Revisited Myth #33: It was against the law to teach African-Americans, enslaved or free, to read and write.

History Myths Debunked

Photo courtesy of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Photo courtesy of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Well . . . it depends on the colony (or the state) and the year.

During the colonial period in Virginia, no laws prohibited teaching slaves to read. In fact, Samuel Davies, a Presbyterian minister, worked hard to bring books and education to Virginia slaves in the middle of the 1700s. Not only was it legal, there were some free schools set up to teach African-American children. In Williamsburg, Virginia, Mrs. Ann Wager operated a school for black children from 1760 until her death in 1774. A widowed teacher, she was hired to instruct young slave children by the Bray Associates, a group of English philanthropists who paid the expenses. The Bray School, as it was called, existed specifically to “instruct Negro Children in the Principles of the Christian Religion.”

There were other Bray Schools, one in Philadelphia that Benjamin Franklin praised for…

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