Williamsburg Bray School

The Williamsburg Bray School was a school for free and enslaved Black children founded in 1760 in Williamsburg, Virginia.[1] The cottage it occupied is believed to be the "oldest extant building in the United States dedicated to the education of Black children".[2][3] Between 1760 and its closure in 1774, the school educated an estimated 400 students.[2]

The school building in October 2021


The school was founded by an English organization called the Associates of the Late Dr. Bray, which was closely allied with the Church of England.[4][5] Benjamin Franklin, a member of the Associates, had suggested that "New York, Williamsburgh and Newport" would be good choices.[6][7] The Associates rented a building owned by Dudley Digges (uncle to the Yorktown patriot) to house the school.[8] The school building was initially located near The College of William and Mary at the corner of Boundary Street and Prince George St. In 1765 the school moved out of the structure.[1] On May 8, 1930, the school building was moved to the campus, 524 Prince George St, but was not recognized as the original school building until 2020 when dendrochronology dated its timbers to the winter of 1759-60.[2]

For enslaved students, enrollment at the school required the permission of their master.[9] Ann Wager, the schoolmistress, taught all students a curriculum based strongly on the Bible and religious tracts.[4][10] Learning to read and, possibly, to write, was a central subject.[8][9][11] Female students were also taught how to knit and sew.[12][13][14]

Robert Carter Nicholas Sr. was a trustee of the school, and maintained correspondence with Dr. Bray's Associates, the school's founders, in England.[11] The school closed in 1774.[1]


  1. ^ a b c "Historical marker for Bray School unveiled". William & Mary.
  2. ^ a b c Heim, Joe. "At William & Mary, a school for free and enslaved Black children is rediscovered". Washington Post.
  3. ^ "America's Oldest Standing Black School House Found in Williamsburg | History News Network". hnn.us.
  4. ^ a b Katz-Hyman, Martha B.; Rice, Kym S. (2011). World of a Slave: Encyclopedia of the Material Life of Slaves in the United States. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0-313-34942-3.
  5. ^ Pennington, Edgar Legare (1939). Thomas Bray's Associates and Their Work Among the Negroes: By Edgar Legare Pennington. The Society.
  6. ^ "Founders Online: Minute of the Associates of the Late Dr. Bray, 17 January 1760". founders.archives.gov.
  7. ^ Meyers, Terry L. (2010). "Benjamin Franklin, the College of William and Mary, and the Williamsburg Bray School". Anglican and Episcopal History. 79 (4): 368–393. ISSN 0896-8039. JSTOR 42612683.
  8. ^ a b Cramer, Maria (26 February 2021). "University Finds 18th-Century Schoolhouse Where Black Children Learned to Read". The New York Times.
  9. ^ a b Kostyal, K. M. (2009). 1776 : a new look at revolutionary Williamsburg. Washington, D.C. : National Geographic. p. 15. ISBN 978-1-4263-0517-7.
  10. ^ Strawn, Susan (13 May 2011). Knitting America: A Glorious Heritage from Warm Socks to High Art. Voyageur Press. ISBN 978-1-61060-249-5.
  11. ^ a b Nixon, Joan Lowery. Caesar's story, 1759. New York : Delacorte Press. p. 135. ISBN 978-0-385-32676-6.
  12. ^ Strawn, Susan (13 May 2011). Knitting America: A Glorious Heritage from Warm Socks to High Art. Voyageur Press. ISBN 978-1-61060-249-5.
  13. ^ Ivey, Kimberly Smith (1997). In the Neatest Manner: The Making of the Virginia Sampler Tradition. Colonial Williamsburg. ISBN 978-0-87935-202-8.
  14. ^ Nelson, John K. (14 January 2003). A Blessed Company: Parishes, Parsons, and Parishioners in Anglican Virginia, 1690-1776. Univ of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-7510-0.

Coordinates: 37°16′20.7″N 76°42′30.5″W / 37.272417°N 76.708472°W / 37.272417; -76.708472