Notes on the Negro School in Williamsburg, 1760-1774

Mary A. Stephenson


Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library Research Report Series - 0126
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library

Williamsburg, Virginia



Mary A. Stephenson

June, 1963.


The Charity School started in Williamsburg in the autumn of 1760 by "Dr. Bray's Associates,"1 London, had as its purpose to instruct Negro children in Williamsburg in the doctrines of the Episcopal Church and to teach them to spell, read and write.

Early in 1761 William Hunter, the printer of Williamsburg, wrote to the Reverend John Waring, London, one of the committee of "Dr. Bray's Associates," in which he outlined the progress in the past six months of the Negro school:

Wmsburg Virginia Feby 16. 1761.

I received some Time ago a Letter from Mr Franklin informing me that I had been nominated as one of their Managers of a School to be erected here, for the Education of Negroes in the Christian Faith &c. Mr Dawson, Commissary and Minister of this Parish, received at the same Time your Letter, on the same Subject. We consulted together and agreed with Mrs Anne Wager for the opening a School at Michaelmas last, which was accordingly done. We judged that the 2 Allowance of £20 Sterling was not sufficient, we gave the Mistress therefore the whole Sum as a Salary, and Mr Dawson undertook to raise Ten Pounds Sterling by Subscription for the Payment of House Rent. But he dying soon after, nothing had been done to that Purpose …

As I did not approve of raising the additional Money, by a petty Subscription, I have not attempted it, but am myself liable for the present Year… I would therefore recommend it to them to increase the Allowance to £30 Sterling, if they would maintain the School in any tolerable Credit…

The School was opened with 24 Scholars, (as many I think as one Woman can well manage). Their Progress and Improvement in so short a Time, has greatly exceeded my Expectations, and I have Reason to hope that the good Intentions of the Associates will be fully answered by the Care and good Conduct of the Mistress.

At present I stand single in this Undertaking, but Mr Yates being last Week elected Minister of the Parish in the Room of Mr Dawson, I shall communicate to him your Letter, and doubt not his Concurrence.——As it was the Intention of the Associates to nominate three Trustees. [Suggests Robert Carter Nicholas be appointed to the Trustees of the school in Williamsburg.]

The Mistress was paid one Quarter's Salary at Christmas, for which I have given Mr. Tarpley 3 an Order on you …

Be pleas'd to assure the Associates of my hearty Endeavors to further their good Designs by making this Establishment, at present in its Infancy, as generally beneficial as possible …
Wm Hunter."1

Nicholas accepted the Trusteeship and in due time became almost sole manager. Hunter died in 1761. William Yates followed Dr. Dawson on the committee. At the death of Yates in 1764, the Rev. James Horrocks joined the committee. In 1773 Josiah Johnson was appointed. He was followed by John Bracken. Nicholas stayed on from 1761 to 1774 when the school was discontinued.

In 1762 Nicholas and Yates drew up certain rules by which the Mistress and the School should be governed. The children were to come from homes of inhabitants of Williamsburg; they were to wear the same uniform when at school if possible; Mistress was responsible for conducting the children to church with Bibles and Prayer Books; be at school at 7 A.M. in winter half year and 6 A.M. in summer half year; teach spelling, reading and writing with especial attention to religious instruction. Mistress was to teach the female Negroes knitting and sewing. The age of the children was from 3 to 8 years; and average time they were 4 in the school from 6 months to 2 ½ years.1

Each year Nicholas sent detailed letters to the "Associates" in London giving his opinion of the progress of the school, the diligence of the Mistress, number of scholars in the school and general financial conditions.2

In 1762-1766 the Negro school was conducted in a house of Dudley Digges3 in Williamsburg for which the Trustees paid £8 per year. By the latter part of 1765 the School moved to a house of Mr. President Blair4 which was larger. The rent for this house was £12 per year. They continued in Mr. Blair's house, apparently, to 1774 when the school was discontinued after the death of the Mistress, Mrs. Wager.5


Little is known about Mrs. Anne Wager, who was employed by William Hunter as Mistress of the Negro School in Williamsburg. An account to Mrs. Ann Wager "By Schooling my Children two years" appears in the Account Book of Carter Burwell 1748-1752. Though this account covered four years in which Burwell paid Mrs. Wager, he referred to only two years in which she gave service as school mistress.1

Thomas Wager who died in Williamsburg 17252 may have been the husband of Mrs. Anne Wager. Robert Carter Nicholas writing to the "Associates" in London on September 19, 1765 remarked that "The Mistress [Mrs. Anne Wager] is pretty much advanced in Years & I fear Labours of the School will shortly be too much for her … "3 Nicholas wrote in 1774 to London stating that Mrs. Wager had died and he was paying her son-in-law, Matt Hatton, her salary due at her death.4


Mathew Hatton of Williamsburg, sometimes designated as Mathew Watts Hatton, owned 4 lots on Capitol Landing Road in 1762 via Mathew Moody.1 His wife's name was Mary. He sold in 1762 to Alexander Finnie.2 In 1786 he paid tax on personal property in Williamsburg. He was a carpenter.


^1. Dr. Thomas Bray (1656-1730) was an eminent divine of England. In 1701 he obtained a charter from King William for the incorporation of a society for propagating the gospel throughout the plantations. He took a deep interest in the Negroes in the West Indies and North America. In 1723 feeling that his life was insecure, he nominated certain persons to carry out his work. These were known as "Dr. Bray's Associates" for founding clerical libraries and supporting Negro schools. The Society is in existence today.
The school for Negroes in Williamsburg was ordered "to start with all considerable speed" at a board meeting in London on January 8, 1760. At a meeting on March 6th books were ordered sent to the Williamsburg school at once. Books designated were: Allen's On the Covenants; Bray's Lectures on the Catechism; Kettlewell's Practical Believer, and Child's First Book. Other books were to be sent later. (M-74 Bray Associates--Minute Book.)
^1. M-297 SR: 895 SPG Dr. Bray's Associates. American Papers 1735-1774 (1761-1774). "Dr. Bray's Records--Virginia, Williamsburg--Negro School."
^1. M-297 SR: 895 SPG Dr. Bray's Associates. American Papers 1735-1774 (1761-1774). "Dr. Bray's Records--Virginia, Williamsburg--Negro School." See: Appendix #1 for sources in detail. See: Appendix #1 for sources in detail.
^2. Ibid. See: Appendix #1 for sources in detail.
^3. Ibid. See: Appendix #1 for sources in detail.
We think this house of Digges was located on Lot H, northeast corner of Henry and Ireland Street, Williamsburg.
^4. Blair owned various lots in the city. At this period he held or acquired lots with houses thereon on Capitol Landing Road formerly John Shepherd's.
^5. See: Appendix #1.
^1. Burwell Papers (1738-1874) CWI restricted.
^2. Goodwin's The Record of Bruton Parish Church, p. 166.
^3. M-297 SR: 899 Dr. Bray's Associates …
^4. Ibid.
^1. York County Records, Deeds 6, pp. 451-452; 453.
^2. Ibid., pp. 458-459.

Appendix #1.

SR 896 SPG Dr Bray's Associates. American Papers 1735-1774…2. 1761-1774
[11]Dr The Associates of the late Revd Doctr Bray in Acct with Ro. C. Nicholas.
Decr 1761To Cash pd Mrs Anne Wager the Mistress 2/4 yrs Salary£14
June 1763To Cash pd Colo Dudley Digges for a yrs Rent£ 8
Apl 28, 1764To Cash pd Colo Digges for Rent8
May 8, 1765To do pd Colo Digges for Bal Rent to the time the Mistress moved from his House in Decr6-13-4
Jan 1766To Cash pd Mr President Blair for Rent12-0-0
Decr 27, 1766To Cash pd Mr President Blair for Rent due 25th Inst12-0-0

N.B. the yrs Rent pd Colo Digges in June 1763 was due the Apl. before.

SR 896 SPG Dr Bray's Associates. American Papers, 1735-1774…2. 1761-1774.

Ro. C. Nicholas, Williamsburg, to the Rev. Mr. John Waring, London, 16 Feb. 1769.

"…Mr Hunter had fix'd the Mistress's Salary at £7 a Quarter, a Sum for 30 Scholars, much less than is paid for schooling in this City to other Mistresses; but, as Mrs Wager had no House of her own, she was at first allow'd £8 currt Money more to pay for the Rent of a House, which was much too small for such a Number of children; however she continued in it as long as it was tenable; I was then obliged to rent the House, where she now resides, of Mr President Blair, for twelve Pounds Currt Money."


"Dr The Associates of Doctor Bray

April l,To Quarter Salary due this day£5
July 1,To do do5
Oct. 1,To do do5
Jany 1.To do do5
April 6To do do5
July 2To do do5
To pd Mr Balir a Yrs Rent due 25th Decr 177310
Augt 20To do pd 7 ½ Months to time of Mrs Wager's death6.5
To pd Mat: Hatton her son in law for Balance of Salary1.13.4
To Balance15. 8.4

Novr 17th 1774. Ro. C. Nicholas"

iii. SR 896 SPG Dr. Bray's Associates. American Papers 1735-1774 … 2. 1761-1774.

[5] A List of Negro Children at the School established by the Associates of the late reverend Doctr Bray in the City of Williamsburg — Mrs Anne Wager — School Mistress

Names of Childrentheir Ages as near as can be judged ofOwners
1. John8 yearsMrs Davenport
2. Anne6Do
3. Dick3Mr George Davenport
4. London7Mrs Campbell
5. Aggy6Do
6. Shropshire6Do
7. Aberdeen5Mr Alexr Craig
8. Mary7Mr Thomas Everard
9. Harry5Do
10. George8Mr Gilmer
11. Bristol7Do
12. Mary Anne7a free Negro
13. Aggy7Peyton Randolph Esqr
14. Roger7Do
15. Mary8Mr Thomas Hornsby
16. Reppon3Mr Anthony Hay
17. Robert6John Randolph Esqr
18. Lucy5Do
19. Elizabeth10Mrs Dawson
20. George6Dr James Carter
21. Locust8Mrs Armistead
22. Sarah7Mrs Page
23. Hannah7Ro. C. Nicholas
24. Mary Jones-a free Negro
25. John7John Blair, Esqr
26. Jane9Do
27. Doll7Do
28. Elisha Jones-free
29. John3Mr Hugh Orr
30. Phaebe3Mr Wm Trebell.

Wmsburg, 30th Sepr 1762

iv. SR 896 SPG Dr Bray's Associates. American Papers 1735-1774…2.

[11] A List of Negro Children who are at the Charity School in Williamsburg. Novr 1765

Mrs Campbell's Young & Mary2
Mrs Davenport's William1
Mr Hay's Jenny1
Doctr Carter's Nanny1
Mr Blair's John, Dolly, Elizabeth, Catherine, Fanny, Isaac & Johanna7
Mrs Burwell's Joseph & Davy2
Mrs Prentis's Molly1
Colo Johnson's Squire1
Colo Chiswell's Edmund & Johany2
Mr Charlton's Nancy & Davy2
Mrs Grymes's Phillis1
Mrs Orr's Patt & Jack, James & Sal4
Mr Thompson's Charles1
Mr Brown's Elizabeth1
Mr Thompson's Betty1
Matt Ashby's Harry & John2
Mrs Vobe's Sal1
Mr Waters's Sylvia1
Randolph's Roger & Sam2
in all34

Negroes now at the School [16 Feb. 1769]

Mrs Prisca Dawson's Grace1
Mr Ro C Nicholas's Sarah1
Mr Blair's Cathne, Nancy, Jana & Clara Bee4
Mr Hay's Jerry, Joseph, Dick3
Mrs Chiswell's Jack1
Mrs Campbell's Mary, Sally, Sukey3
Mrs Speaker's Sam1
Mrs Vobe's Jack1
John & Mary Ashby free2
Mr Ayscough's Sally1
The College. Adam, Fany2
The Commissary's Charlotte1
Mrs Blaikley's Jenny, Jack2
Mr Hornsby's Nancy, Judy, Ratchell3
Mr Cocke's Mourning1
Mr Davenport's Matt, Harry2