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Williamsburg Bray School

The Williamsburg Bray School is the oldest extant building dedicated to the education of Black children in the United States, located in Williamsburg, Virginia. Established in 1760 by the Associates of Dr. Bray, an Anglican charity based in England, the school’s faith-based curriculum justified slavery and encouraged those that who were enslaved to accept their destinies.

Preserving the Williamsburg Bray School

On Thursday, July 20, 2023, the Williamsburg Bray School building was lowered 11 1/2 inches on to the new foundation. The preservation team has overseen the construction of the modern block and the brick veneer that make up the upper portion of the cellar level. The bricks that will be visible are historically appropriate and were made by the Colonial Williamsburg brickmakers. In addition to the masonry work, the team oversaw the replacement of the wooden sills. This was a necessary step to remove areas of rot and to ensure the stability of the vertical framing members.

Telling Their Stories

The Williamsburg Bray School Student Sign Project

Relocating the Williamsburg Bray School

Learn more about the origins of the Bray School.

Moving the Williamsburg Bray School

The Bray School, Colonial Williamsburg’s 89th original structure, arrives in the Historic Area.

Williamsburg Bray School Preservation Launch

In partnership with William & Mary a preservation launch ceremony was held on Friday, February 10.

Literacy Seeds Agency

Enlarged print featuring names of Williamsburg Bray School scholars

The enslaved and free Black students attending the Bray School were instructed in the tenets of the Anglican church and in subjects such as reading, behavior, and sewing. Ann Wager, a Williamsburg-area widow, was the sole educator during the Bray School’s operation, instructing over 300 students from 1760-1774. Despite the pro-slavery beliefs of the Associates of Dr. Bray, ongoing research by scholars, descendants, and historians at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation indicates that the students of the Bray School made meaning because and despite the instruction they received. One of the focuses of the historical research on the Bray School moving forward will be how these students used their instruction to make meaning of their lives outside of the ideology shared by the Associates of Dr. Bray.

Discovering the Bray School

Second floor interior of the Bray-Digges House, home to the Bray School

Through dendrochronology—the practice of dating buildings through the study of tree rings—Colonial Williamsburg and William & Mary researchers discovered the building that housed the Williamsburg Bray School in late 2020. Located on the William & Mary campus, the small, white building, known as the Bray-Digges House, remained hidden in plain sight for over 200 years.

Telling Their Stories

The Williamsburg Bray School marks the 89th original building to be preserved and restored by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The Bray School will be used as a focal point for research, scholarship, and dialogue regarding the complicated story of race, religion, and education in Williamsburg and in America.

Williamsburg Bray School Map

Explore the built environment of 18th-century Williamsburg and primary source documents in this interactive digital map to learn about the individual lives, the families, and the broader community of the Williamsburg Bray School. And discover how the legacy of the Williamsburg Bray School permeates Virginia's colonial capital, past and present.

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Bray School Preservation Project Virtual Tour

Explore the original structure that housed the Williamsburg Bray School through historic photos and behind-the-scenes video footage of ongoing preservation efforts.

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Learn More About the Williamsburg Bray School

Williamsburg Bray School Project Update

Ongoing preservation of the Bray School structure

'This was the Bray School'

Discovering the 18th-century school for Black children and the meaning of the education provided there

The World of the Williamsburg Bray School

A school for enslaved and free Black children was established at a time of profound changes worldwide

Learning About the School

Research is challenging the assumptions about the building that housed the Bray School

What Can Paint Analysis Tell Us About the Bray School?

Learning the story of a structure through its paint layers

On a Mission

Ann Wager’s purpose in teaching free and enslaved black students was grounded in religion

William & Mary Bray School Lab

Working to document the history of the Bray School and understand its complex legacy


First Baptist Church and Williamsburg Bray School at Colonial Williamsburg

Nation Builders James Ingram and Nicole Brown, who portray Rev. Gowan Pamphlet and Ann Wager, discuss the impact of the poignant First Baptist Church and Bray School projects.

A Conversation About Education

Expert panelists discuss how the Williamsburg Bray School approached the education of enslaved and free Black children.

Live from History: Ann Wager

Join Ann Wager, educator at the Williamsburg Bray School, in 1765 as she explores the various ways women receive, provide, and utilize their education in Virginia.

Ask Ann Wager

Join Ann Wager in 1773 as she speaks about her experience over the holiday season and its connection to the Williamsburg Bray School.

Ben Franklin’s World

Episode 331 of Colonial Williamsburg’s award-winning podcast discusses the discovery of the Williamsburg Bray School.

Additional Resources

Learn even more about Williamsburg Bray School by exploring these resources from both our museum and other trusted institutions.

Williamsburg Bray School News Coverage

February 1, 2024 – The Williamsburg Bray School is featured on NBC's TODAY Show in segments entitled Discover Black Heritage: The Williamsburg Bray School and Historic Building Dedicated to Educating Black Children Restored.

February 10, 2023 – The Williamsburg Bray School building was relocated from its location on the edge of the William & Mary campus to its permanent home in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area. The structure now resides at the intersection of Francis and Nassau streets near the site of the First Baptist Church excavation.

October 12, 2022
– Researchers and historians at William & Mary and archaeologists and preservationists at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation are committed to fully researching the story of the children of the Williamsburg Bray School. Learn more here.

May 10-13, 2022 – The Bray School Lab and William & Mary host their first Descendant Outreach Week to speak with potential and known descendants of Williamsburg Bray School Students.

March 21, 2022
– Original hand sawn pine flooring found underneath the 1925 remodeling of the Bray-Digges Building Learn more here.

February 19, 2022
– The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awards a $5-million grant supporting the Williamsburg Bray School Project, an initiative spearheaded by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and William & Mary. Read more here.

October 2021
– Colonial Williamsburg and William & Mary announce future location of the Williamsburg Bray School and launch joint initiative to research the building’s complex history and expand the understanding of the founding era. Read more here.

June 2021
 – William & Mary forms a a team-based interdisciplinary research initiative to investigate the Bray School’s legacy, including the stories of its students and teacher. Read more from William & Mary here.

February 2021 – Researchers shared news of this initial finding and plans to research and relocate the Bray-Digges House at a special event on February 25.

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