Nat Gould

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Thomas Hollis 1659-1731

Thomas Hollis
Born: 1659 London
Died: 1731 London
Thomas Hollis 1634-1718
Mary Whiting
Nathaniel Hollis
John Hollis 1666-1735
Hannah Legay married 1683

Thomas Hollis was born in 1659, the eldest son of Thomas Hollis and his wife nee Mary Whiting. The family were Baptists, living in the dissenting enclave of the Minories in London, running a cutlery and hardware business established by his grandfather John Ramsker, a Sheffield cutler.

In 1683 Thomas Hollis married Hannah Legay, daughter of Isaac Legay and his wife nee Katherine Williams. She died in 1724 (1). They had no children.

He adopted a son of his brother Nathaniel, "but not content to do thus much, very imperiously forced him into the trade - Mr. John Hollis objected to the young man, as an obstinate and awkward person, more likely to be troublesome than of any use ; which, indeed, proved to be the case." (2).

Despite family problems, the business prospered. Having become wealthy through its success, the interests of Thomas Hollis lay in wholesale charity rather than wholesale cutlery. Like their father Thomas Hollis 1634-1718 both brothers were benefactors of the Hollis Hospital in Sheffield, and governors of St Thomas’s Hospital in London. Like him, both made donations to Harvard College, the foremost place of learning in the American colonies.

The attention of Thomas Hollis had been drawn to Harvard by an uncle, who was himself a benefactor. "I have had many thoughts of showing some liberality to it ever since the death of my honoured uncle, Robert Thorner, who made me one of his trustees." (3).

However the benefaction by Thomas Hollis was to be on a far greater scale. In 1721 Thomas Hollis informed his American correspondent that "his success in business inclined his heart 'to a proportional distribution'". His first funds sent over were for "the maintenance and education of pious young men for the ministry, who are poor in this world". But he was persuaded by the college dignitaries to set up instead a Professorship of Divinity "notwithstanding the great difference of his theological opinions". Negotiations took two years, and "Hollis could never have fully appreciated the fact that the first candidate who was proposed for the professorship - assented to the divine right of infant baptism", which was the opposite of Baptist doctrine (4).

Meanwhile he was continually sending over books for the college library, and had a printed catalogue distributed to encourage further donation. Then in 1726 he sent funds for setting up a Professorship in Mathematics, followed in the next year by costly scientific apparatus. Altogether his gifts exceeded £6,000. He resisted all pressure to spread his American benefaction. "I have no inclination to be diverted from my projected design," he wrote "I was disgusted at the suggestion and refused to read on." "Yale College led me to suspect a snake in the grass".

Yet for all his obstinacy, he was a modest man. "My donations to the College", he wrote "having made more discourse about it than formerly in London, I could have wisht to have been less well knowne, only quiet my mind, in that possibly some others may be moved to like good worke for your advantage" (5).

Thomas Hollis died on 24 January 1731.

In his Will dated 6 January 1730 (6) Thomas Hollis left £2000 to his brother John Hollis, and confirmed the settlement already made for benefit of his children Isaac Hollis, Timothy Hollis, Mary Winnock, Hannah Edwards, and Elizabeth Ashurst. To his brother Nathaniel Hollis he bequeathed £1000 and £200 per annum.

Other beneficiaries included his great-nephew John Solly (property in east Kent); nephew William Ladds £1000; niece Mary Reynolds (wife of John Reynolds) £1000; her daughter Mary Reynolds £1000, furniture and portrait of her mother; Elizabeth Williams (wife of John Williams and daughter of his late uncle John Hollis of St Albans) £100; £100 each to her children; £100 each to Hannah Malyn and Elizabeth Malyn, children of his late cousin Dorothy Malyn; Joshua Hollis, covenant servant to himself and brother John £300; Elizabeth Hollis and Ann Hollis (children of his late cousin Thomas Hollis of St Albans cutler) £300 by the hands of their brother Joshua Hollis; an income from his Orphan’s Stock in the Chamber of London for his cousin Hannah Hutton senior for life and then for her children; his cousin Hannah Hutton (wife of James Hutton senior) £200; her son George Hutton £100; Elizabeth Edmonds (daughter of his cousin Hannah Hutton) £50; £2500 to trustees John Hollis and sons in trust for purposes directed; Christ Church Hospital in London and St Thomas’s Hospital £500 each for apprenticing poor boys; the New Workhouse in Bishopsgate Street £500; the French Church in Threadneedle Steet and the Dutch Church in Austin Friars £100 each for their poor; Trinity Minories church £20 for poor housekeepers in the parish and £30 more; £100 in trust for poor labouring workmen in Sheffield; £50 in trust for poor labouring workmen in Birmingham and the same for those in Wolverhampton; the Society for the Reformation of Manners in London £100; Jeremiah Hunt £100; and his son Benjamin Hunt £100.

His nephew Thomas Hollis (son of his brother Nathaniel Hollis) was to be his successor as trustee under the Will of Robert Thorner, and his nephew was also to have his powers in nominating professors and students on his foundation at Harvard College and appointing his successor. He was also to have his house in London, lands in Pollox Hill at Bedford, £3000 (in trust to his father until he became 21), and all the residue of his personal estate. He was also appointed his sole executor. In a Codicil dated 6 July 1730, £50 was bequeathed to Josiah Maber and £50 each to servants. Two days after Thomas Hollis died, probate of his Will was granted to his sole executor, his nephew Thomas, on 26 January 1731.

(1) Some Memorials of the Hollis Family G. Hester (1895) pages 14 and 15.
(2) Memoirs of Thomas Brand-Hollis, Esq. J. Disney (1808) page 46; Some Memorials of the Hollis Family G. Hester (1895) page 15.
(3) The Harvard Graduates' Magazine W.R. Thayer et al. volume 3 (1894-95) page 342. The trusteeship was set up by Robert Thorner in his Will dated 31 May 1690.
(4) The Harvard Graduates' Magazine W.R. Thayer et al. volume 3 (1894-95) pages 342 and 343.
(5) The Harvard Graduates' Magazine W.R. Thayer et al. volume 3 (1894-95) pages 344 to 347.
(6) An abstract of the Will is given in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register : Genealogical Gleanings in England H F Waters volume 45 (1891) pages 56 to 57.