Education in the Eighteenth Century

The primary objective of education in the eighteenth century for children was to prepare them for their life work. Children of farmers learned how to plant, tend, and harvest crop, while gentry children learned to run a plantation  and manage slaves; they were also taught such refinements as dancing, fencing, and languages. Enslaved children learned skills that were necessary for the work expected of them. All children, however, were taught religion and prayer.

A shared family goal in the eighteenth century was to develop an independent, moral, and upright society. Black and white children learned what was expected of them as adults by watching how adults behaved. Parents and extended family set the expectation for behavior for their children, and children were disciplined for bad behavior.

Initially, there were no public schools in Virginia; most learning took place in the home. However, in 1706 the Brafferton Indian School for Native Americans at the College of William and Mary was founded to teach English culture and civility. Later in 1760 the Bray school for Negro Children was established; both in Williamsburg. By July 1712, approximately twenty Indian boys were enrolled, including the son of the queen of the Pamunkey people.

In 1760 the Bray Associates opened a School at Williamsburg for the Instruction of Negro Children (boys and girls) in the Principles of the Christian Religion. The Associates were of the opinion that a Mistress would be preferable to a Master, as she may teach the girls to sew and knit, as well as all to read and say their Catechism. Mrs. Ann Wager was asked to be the school mistress beginning on 29 September 1760.

During the Colonial Williamsburg Fall Homeschooler event, Colonial Williamsburg will highlight Ann Wager, Mistress of the Bray school. Students and their families will have the opportunity to not only meet, Ann Wager, but also talk with her and learn about her challenges, hopes and aspirations for academic achievement. What will you uncover in this eighteenth century classroom? This may be an education you will not forget!

 Fun!  And fun learning is forever learning!

Ann Simpson

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