Native American Education: Virginia

Bodleian Plate

The Indian School
THERE is but One Master in this School who is to teach the Indian Boys to read, and write, and vulgar Arithmetick. And especially he is to teach them thoroughly the Catechism and the Principles of the Christian Religion. For a yearly Salary, let him have Forty or Fifty Pounds Sterling, according to the Ability of that School, appointed by the Honorable Robert Boyle, or to be further appointed by other Benefactors.

So stated the Statutes of the College of William and Mary in Virginia (London, 1727. Begun in the year 1723, the Indian School at William and Mary met in a building opposite the President's House called the "Brafferton" after the Yorkshire estates in England purchased by Sir Robert Boyle (1627-1691). The Reverend James Blair, founder and president of the College, was in London when Boyle died in December 1691, leaving the bulk of his estate to be distributed for pious and charitable purposes. Blair secured funds from Boyle's executor for the Brafferton building and the Indian School in Williamsburg. Annual rents from Brafferton Manor in Yorkshire supported the Indian School until the American Revolution.

As noted in the statutes of the college, Indian youths were to be educated in the Christian religion, which was central to English ideas about the superiority of their society. The intention was that the youths so educated would then return to their home tribes as virtual missionaries for English culture. Virginia's Indians proved reluctant to send their sons to Williamsburg. Although, over the course of more the 50 years it was in operation, a number of sons of tribes allied with Virginia attended the Brafferton school, it was called a "noble failure," a reference to the fact that no Indian student acted in the capacity of missionary as the founders intended.

Sons of Indian nations who attended the College did not fit comfortably in either culture thereafter — too wedded to their proud Indian culture to suit British Virginians and less adept at the skills they might have perfected had they remained with their home tribes. An exception to this was John Nettles, a member of the Catawba Nation, completed his studies at the Indian School in the 1760s with high honors. He returned to his people able to read, write, do arithmetic, and with a Bible and familiarity with the basic tenets of Anglican Christianity-and decidedly English tastes in both clothing and dancing. Still, he returned to Catawba culture and life. He married a Catawba woman and became a headman in later years.

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