Letter from William Yates and Robert Carter Nicholas to Rev. John Waring (September 30, 1762)


In the following letter to the Reverend John Waring, dated September 30, 1762, the Reverend William Yates and Robert Carter Nicholas describe the purpose of a school in Williamsburg for enslaved children funded by the the Associates of Dr. Bray. The group was formed in 1724 by the Anglican clergyman Thomas Bray to preselytize and educate free and enslaved African Americans. Yates, the rector of Bruton Parish, and Nicholas, the treasurer of the Virginia colony, administered the school. Waring was secretary of the Associates of Dr. Bray.


Virginia Williamsburg 30th. September 1762


Agreeable to your Request, we send you inclosed a List of the Negro Children now at the School under our Direction in this City, with an Account of their Ages as nearly as they can be judged of; but it is not in our Power to determine exactly. The Dates of their Admission into the School are various, some of them having been there ever since it was first opened & others admitted just as Vacancies have happened. The Mistress has not been so exact as to keep any Account of the Times of their Entrance, so that it is impossible for us to give the desired Satisfaction in this Point. You may from hence easily judge how difficult it must be for us to inform you particularly of the Progress each Child has made. We can only say in general that at a late Visitation of the School we were pretty much pleased with the Scholars’ Performances, as they rather exceeded our Expectations. The Children, we believe, have all been regularly baptized; indeed we think it is a pretty general Practice all over Virginia for Negro Parents to have their Children christened, where they live tolerably convenient to the Church or Minister, & some Times a great Number of Adults are baptized together in different Parts of the Country. We would not have you think, from what was wrote to you last Fall, that we had the least Inclination to discourage so good & pious an Institution; we were indeed & still are apprised of many Difficulties, which we shall have to struggle with, & were willing to prepare you for a Disappointment, in Case the Undertaking should not answer your Expectations. From the small View we have had of the Associates’ extensive Charity, we flatter ourselves that we see the Situation of our poor Slaves, with Respect to their spiritual Concerns, with the same piteous Eyes that they do, & should think ourselves extremely fortunate if any Endeavours of ours could contribute towards their Happiness. You no Doubt are already apprised that the Slaves in this & the neighbouring Colonies are the chief Instruments of Labour & we fear that they are treated by too many of their Owners as so many Beasts of Burthen, so little do they consider them as entitled to any of the Privileges of human Nature; & indeed many Owners of Slaves, ‘tho they may view them in a different Light & treat them with a great Degree of Tenderness, concern themselves very little or not at all with their religious Concerns, so far from it, that we don’t think ourselves the least uncharitable in saying that we fear the Negroes are often corrupted & rendered more abandoned by the ill Examples that are set them by many white People in the Country & no inconsiderable Number of these themselves Masters of Slaves. This Observation may be justified by a Comparison of new Negroes when they are first imported with those who have resided among us for some Years; for ‘tho’ the former, no Doubt, bring with them vicious Inclinations & a Number of ill Customs, yet we may venture to say that they contract new Vices, which they were Strangers to in their native Country. From this cursory View of the Situation of our Slaves, you may easily judge how extremely difficult it would be, if not morally impossible, to work any Thing like a thorough Reformation amongst them, unless some of their Masters & the Generality of white People were first reformed, we had almost said new moulded. We would not have it infered from hence that we intend any particular pointed Reflections upon the People of this Country; on the contrary we believe them as good as their Neighbours & think they are much of the same Complexion as the Inhabitants of other Countries. And ‘tho’ we almost despair of an entire Reformation, yet we have our Hopes that a Scheme like yours properly conducted, if it could meet with due Encouragement, might have a good Effect. We find that many People in this City, upon the first opening of your School, were well enough inclined towards it &, if the Fund allotted was sufficient, we believe that double the Number of Scholars might easily be procured; but at the same Time we fear that many People who have sent or would send their little Negroes to School, would not do it upon Principles which they ought; we mean purely with a View to have them instructed in the Principles of Religion, & enabled to instruct their Fellow Slaves at Home. Some People we fear send their Children more to keep them out of Mischief, others to improve them in Hopes by their being made a little more sensible, that they may be more handy & useful in their Families; We form this Opinion from observing that several, who put their Negroes to School, have taken them Home again so soon as they began to read, but before they had received any real Benefit or so it could be supposed that they were made acquainted with the Principles of Christianity. This is one great Impediment which we are apprehensive will obstruct the Success of our Endeavours. We shall strive to guard against it, ‘tho’ ’twill be with great Difficulty that we shall be able to accomplish our Purpose. Few People have more Negroes than they can employ, & ‘tho’ when they are very young & useless, they may be willing to send them to School, yet when they grow up a little & become able to send their Owners Children or do any other little Offices in their Families, they chuse & will take them Home. Another Difficulty which arises on the Part of the Owners is that an Opinion prevails amongst many of them, that it might be dangerous & impolitick to enlarge the Understandings of the Negroes, as they would probably by these Means become more impatient of their Slavery & at some future Day be more likely to rebel; they urge farther from Experience, that it is generally observable that the more sensible of our Slaves are the most wicked & ungovernable; these Observations, we think, are illy founded when used as Objections to your Scheme, which is by no Means calculated to instruct the Slaves in dangerous Principles, but on the contrary has a probable & direct Tendency to reform their Manners; & by making them good Christians they would necessarily become better Servants. We shall not fail endeavouring to remove Scruples of this & every other Sort, but finding they have taken deep Root in many Minds, we are apprehensive of great Difficulties in overcoming them. There is still one greater Discouragement which we fear we shall labour under. ‘Tho’ the Owners of the Negro Children should chearfully close with our Proposals & submit them entirely to our Government; ‘tho the Mistress of the School should be ever so diligent in her Duty, & ‘tho the Scholars should make as great a Progress as could be wished, yet we fear that, notwithstanding all our Endeavours to prevent it, any good Impression which may be made on the Children’s Minds at School will easily be effaced by their mixing with other Slaves, who are most abandoned to every Kind of Wickedness. If evil Communications have a general Tendency to corrupt good Manners, the Observation is never more likely to be verified than in Instances of this Sort, where the very Parents of the Children will probably much oftner, from their Intimacy, set them bad Examples than any others. Notwithstanding these & many other Difficulties, which the narrow Limits of a Letter will not permit us to particularize, stare us fully in the Face, we are resolved not to be discouraged; but hope, by the Blessing of God upon your Charity & our Endeavours, that the Undertaking will greatly prosper. The late Reverend Mr. Dawson & Mr. Hunter, we believe, had it in their Intention to form Rules for the better Government of the School but were prevented by Death; we have hitherto contented ourselves with permitting the Mistress to carry on the School in the Way it was begun; but, being sensible that Nothing of the Sort can be properly conducted without certain uniform Regulations, by which all Parties concerned may know how to govern themselves, we have drawn up such a Set of Rules as appear to us properly adapted & send you a Copy of them inclosed for your & the rest of the Associates’ Approbation & should be glad to know your Sentiments; we shall be willing to add or diminish any Thing as you may advise. We probably shall have Occasion for a few Testaments Psalters & spelling Books & perhaps a Number of Mr. Bacon’s Sermons, recommending the Instruction of the Negroes in the Christian Faith, properly dispersed over the Country might have a good Influence. We would not put you to the Expence of any other Books at present. We will not conclude without offering our best Respects to you & the rest of the worthy Associates; Believe us, Sir, we cannot enough admire a Set of Gentlemen, who at the same Time that they are employed in exercising every Act of Benevolence at Home, have so far enlarged their Charity as to extend it to the most distant Colonies. We are, Sir, with the greatest Esteem Your most obedient humble Servants

William Yates

Ro. C. Nicholas


List of Negro Children

[Williamsburg, 30 September 1762]

A List of Negro Children at the School established by the Associates of the late Reverend Doctor Bray in the City of Williamsburg, Mrs. Anne Wagner, School Mistress.

Names of the Children their Ages as nearly as can be judged of Owners Names 1. John 8 Years Mrs. Davenport 2. Anne 6 Ditto 3. Dick 3 Mrs. George Davenport 4. London 7 Mrs. Campbell 5. Aggy 6 Ditto 6. Shropshire 6 Ditto 7. Aberdeen 5 Mr. Alexr. Craig 8. Mary 7 Mr. Thomas Everard 9. Harry 5 Ditto 10. George 8 Mr. Gilmer 11. Bristol 7 Ditto 12. Mary Anne 7 a free Negro 13. Aggy 7 Peyton Randolph Esqr. 14. Roger 7 Ditto 15. Mary 8 Mr. Thomas Hornsby 16. Rippon 3 Mr. Anthony Hay 17. Robert 6 John Randolph Esqr. 18. Lucy 5 Ditto 19. Elizabeth 10 Mrs. Dawson 20. George 6 Dr. James Carter 21. Locust 8 Mrs. Armistead 22. Sarah 7 Mrs. Page 23. Hannah 7 Ro: C: Nicholas 24. Mary Jones a free Negro 25. John 7 John Blair Esqr. 26. Jane 9 Ditto 27. Doll 7 Ditto 28. Elisha Jones free 29. John 3 Mr. Hugh Orr 30. Phoebe 3 Mr. Wm. Trebell

Williamsburgh 30th. September 1762



The Associates of the late Reverend Doctor Bray, residing in England, having established several Schools in several of the Northern Colonies for the Education of Negroes in the Principles of the Christian Religion, teaching them to read & at the same Time rendering the Females more useful to their Owners by instructing them in sewing knitting &c.; encouraged by the Success of these their pious Endeavours & being sollicitous to make this Kind of Charity as extensive as possible, they some Time ago came to a Resolution of establishing a School in the City of Williamsburg for the same Purpose & have thought fit to recommend it to the immediate Care and Government of the Reverend Mr. William Yates & Mr. Robert Carter Nicholas; who have chearfully undertaken the Trust reposed in them & hope that all good Christians will cooperate with them in their Endeavours to promote the Success of so laudable & pious an Institution.

The Associates having engaged in so many Works of this Kind, which will require a very considerable Sum of Money to defray the Expence of, have limited the Number of Scholars to thirty, but as there may be many more Negro Children in this City, equally objects of such a Charity, the Trustees will thankfully accept of any Contributions, which may be offered, towards augmenting the Number & thereby rendering the Scheme more generally beneficial. If the Scholars should increase, so as to make it necessary, they propose to employ another Mistress; And, for the Satisfaction of their Benefactors, they will be at all Times ready to give an Account of their Proceedings.

The Trustees, for the better Government of the School & to render it more truly beneficial, have thought fit to establish certain Regulations, relating as well to the Owners of Slaves as to the Teacher or Mistress, which they are resolved to have strictly observed & put in Execution, unless they should at any Time hereafter be induced by good Reasons to alter or relax them.

With Respect to the Owners

The School being at present full with the Number of Scholars proposed to be educated at the Expence of the Associates, such Masters or Mistresses, who may incline hereafter to send their Negro Children to the School, are desired to signify the same to the Trustees as they would choose hereafter that all Vacancies should be filled up by an equal Number from each Family as near as may be.

As it will [be] needless & by no Means answer the Design of the Institution for the Children to be put to School & taken away in a short Time before they have received any real Benefit from it, Every Owner, before a Negro Child is admitted into the School, must consent that such Child shall continue there for the Space of three Years at least, if the School should be so long continued.

A decent Appearance of the Scholars, especially when they go to Church, being very likely to make a favourable Impression, All Owners of Children sent to this School must take Care that they be properly clothed & kept in a cleanly Manner; & if it should be agreeable, the Trustees would propose that the Children should wear one uniform Dress, by which they might be distinguished & it is conceived that this Method would be attended with very little additional Expence.

The Owners must send their Negro children regularly, & constantly at the Hours of Schooling; must comply with all Orders relating to them & freely submit them to be chastised for their Faults without quarrelling or coming to School on such Occasions; must by no Means encourage or wink at the Children’s Faults nor discourage the Teacher in the Performance of her Duty; But if there be any just Grounds of Complaint, they must lay them before the Trustees & Acquiesce in their Determination; the Trustees engaging on their Part to act with the strictest Justice & Impartiality & that they will, to the utmost of their Power, endeavour to redress every just Grievance.

It is not doubted but that the Owners themselves will give the Children, when at Home, good Examples of a sober & religious Behaviour, but they must moreover take Care, as much as in them lies, that they are not corrupted by the Wickedness & ill Examples of their Servants & other Slaves, must frequently catechize the Children at Home & second the Endeavours of the Teachers by inculcating in them the most useful & salutary Principles of Christianity.

Rules to be observed by the Tutoress or Mistress, (who is preferred to a Master, as the Scholars will consist of Children of both Sexes)

She shall take no Scholars but what are approved of by the Trustees & She shall attend the School at seven O Clock in the Winter half Year & at six in the Summer half Year in the Morning & keep her Scholars diligently to their Business during the Hours of schooling, suffering none to be absent at any Time, but when they are sick or have some other reasonable excuse.

2. She shall teach her Scholars the true Spelling of Words, make them mind their Stops & endeavour to bring them to pronounce & read distinctly.

3. She shall make it her principle Care to teach them to read the Bible, to instruct them in the Principles of the Christian Religion according to the Doctrine of the Church of England, shall explain the Church Catechism to them by some good Exposition, which, together with the Catechism, they shall publicly repeat in Church, or elsewhere, so often as the Trustees shall require & shall be frequently examined in School as to their Improvements of every Sort.

4. She shall teach them those Doctrines & Principles of Religion, which are in their Nature most useful in the Course of private Life, especially such as concern Faith & good Manners.

5. She shall conduct them from her School House, where they are all to be first assembled, in a decent & orderly Manner to Church, so often as divine Service is there performed & before it begins, & instruct & oblige them to behave in a proper Manner, kneeling or standing as the Rubrick directs, & to join in the public Service with & regularly to repeat after the Minister in all Places where the People are so directed & in such a Manner as not to disturb the rest of the Congregation. She shall take Care that the Scholars, so soon as they are able to use them, do carry their Bibles and Prayer Books to Church with them, &, that they may be prevented from spending the Lord’s Day profanely or idly, she shall give her Scholars some Task out of the most useful Parts of Scripture, to be learnt on each Lord’s Day, according to their Capacities, & shall require a strict Performance of it every Monday Morning.

6. She shall use proper Prayers in her School every Morning & Evening & teach the Scholars to do the same at Home, devoutly on their Knees, & also teach them to say Grace before & after their Victuals, explaining to them the Design & Meaning of it.

7. She shall take particular Care of their Manners & Behaviour of her Scholars & by all proper Methods discourage Idleness & suppress the Beginnings of Vice, such as lying, cursing, swearing, profaning the Lord’s Day, obscene Discourse, stealing &c., putting them often in Mind & obliging them to get by Heart such Parts of the Holy Scripture, where these Things are forbid & where Christians are commanded to be faithful & obedient to their Masters, to be diligent in their Business, & quiet & peaceable to all Men.

8. She shall teach her female Scholars knitting sewing & such other Things as may be useful to their Owners & she shall be particularly watchful that her Scholars, between the School Hours, do not commit any Irregularities nor fall into any indecent Diversions.

Lastly. She shall take Care that her Scholars keep themselves clean & neat in their Cloaths & that they in all Things set a good Example to other Negroes.

APA Citation:
Nicholas, John. Letter from William Yates and Robert Carter Nicholas to Rev. John Waring (September 30, 1762). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Nicholas, John. "Letter from William Yates and Robert Carter Nicholas to Rev. John Waring (September 30, 1762)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 13 Apr. 2024
Last updated: 2020, December 07
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