Williamsburg's Bray School was established in 1760 by The Associates of Dr. Bray, an Anglican charity based in England, at the recommendation of Benjamin Franklin and with support from William & Mary’s president and rector of Bruton Parish Church, Reverend Thomas Dawson. During the School’s operation (1760-1774), its sole teacher, Ann Wager, educated almost 400 free and enslaved African American children. The school’s faith-based curriculum justified slavery; yet their practice of literacy seeded agency. The Bray School’s origins and mission provide a unique perspective on the role of religion, philanthropy, and education in both perpetuating slavery and attempting to address its consequences.
Analysis conducted by Colonial Williamsburg in 2020 confirmed that the Bray School was housed in a structure previously located at 524 Prince George Street on the William & Mary campus. The building, now known as the Bray-Digges House, originally stood near the corner of Prince George and North Boundary streets, where a Virginia Department of Historic Resources marker commemorating the school was unveiled in early 2019. In February 2023, the Bray-Digges House was relocated to Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area at 331 Francis Street West, where it will become the 89th original structure restored by the foundation.
As a joint venture of William & Mary and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the Williamsburg Bray School Initiative will use the Bray School as a focal point for research, scholarship and dialogue regarding the interconnected, often troubled, legacy of race, religion and education in Williamsburg and in America. 2024 will mark the 250th anniversary of the closing of the Williamsburg Bray School and 2026 will mark the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Through its collaborative and innovative work, the Bray School Lab promises to help redefine the history of Williamsburg, Virginia: a place of national significance, where the practice of slavery and democracy both clashed and coexisted for almost two centuries.