Future Site: Corner of Francis and Nassau St.
Not currently open to the public
The first school to educate free and enslaved black children in Williamsburg opened in 1760 and is the oldest surviving Bray School in the Americas. It was established by the Bray Associates, a religious organization affiliated with the Anglican Church. They appointed Ann Wager to teach a curriculum based on the Anglican faith. Several enslavers sent students, including Sarah and James from Hugh Orr’s household. The children who attended ranged from ages three to ten and were among the first black children to have access to a formal education in Colonial America. Part of this education was learning to read, which allowed them access to literature and news. In fact, Robert Carter Nicholas corresponds with the Bray Associates about his concerns over what the students were reading outside the classroom.
The school closed in 1774 following the passing of Ann Wager. The inability to find a new teacher, lack of funding, and discourse that would lead to the Revolution prevented the continuation of the school.
In 2020, the Bray School, currently located on William & Mary’s campus, was identified using dendrochronology (tree ring dating), which dated the structure to 1759/1760. Before any investigations began, the entire building, including the modern additions, was digitally scanned. Two-dimensional drawings which were made from the scans will be archived. Once the building was documented and recorded in its present condition, the preservation team started the task of meticulously deconstructing the twentieth-century modifications to look at the original elements that survive in the building. This included removing modern plaster, carpeting, and fixtures. The goal is to determine how the building looked when it was first constructed and subsequently used by the Bray School. The benefit of removing the modern plaster is that we can see changes made to the framing and areas where building materials were reused. We are collecting building fragments and objects found in the walls near rodent nests. These items shed light on the original finishes and various inhabitants of the building since 1760.
The building will be stabilized and then moved to its new site at the corner of Francis and Nassau Streets. This is the second move since it was relocated from its original site on Prince George Street in the 1930s. Once it has moved, the preservation department along with CW’s Building Trades and Historic Trades will restore the building to its 1760 appearance. Interpretive programming is also in the works for this site. It is scheduled to be fully restored in 2024.