Nicole Brown dresses up as Ann Wager for Colonial Williamsburg. Ms. Brown is studying the Bray school as a graduate student at William & Mary. (Bray School)

Nicole Brown dresses up as Ann Wager for Colonial Williamsburg. Ms. Brown is studying the Bray school as a graduate student at William & Mary. (Bray School)

A printing from 1839 shows exclusion of black students from schools.

A printing from 1839 shows exclusion of black students from schools.

Children like Isaac and Rosa needed good education.

Children like Isaac and Rosa needed good education.

Students at the Bray school likely used slates (little chalkboards) for classwork.

Students at the Bray school likely used slates (little chalkboards) for classwork.

Visitors to Colonial Williamsburg watch an actor at work. (Colonial Williamsburg)

Visitors to Colonial Williamsburg watch an actor at work. (Colonial Williamsburg)

Mrs. Wager’s Work

Posted: January 1, 2022

Imagine this. Mrs. Wager has finished her spelling and math lessons for the day. She opens up a book containing the Anglican catechism. (Have you ever learned a catechism? A catechism is a series of questions and answers. They teach about the Christian faith.)

Mrs. Wager reads:

“How does recognizing God as Creator inform your understanding of His creation?”

Her students answer:

I acknowledge that God created for His own glory everything that exists. He created human beings, male and female, in His image . . .”

Mrs. Wager dedicated her time to teaching black students who weren’t allowed to attend public schools. The Bray School existed to spread Christian education to African Americans—both free and enslaved. This might set off some questions in your mind:

If all humans are created in God’s image, how could some people believe it was okay to own other people and treat them like animals or livestock?

Did Mrs. Wager really care about her students? Did she approve of slavery?

At Colonial Williamsburg, a woman named Nicole Brown portrays Mrs. Wager. She dresses up like a tutoress (teacher) from the 1700s. She talks with tourists. Ms. Brown studies Mrs. Wager. She reads letters written by people who knew her. She checks out the books Mrs. Wager used in her teaching. What was Mrs. Wager like? What did she believe? Ms. Brown makes her best guess.

Mrs. Wager was the only teacher ever employed at the Bray School. When she died, the school closed. We can’t know for sure why this happened. We do know that black people were about to face more terribly difficult times. The next centuries would bring more slavery, mistreatment, murder, and discrimination. Perhaps around Mrs. Wager’s death, times were changing for the worse. Maybe people were growing more uncomfortable with the idea of educating black students.

Nicole Brown wrestles to understand how Mrs. Wager might have seen the world. “It’s okay to struggle with the idea that America’s past is flawed,” she says on the Colonial Williamsburg website.

The Bible is clear: No person should ever own or mistreat another. But people are fallen. In history, even Christians have made dreadful errors.  

God shows no partiality. — Romans 2:11