pounders on the forecastle and quarterdeck, 16 new and 12 old twelve-pounders on the covered gun deck as main battery, and the 6 old eighteen-pounders mounted a la Sainte-Barbe, i.e., in the gunroom, the junior officers' messroom under the after part of the gun deck.".
Alliance - a new American-built frigate "...with as many twelve-pounders as Richard, and two more nine-pounders, was the strongest ship placed under Paul Jones's command...". "She was under the command of a strange, half-mad Frenchman named Pierre Landais, who was destined to be a greater enemy that the British to Paul Jones...".
Pallas - a French Navy frigate "...armed with 26 nine-pounders, commanded by Capitaine de Brulot Cottineau de Kerloguen. She was "...built as a privateer in 1778..." and "...proved to be the most loyal and valuable addition to Jones's task force.".
Vengeance - a brig commanded by Lieutenant de Vaisseau Ricot and "...armed lightly with a dozen four-pounders...".
Le Cerf - "....a smart, fast King's cutter captured from the British..." and commanded by Ensigne de Vaisseau Varage and "...armed with 2 eight-pounders and 16 six-pounders.".
This was the squadron that began to assemble in L'Orient, France in November 1778 under Captain John Paul Jones. Their specific task would be to interdict British shipping around the British Isles. It was to this assembling squadron that many American sailors currently in France, recently-released maritime American prisoners-of-war, and junior American officers were attracted and that this assembling squadron would be under the command of an aggressive American naval officer. But, for the junior officers of the frigate South Carolina, a cruise under Captain John Paul Jones promised action, adventure and possibly personal glory and monetary gain through prize money. Thus, several of them, with Commodore Gillon's permission, signed on with Jones, including Midshipman Robert Coram.
Captain John Paul Jones conducted two cruises in the area of the British Isles. Evidently, the first cruise was rather uneventful for Midshipman Robert Coram because he is not mentioned during this specific cruise. But, this was not the case during the second cruise. The events of the night of September 23, 1779, just off of Flamborough Head, England slightly north of the mouth of the Humber River, have been recorded in many books of naval history over a number of years. According to Morison's work, John Paul Jones, page 229, Midshipman Robert Coram had command of the mizzen mast top and the nine men located there. The mizzen mast top on a frigate was the platform at the top of the mizzen mast, which was the rear most of the three masts on a frigate, being located immediately aft (behind) the main mast. Usually, the mizzen mast of a frigate is the shortest of the three masts, being shorter than the fore mast. Traditionally, these platforms are what was referred to as the "fighting tops". These platforms were constructed in order for a number of armed men to gather there and fire down or hurl grenades onto the deck of an enemy vessel.
During the engagement with HMS Serapis, the Alliance moved into a firing position, only to also fire into the Bon Homme Richard. After this incident, according to Walsh's work, Night on Fire, page 76-77:
"...[John Paul] Jones, anticipating that Landais would next cross his bow, sent Midshipmen [John] Linthwaite and [Robert] Coram rushing to the forecastle with speaking trumpets. As the Alliance, a few minutes later, began bearing down, both officers shouted that captain Jones's orders were to cease firing and to go alongside of the enemy, prepared for boarding. Coram requested confirmation that the orders had been heard and understood, and he thought he heard a faint 'aye, aye' float back in answer. But as the dark shadow of the frigate swept past from left to right, her broadside once again thundered out, the shot slicing as before into both ships.".
The broadside indicated here killed or wounded most of the boarding party that had assembled itself on the forecastle. The injured and killed were French troops of the Regiment Dillon, a regiment composed of men of Irish extraction who served with the French army - the "Wild Geese" of Ireland. The shock of the forecastle being hit by the broadside from the Alliance caused the remaining, unscathed members of the boarding party to scatter from the forecastle. According to Walsh's work, Night on Fire, page 77, Jones ordered Linthwaite and Coram to form up the boarding party again as quickly as possible in preparation for boarding the HMS Serapis before the Alliance could make another pass at the embattled, entangled ships and possibly do further damage to both of them yet a third time. For his conduct under fire during this hellish engagement, Robert Coram, along with others, would earn the verbal accolades of his commanding officer, John Paul Jones. According to Walsh's work, Night on Fire, page 142, "...Jones later wrote that [he] proved efficient and brave, and [his] conduct in battle did [him] 'great honor'.". When John Paul Jones's new ship, the former HMS Serapis, docked in the Texel, Holland, after the engagement of September 23, 1779, Midshipman Robert Coram was summoned back to the frigate South Carolina by Commodore Alexander Gillon. He left the former HMS Serapis and the service of John Paul Jones with dignity, honor accrued to his name, and evidently not a scratch for having endured the most fierce ship-on-ship engagement of the American Revolution. He returned to the service of the frigate South Carolina and Commodore Alexander Gillon a combat-seasoned officer. Commodore Gillon must have been very grateful for the experience his younger officers gained in their service under John Paul Jones. But, at the same time, he may have also been very thankful for their safe return to the service of the frigate South Carolina. For Midshipman Robert Coram, his real world experiences were about to begin as he would journey across the Atlantic Ocean in the service of the state of South Carolina.
The voyage of the frigate South Carolina from the Texel, Holland, beginning on August 4, 1781 to, ultimately, Philadelphia, PA, concluding on May 29, 1782, have been mostly covered in other posts within this overall blog. These blogs are numerous and to avoid confusion to the readership, these will only be referred to in this portion of this post rather than being cited by title and date. Robert Coram would have been present for all of these and their related experiences. He would have been present for the inaugural setting out to sea from the Texel, Holland. He would have witnessed the capture of the first, unnamed prize off the coast of Berwick-upon-Tweed, England. Once the frigate had docked in Corunna, Spain, he would have been privy to the angry departure from the frigate South Carolina of several of the "passengers" who had disagreed with Commodore Gillon. In Tenerife, the Canary Islands, he would have been aware that "troublesome" crew members and mariens were being left behind in the care of the Spanish military hospital. He would have also known that they were now moving into the deep ocean for the actual crossing of the Atlantic to America. He, too, would have experienced some degree of disappointment, as did Commodore Gillon and others on board the frigate South Carolina, as they entered the harbor of Charleston, SC only to realize that British flags were still flying over the city, indicating that the British had not yet withdrawn. He might have been part of a possible council-of-war afterwards to determine where the frigate should head for next to resupply and re-victual. The sources are silent on the choice Robert Coram may have proposed but, in any case, he would have also been present when the frigate South Carolina entered Havana, Cuba's harbor and sailed right into a Spanish invasion effort directed against the British-held Bahamas Islands. He would have held an important command position as the ship defiantly sailed into the harbor of New Providence, Bahamas Islands and anchored there so that her guns threatened the main fortress guarding the harbor. He would have been present as the negotiations to surrender the islands developed and began to slowly turn more in favor of the Spanish and against Commodore Gillon's wishes. After Commodore Gillon's decision to depart from the Spanish realms, Robert Coram may have been a part of another council-of-war attempting to determine where the frigate should go next. The decision arrived at would lead the frigate South Carolina to the "City of Brotherly Love" - Philadelphia, PA. There he would have remained with the frigate but, watched as so many others, crew members as well as the "Voluntaires du Luxembourg" enmasse, left the service of the frigate and the state of South Carolina. As a remaining officer, Robert Coram would certainly have been privy to the efforts at recruiting more crew members and marines to fill out the crew's compliment. He might have caught wind of the financial situation that began to develop around the Commodore Gillon and his unfulfilled agreement with the Chevalier du Luxembourg. These considerations and subsequent litigious accusations would have culminated in the decision of Commodore Gillon to depart Philadelphia, PA and the frigate South Carolina in mid-November 1782. Robert Coram did not have his attitude recorded concerning John Joyner as the replacement for Commodore Gillon. But, since John Joyner was a distinguished veteran of service to South Carolina, Robert Coram would most likely have followed his commanding officer's directives and transferred his allegiance to Captain Joyner.
When the frigate South Carolina slipped her moorings at Philadelphia, PA early in December 1782 and began to drop down the Delaware River, Robert Coram was still on board and still serving his adopted state of South Carolina. According to Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 85, "...with the exception of the frigate's officers, nearly everyone who had shipped on the frigate in Europe had left upon arrival in Philadelphia.". That the first phrase of this statement included Robert Coram can be discerned from the pension application of a fellow officer not only from the frigate South Carolina but, from earlier service on board the frigate Bon Homme Richard under Captain John Paul Jones. This officer was John Mayrant who, like Robert Coram, had been with Commodore Alexander Gillon from early on but, not quite as long as Robert Coram, who actually journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean with Commodore Gillon. According to the pension application of John Mayrant, "Pension Application of John Mayrant S32390", ".. when the Frigate was at Philadelphia just before the capture.... Robert Coram [was] the 5th [Lieutenant].".
As 5th Lieutenant on board of the frigate South Carolina, Robert Coram would have been actively involved in the desperate defense against and flight from the three British Royal Navy men-of-war that were lying in ambush just outside the Capes of the Delaware on December 20, 1782. The chase is recorded as taking almost 20 hours with the frigate South Carolina exchanging fire and being fired upon for the final two hours of the pursuit. The details of the chase are cited in Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 93-95, and prove out the desperate nature of the plight of the crew and marines of the frigate while she was being pursued by an overwhelming force of Royal Navy warships. But, despite the efforts of the crew and marines of the frigate South Carolina, she, too, struck her colors after almost twenty hours of chase and two of combat. This combat consisted of an exchange of broadsides of which the frigate's broadsides were largely ineffective while the Royal Navy broadsides extracted about ten to twelve casualties, both wounding several and killing a few crewmen, on board the frigate South Carolina. According to Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 95, "...at 5:05 P.M., after a chase of nearly eighteen and a half hours, the frigate struck her flag.".
Robert Coram thus became a prisoner-of-war of the Royal Navy. His name does appear on the roster of prisoners-of-war who were taken on board HMS Astraea for transport to New York City harbor. A reference to the post entitled '"Bound for New York City, Pt. III" - Roster of Captive Americans on board the HMS Astraea - December 20, 1782 -" and dated "03/26/2015" finds his citation as "Robert Coram - 4th Lieutenant". There is some discrepancy as to the disposition of Robert Coram once he reached New York City harbor, though. According to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 343, "...Coram and his fellow prisoners of war were transported to New York City and locked beneath the decks of the notoriously foul-smelling and disease-ridden prison ships that claimed the lives of thousands of American soldiers. Coram's suffering was mercifully cut short, however, when he was freed by the armistice of April 1783.". Yet, according to the prisoner-of-war roster of HMS Astraea, Robert Coram was identified as a rebel officer and would thus have been paroled on Long Island until his exchange back to the patriot forces. Thus, he would have been free of incarceration in the notorious prison "hulks" moored in Wallabout Bay, NY which accounted for more deaths among patriot soldiers and sailors than all the battles of the American Revolution combined. Robert Coram's chances of survival would have been much superior to those of the enlisted men and NCOs of the frigate South Carolina who found themselves on board one of these prison "hulks", the most notorious of which was the Jersey. Yet, we know that Robert Coram did survive his incarceration with the British because his story continues after the cessation of hostilities between Great Britain and the United States of America.
After his release from British captivity at the end of the war, Robert Coram ostensibly returned to South Carolina. While he was there in Charleston, SC, he filed a claim with the state of South Carolina for his services as a naval officer during the American Revolution. According to Revill's work, Copy of the Original Index Book, page 385, on June 23, 1783, Robert Coram received an issued certificate for 425 pounds, 14 shillings, 6 pence sterling. In comparison to other lieutenants who served on board the frigate South Carolina, this is the standard amount of certificates issued to lieutenants on board the frigate. Also, according to Bockstruck's work, Revolutionary War Bounty land Grants, page 117, for his services as a lieutenant in the forces of South Carolina, he received 300 acres of bounty land on May 2, 1785. Further, according to Holcomb's work, South Carolina's State Grants, page 56, in the original Volume 2, page 211, the following citation appears:
"Bounty grant to Robert Coram (Lieutenant in the Navy), 300 acres in the District of Ninety Six, South of Saluda River, on a branch of Conoross called Goodland Creek, 2 May 1785.".
The date of the awarding of this bounty land grant to Robert Coram is verified by the correlation between these two separate documents - May 2, 1785. Both sources refer to him as a lieutenant with the second source specifically stating that he was in the Navy. But, the second source, the Holcomb work, South Carolina's Land Grants, specifies exactly the location of the awarded land grant. His land grant was located in western South Carolina as were so many of these land grants made after the American Revolution.
The writer of this blog does not know if it was required of an individual to actually reside in the state that issued the certificate and/or bounty land warrant at the time of the issuance of that certificate or land warrant. It is possible that it was required but, it is also possible that one did not have to actually reside within the borders of the issuing state. According to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 344, after he had returned to Charleston, SC, "...Robert spent the next four years casting about for the purpose that would define the next chapter of his life. For reasons we will probably never know, sometime between 1784 and 1787 he decided that his future lay not in Charleston but, in a small northern port that he had perhaps briefly passed through in 1782.".
That "...small northern port..." was Wilmington, DE. As indicated above, Robert Coram most probably moved at some point between 1784 and 1787. But, if he was required to remain in the state of South Carolina until his claims against the state issuing out of his Revolutionary War service in the South Carolina Navy were settled, then we can narrow this time span down to the summer of 1785 and 1787. He was young and single, so this move would have been easy to orchestrate. According to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property..." page 344:
"When an articulate, worldy, and idealistic young stranger named Robert Coram arrived in Wilmington, Delaware, all he had to his credit was the proceeds from the sale of his veteran's bounty (a three-hundred-acre tract of land in the South Carolina backcountry) and perhaps some remaining prize money from the South Carolina's successful exploits in the spring of 1782. Supporting himself by teaching school, he soon married a young woman from an old, though not particularly prominent, Wilmington family...".
The funds that Robert Coram would have had at his disposal at the time of his move to Wilmington, DE would have come from the sale of his land in western South Carolina, a sale made possibly to a land speculator rather than a land holder, but mostly from his certificate received from the state of South Carolina for his services as a lieutenant on board the frigate South Carolina. This money would not have come from "...some remaining prize money from the South Carolina's successful exploits in the spring of 1782...". The frigate South Carolina did not arrive Philadelphia, PA harbor until May 23, 1782 and never left the safety of the harbor. In fact, Commodore Alexander Gillon was embroiled in so much legal maneuvers and potential court proceedings during the time there in Philadelphia, PA that he eventually left the frigate so that it would have a chance to put to sea without him on board of it. In other words, the frigate South Carolina did not earn any "prize money" at all during "...the spring of 1782...". Thus, the funds that Robert Coram took with him to Wilmington, DE were funds due him as a result of his naval service as an officer on board the frigate South Carolina as well as any profit he saw from the sale of his bounty lands in western South Carolina.
Not much is known concerning the family life of Robert Coram after he moved to Wilmington, DE and married. According to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 351, his wife's first name was Rhoda. The same source and page number states that she never remarried following his death in late 1795 or early 1796, and she "...kept his memory alive for their four small children...". If Robert Coram moved to Wilmington, DE between 1784/5 and 1787, any children he would have had with his wife that he could have only married after that time frame would have been quite young indeed. Also, it is not known if Rhoda Coram was pregnant with the last child when Robert Coram had died. More than likely, all of the children had been born by the time Robert Coram died. This is all that is recorded in Cotlar's article concerning the family life of Robert Coram.
Robert Coram was about to launch out on his real mission - to effect the true impact of the American Revolution. Robert Coram had learned the hard, deadly lessons of the American Revolution in the heat of battle as well as having traveled an extensive part of the European continent at the same time. The young Robert Coram had actually experienced more of Europe than many of the "founding fathers" of the country he had just risked his life fighting for. His wide travels had exposed him to numerous conditions that had troubled him. Now, that he was back in the independent United States of America, he decided to do what he could to see these glaring "inequities" corrected. This was his vision of the American Revolution - effecting a true change in the lives of everyday Americans. For him, the American Revolution did not end on the battlefield with the cessation of hostilities. It truly needed to be carried into the lives of Americans on a daily basis. It needed to be a REAL revolution in the fullest sense of the word.
According to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 344, "... at some point in 1790 Robert decided to write a treatise that would both encapsulate what he had learned over the past decade and offer a utopian vision for the new nation's future.". But, in order to accomplish this self-appointed task - a task that would eventually become a driving force in his life and consume his energies for the rest of his natural life - Robert Coram came to a foundational realization. According to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 344, "...to accomplish this, he needed books, so he joined the Wilmington Library Company and offered to serve as the custodian of the group's collection of approximately eight hundred volumes. On May 26, 1790, he transported the entire library to his home.". Robert Coram was a voracious reader and read extensively for the next seven months on all kinds of subjects related to philosophy and the human condition. According to the same Cotlar article, page 344, "...in December 1790, having completed his self-appointed course of study and arrived at his own judgment of these materials, Coram stepped down from his post as librarian and carted the books to John Webster's apothecary shop.".
Robert Coram's association with the Wilmington Library Company as well as his mixing with the more literate members of Wilmington, DE society brought him into contact with people who not only could appreciate the writings and thought of Robert Coram but, also served as a stimulus for further thought on the topics that occupied his mind the most. His greatest topic dealt with the formation of a free and public education system in not only Delaware but, all across the new United States of America. Robert Coram felt that education should be of a very public nature rather than for an elite, select few who could afford it. By making it available to the public at large, an educational system would ultimately reach and impact more people, thus creating a society that more broadly benefited from the effects of education. Robert Coram begins his seminal, and only full length, work, "Political Inquiries, To Which is Added..., page 45, with a definition of "education" as he defined it within his work and which is as follows:
"...it will be necessary to define the word education, or at least what I mean by it. Education, then, means the instruction of the youth in certain rules of conduct by which they will be enabled to support themselves when they come of age and to know the obligations they are under to that society of which they constitute a part...".
Robert Coram's work, Political Inquiries, To Which is Added...", initially addresses why "...the aborigines of the American continent..." "...have fewer vices, are less subject to diseases, and are a happier people that the subjects of any government in the Eastern world [of Europe].". It was Robert Coram's main assertion that this condition arose due to their system of education that instilled in their members from a very early age that their society was the fundamental element of their existence and needed to be perpetuated by their conformity to a certain set of mores and rules, which form the definition of education. Coram saw vice within society as arising from "...the effect of bad government...". He goes on to elaborate that the simplicity of native society, controlled by the forces of nature and parental instruction, make for simpler, happier lives of the people and a relative freedom from vice as a direct result. Yet, Coram laments the condition of the "civilized man" of European society when he wrote:
"But the unfortunate civilized man, to obtain a livelihood, must be acquainted with some art or science, in which he is neither instructed by nature, by government, by his parents, or oftentimes by any means at all. He then is absolutely unable to procure himself subsistence without violating some law, and as to the obligations he is under to society, he knows indeed but very little if anything about them. In this state of the case, the situation of the civilized man is infinitely worse than that of the savage, nay, worse than that of brute creation, for the birds have nests, the foxes have holes, and all animals in their wild state have permanent means of subsistence, but the civilized man has nowhere to lay his head: he has neither habitation nor food, but forlorn and outcast, he perishes for want and starves in the midst of universal plenty.".
Coram's solution to this excruciating existence is the formation of a free and truly public system of education. He also felt that the newly independent United States of America was uniquely prepared implement this type of system. In fact, he identified two conditions for the continuation of republican government. According to Coram's work, Political Inquiries, To Which is Added, page 71:
"...two regulations are essential to the continuance of republican governments: 1. Such a distribution of lands and such principles of descent and alienation as shall give every citizen a power of acquiring what his industry merits. 2. Such a system of education as gives every citizen an opportunity of acquiring knowledge and fitting himself for places of trust. These are fundamental articles, the sine qua non of the existence of the American republics.".
"...in our American republics, where government is in the hands of the people, knowledge should be universally diffused by means of public schools. Of such consequence is it to society that the people who make laws should be well informed that I conceive no legislature can be justified in neglecting proper establishments for this purpose.".
Robert Coram's idea for the new United States of America was for public education to be free to the individual citizen, regardless of that person's station within society, and funded by the state governments. He envisioned this freely-distributed education as broadening the intellect of the average citizen to the level that they would either have sufficient skills to further their own lives and goals through seeking employment in some field of labor or they could, through business acumen, become small landowners in their own right. He strongly connected educated societies with a reduction of crime and poverty. According to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 347, "in a society where 90 percent of citizens earned their living from the soil, 'it is much to be wished that every citizen could possess a freehold'. Coram expected that this two-pronged solution [free public education and property owning] would create a nation of roughly equal and politically empowered citizens, thus building 'a foundation for laws which will totally eradicate from civilized man a very large portion of those vices which ... legislators...pretend to be natural to the human race'"." Coram even saw it as the responsibility of the government to provide the land if necessary, so that every man should have property of his own to care for and tend in order to provide for sustenance for himself and any family he had.
These two issues - free and public education and the government-guaranteed right to own land - formed the crux of Robert Coram's arguments for the emerging American society. But, there were other inequities that he had observed while overseas and was seeing these same inequities developing and blossoming here in the new United States of America. To Robert Coram, the most disturbing of these inequities was slavery. Delaware was indeed a slave-holding state and recognized the ability of an individual to own and hold slaves as one's own legal property. According to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 349:
"evidence also suggests that he [Coram] became involved with Wilmington's abolitionists, though the extent of his engagement is impossible to assess. All we know is that in 1792 he signed a petition calling for authorities to more vigorously pursue and prosecute people who kidnapped free blacks and sold them into slavery; and in January 1794 he traveled to a meeting of the Abolition Societies of the United States in Philadelphia as a delegate from the Wilmington society.".
It would appear that Robert Coram's sense of social injustice extended beyond the racial boundaries that so few new Americans even saw or actively acknowledged. Most likely, he had observed slavery overseas, possibly, on board the frigate South Carolina. There does exist evidence that Commodore Alexander Gillon may have had personal servants in the form of slaves on board the frigate as well as the mysterious individual cited as Lieutenant Nicholas Bartlett's "servant" cited in his claim against the state of South Carolina (in Wates's work, Stub Entries to Indents, Book C-F, page 131). It may well have been that Robert Coram saw this specific social inequity as part and parcel with the subjugation of the majority of "free" society by the small, elite class of landholders and power-wielders within that society.
Robert Coram's reputation never seemed to have suffered within Wilmington society for the radical nature of his writings. In fact, in the long run, these same writings seemed to have influenced others to select Robert Coram for a position in which he could potentially make a real difference. According to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 347:
"his [Robert Coram's] proudest moment came later that same month [September 1791] when more than sixteen hundred citizens in New Castle County voted him to serve in their ten-member delegation to Delaware's state constitutional convention. After spilling so much ink criticizing the laws that others had made, Coram finally got his chance to participate in the process himself.".
Unfortunately for Robert Coram, the participation in the political process in Delaware's state constitutional convention was not only disappointing but, proved out so many of the same situations that Robert Coram had addressed in his political writings. According to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 348:
"Soon after his arrival in Dover it became clear that he would spend most of his time working with a small coalition of democrats to resist a powerful majority comprised of wealthy, conservative delegates eager to preserve their long-standing control over Delaware's society and politics. While Coram's opponents sought to restrict suffrage and preserve the power of Delaware's governor and small senate, Coram countered by proposing universal suffrage and a unicameral legislature that would augment the power of Delaware's ordinary citizens.".
By and large, the democrats of Delaware had to concede their issues in the face of overwhelming opposition by the members of the more elite portion of Delaware's society. Robert Coram was both sobered and disillusioned by this obvious display of the abuse of power by the wealthy and politically powerful of Delaware. Others, at this same time all across the newly independent states were asking if this was the type of society they had fought for during the American Revolution. The remainder of Robert Coram's life would be characterized by advocating for the rights of the common man and woman of Delaware, both in his independent writings, newspaper editorials, and in the different societies that he helped organize and in which he participated.
All the sources examined and utilized in this post are silent concerning the death of Robert Coram. According to Cotlar's article, "Every Man Should Have Property...", page 351:
"By late December....Coram's voice vanished from the paper [the Delaware Gazette]. On December 29, 1795, Coram signed his name to an unusually large bundle of public documents. It appears that he was taking care of unfinished business, knowing that the sickness that had drawn him away from his editorial duties in November would likely end his life.
On March 11, 1796, one of the nation's most widely read democratic newspapers, The New-York Journal, printed an obituary that memorialized Coram as a 'great man (for such he certainly was)' whose 'writings have sometimes been contradicted, but never refuted.' His wife, Rhoda, who never remarried and listed Robert's name on her tombstone when she buried in the 1840s, kept his memory alive for their four small children.".
Thus, at some point in early 1796, probably in either January or February, Robert Coram departed this life and left his wife, Rhoda, to raise their small family and preserve his memory for them. If he was indeed born in 1761, at the time of his death, he was thirty-four years or thirty-five years old. His wife, as stated in the preceding paragraph, never remarried and perpetuated Robert Coram's name for the sake of her children. She would outlive Robert Coram by around forty-five years.
Robert Coram's life is the stuff of which legends are made. He had emigrated from Great Britain at a very early age, only to rebel against the original homeland and fight valiantly for the possibility of creating a better world for all who live in it. He was introduced into the wealthy society of Charleston, SC where he was the growing son of a middle-class merchant, only to reject it for the more-democratic society of Wilmington, DE where he struggled to make a living for himself and his family as a school teacher and newspaper editor. He traveled across the Atlantic Ocean with an influential merchant- turned state commodore, Alexander Gillon and therefore sailed on board the frigate South Carolina under his command. This frigate was the most heavily-gunned ship-of-war operated by any colony/state during the American Revolution and made its presence felt as it crossed the Atlantic Ocean, bound for the New World. Before the frigate departed for America, and with the Commodore's permission, Robert Coram signed on board the frigate Bon Homme Richard under John Paul Jones. On board this Continenatl Navy frigate, Robert Coram would distinguish himself in the hardest fought and most famous ship-to-ship combat of the American Revolution - between the Bon Homme Richard and the HMS Serapis. In this action, he would be singled out by John Paul Jones, the father of the American Navy, as a brave and courageous officer. Robert Coram would be present for all the related actions of the frigate South Carolina as she crossed the Atlantic Ocean, including the Spanish seizure of the British-held Bahamas Islands, the only seizure of foreign territory in which American forces took part. He would remain on board the frigate South Carolina and dedicated to the state of South Carolina as he watched so many others leave the ship at Philadelphia, PA. Ultimately, he would be on board on the fateful day of December 21, 1782 when the frigate struck her colors to three British men-of-war who had been lying in wait for her just off the Capes of the Delaware.
But, his life did not "settle down" with the establishment of peace at the signing of the definitive treaty between Great Britain and the newly independent United States of America. Instead, he turned his back on the "old ways" and held to the belief that the world was being made anew. He believed firmly in the rights and voice of the ordinary citizen of the United States in all matters addressing political and social life here in the states. He believed that these same rights that he and others had fought for were logically to be extended to all people of this new country - women, native peoples, African-Americans, recent immigrants. He also believed in the abolition of forced enslavement of others and worked to end this "peculiar institution" in American history, which only a larger scale and much more destructive war would decide in just over eighty years later. He was a progressive and a reformer, ahead of his time, to be sure. But, the real issue here is that he truly believed the words and deeds of the revolutionary generation to change the world for the better and for America to be a "city set on a hill" for all the world to see and emulate. He lived the American Revolution until his dying breath and dedicated his short life to making the world a better, more truly democratic place. So, in the spirit of Robert Coram, we should hazard the question - Is the American Revolution over or is there still work to be done? It may well be that the true answer lies with the later portion of the question.
(Note: In the Way of an Ironic Postscript - While investigating the collected information cited above concerning the Coram family in South Carolina, the writer of this blog did not encounter any other Coram's in South Carolina during the American Revolution. It has been confirmed that John Coram, the father of Robert Coram, eventually did not take an oath of allegiance to the rebellious government of South Carolina and fled the colony, ultimately filling a claim for losses as a loyalist. This would seem to be the end of the matter. But, subsequent research has located another possible relation to Robert Coram who might have taken the same path of loyalism.
According to Clark's work, Loyalists in the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War, Volume I, page 7, contains the pertinent information for Captain Faight Risinger's Company of the South Carolina Royalists. This was indeed a loyalist company that was evidently raised in the immediate area of Charleston, SC from populations whose sympathies still lay with the British Crown even after the Declaration of Independence. This information is presented in the form of a muster roll that is labelled "Savannah, GA, 1 December 1779". In reference to the date and location of this muster roll, this specific company of the South Carolina Royalists was more than likely at the siege of Savannah, GA and thus took part in the defense of the town against a large scale American-French assault. The climax of the assault came at the position known as the "Spring Hill Redoubt" which was defended by the South Carolina Royalists. The South Carolina Royalists were in the thick of the fighting, sustaining almost twenty killed and wounded.
As is usual, this muster roll begins with the captain of the company, Faight Risinger, and lists the members of the company from the sergeants, through the corporals, and ending with the privates. One citation on this roster reads as such:
10. Private Nicholas Corum
The material concerning John Coram states that he emigrated from Bristol, England with his wife, Ann, and seven children. Further study indicates that Robert Coram had two older brothers, Thomas and Francis, who also served in the patriot cause during the American Revolution. The last name of the individual cited above displays a slight misspelling when compared with that of Robert Coram's last name. These were very common in this time period, occasionally with the same person's name appearing with multiple spellings. A list of the names of the other siblings of Robert Coram has not been located by the writer of this blog. It could be completely possible that Robert Coram also had a brother, younger or older than he, who, like his father, decided to side with His Britannic Majesty, George III, and remained loyal to the point of enlisting with a loyalist corps of troops. The irony lies in the fact that Robert Coram was present for the epic sea battle between the Bon Homme Richard and HMS Serapis that took place on September 23, 1779 while his potential brother, Nicholas, was possibly present for the second bloodiest day of the American Revolution - the final assault on the Spring Hill Redoubt on October 10, 1779. These two separate actions took place less than three weeks apart chronologically but, on opposite sides of the world. This was the martial splendor as well as the human agony of the American Revolution - family members rising to the occasion and displaying valor in the crucial moment, on opposite sides of the conflict. That revolution which bound Americans together as a people and a country, split families irrevocably. This could be another case of that type of fracture. Such is war...)