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English colonists in Virginia developed plans to establish an Indian School on the Virginia peninsula as early as 1618. Before the school could be established, a raid led by Chief Opechancanough in March 1622 killed over one third of the colony's population.

The charter issued to William & Mary in 1693 explicitly stated that one of the College's responsibilities was to see "that the Christian faith may be propogated amongst the Western Indians."1 To carry out this mission, the College's first President, Rev. James Blair, sought funding for an Indian School. In 1697, Blair signed an agreement with the executors of the estate of the famous English scientist Robert Boyle, who bequeathed 5,400 pounds of his estate for "pious and charitable uses." The executors agreed to invest Boyle's money in a Yorkshire manor named Brafferton and to use its rents to pay the College an annual sum of 90 pounds to support an Indian School.


Blair promised to keep at the College "so man Indian children in sickness and health." He said the College could provide meat, drink, washing, lodging, medicines, books, and a well-rounded education from "the first beginning of letters" until the time when the young men could go back to "preach and convert" other members of their tribe. While Blair initially expressed an interest in the new Indian School, he soon turned his attention to other matters. Virginia Governor Francis Nicholson took an interest in the school and began a campaign to find it pupils. In 1700, Nicholson engaged two Native American traders to persuade local chiefs to send their sons to the College. The traders were instructed to tell the Native Americans "that a great and good man who lately died in England and having great love for the Indians, hath left money enough to the College here in Virginia to keep nine or 10 Indian children at it and to teach them to read, write, and all other arts and sciences, that the best Englishmen's sons do learn." Nicholson suggested that the boys be seven to eight years of age and he invited the chiefs themselves to visit the College.

Although there is no conclusive list of how many Native Americans were enrolled in the school, it appears Nicholson's efforts failed. In the first decade of the 18th century, the College began the practice of buying its pupils from local Indians who captured the boys during wars with other tribes. Nicholson's successor as governor, Alexander Spotswood, was also concerned about fostering a thriving Indian School. By 1712, he managed to overcome much of the distrust among local tribal leaders who finally decided to allow their young boys to attend the school. About 20 young boys enrolled in the school. The increased enrollment taxed the school's resources and Gov. Spotswood turned to the House of Burgesses for additional support, which unfortunately for the school was not forthcoming. Enrollment dropped immediately, and by 1721, there was not a single boy enrolled in the Indian School.

In 1723, President Blair raised the needed funds to construct a building to house the Indian School master and his pupils. In honor of the Yorkshire estate, the building was named the Brafferton. Even with the construction of a dedicated building and a schoolmaster, enrollment continued to be small and educational progress slow.

It became apparent that the Indian School was doomed to failure. Separated from their families, the young boys were constantly plagued with homesickness and loneliness (one ghost story set at the College features boys who are fleeing the Indian School). They also proved to be highly susceptible to the illnesses of the colonists, to which they had little resistance. Native American leaders were also reluctant to send boys to a school like the one in Williamsburg as it did not teach them the skills needed upon their return to their families.

The Indian School closed during the Revolutionary War when funds from the Brafferton Estate in England were cut off in 1775. Legal attempts after the war to resume the flow of funds failed, and the Indian School vanished as a part of William & Mary.


1753-1754 - William Cooke

1753-1754 - Gideon Langston

1753-1754 - John Montour

1753-1755 - John Sampson

1753-1755 - Charles Murphy

1753-1755 - Thomas Sampson

1753-1755 - William Squirrel

1754 - John Langston

1765 - John Turner

1769 - Robert Mush

1769 - George Sampson

1771 - John Nettles

1775 - Reuben Sampson

1775 - George Sampson

1776 - Mons. Baubee

1776 - Edmund Sampson

The names of known students of the Indian School can be found in The Provisional List of Alumni, 1693-1888. 2. Students are also listed in the Bursar's books in the Special Collections Research Center.

Students Known to have fought in the Revolutionary War

Several students of the Indian School are known to have fought in the American Revolution.

Masters of the Indian School

1712-"a master" (not named)

1716-Christopher Jackson

1716-Christopher Smith

1718-The Rev. Charles Griffin

1729-Richard Cocke

1729-The Rev. John Fox

1737-The Rev. Robert Barret

1739-The Rev. Thomas Dawson

1755-1777-The Rev. Emmanual Jones

Material in the Special Collections Research Center

  • "So good a work" : the Brafferton school, 1691-1777, Karen A. Stuart, MA Thesis, 1984. Swem stacks, Archives book collections: LD6051 .W5m Hist., 1984, S78 (available for interlibrary loan requests).


  • Indian School, University Archives Subject File Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, William & Mary.
  • Brafferton Estate Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, William & Mary.


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A note about the contents of this site

This website contains the best available information from known sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information in this website is not complete, and it changes as we continue to research and uncover new sources.