WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — A schoolhouse where enslaved and free Black children were taught before the Revolutionary War will be moved from the William & Mary campus to Colonial Williamsburg and restored to its original state, officials announced Friday.
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is buying the building that housed the Bray School, the university and foundation said in a news release. Once modern additions to the building are removed, it will be moved a few blocks to the living-history museum’s campus, where it will be restored and incorporated into the foundation’s public history programming.
“This nondescript building that was hidden in plain sight for decades is taking The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and William & Mary in a new and exciting direction,” Colonial Williamsburg President and CEO Cliff Fleet said. “This important work will expand our understanding of 18th-century America and add to our body of knowledge about this important time in our nation’s history.”
The university says the building is likely the oldest surviving schoolhouse for African Americans. It will be the first addition to Williamsburg's collection of historic buildings since the 1960s. The foundation expects to restore the building by 2024, which is the 250th anniversary of the school’s closure just before the Revolutionary War.
The institution - funded by a charity managed in part by Benjamin Franklin, one of “The Associates of Dr. Bray” - educated hundreds of Black children from 1760 to 1774. Its mission was to impart Christian education to Black children and for students to accept enslavement as divinely ordained.
The university and foundation are launching an initiative to research the building’s history, with a focus on understanding the school from the perspectives of families whose children attended it, officials said. Researchers with the William & Mary Bray School Lab will examine the motivations of the founders and explore the children’s legacies, officials said.
This partnership promises to transform the understanding of the “intertwined histories of race, slavery, education and religion in America,” William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe said in the news release.
“Each intersects in the story of the Bray School,” she said. “Bray School research will illuminate what it means to educate justly - William & Mary’s commitment for all times coming.”