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ANN WAGER

Her Legacy

After being widowed, Ann Wager made a living as the only teacher for the Bray School, educating enslaved and free African-American children in Williamsburg for 14 years.

Education to Make Ends Meet

Ann Wager (ca. 1716–1774) took up teaching after the death of her husband William in 1748, working for two years as governess to the Burwell children at Carter's Grove. She had at least two children of her own, William and Mary.

In 1760 the Associates of Dr. Bray, a group of philanthropists in England, followed Ben Franklin’s recommendation to establish a school “for the instruction of Negro Children in the Principles of the Christian religion.” They hired Wager to teach the Bray School.

Instructing Young Minds

Wager taught between twenty and thirty boys and girls each year. Most were young enslaved African Americans, but Wager also educated a small number of free blacks. She taught the tenets of Anglican Christianity as well as reading, writing, and general deportment. Girls were taught “knitting, sewing and such other things as may be useful to their owners,” and Wager was instructed to “be particularly watchful that her scholars, between the school hours, do not commit any irregularities, nor fall into any indecent diversions.”

Exceeding Expectations

After visiting the school in 1762, Robert Carter Nicholas, a Williamsburg trustee for the Associates, reported that “at a late visitation of the school we were pretty much pleased with the scholars’ performances, as they rather exceeded our expectations.”

Over the course of fourteen years, Wager taught about 400 students at the Bray School. By the early 1770s she was slowed by illness, and after her death on August 20, 1774 the Bray School closed for good.

 

MEET ANN WAGER

 

The story of America is full of hope and struggle. Step into the past with Ann Wager and learn about her contribution to the founding of our nation as you engage with her and experience her world.

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