Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair(s)

Kyle T. Bulthuis


Kyle T. Bulthuis


Maria A. Diaz


Keri Holt


Ideas about the role of education in American society were contentious during the early years of the Nation. Despite this discord, the vast majority of African Americans lacked access to educational opportunities regardless of whether they were free or enslaved. When schools for African Americans did exist, they were often established by local community leaders or by benevolent societies. Benevolent societies in the early United States existed to prevent what they perceived as a moral decline in the nation. This thesis analyzed the records of schools established by two benevolent societies, the Associates of the Late Dr. Bray and the American Colonization Society, to examine how African Americans and black people in the remaining British Colonies navigated working with schools supported by white organizations.

A thorough look at the Bray School and Colonization Society documents revealed that both organizations attempted to utilized education to achieve a different end goal, the conversion to Christianity and the colonization of free African Americans in Africa, respectively. However, by the early 1800s, the Associates altered the mission of the Bray Schools in a way that accepted African American and black agency within the organization’s institutions. Rather than change being driven by the Associates, this thesis argues that African Americans and black community leaders were the ones that led to these changes in the Bray Schools’ mission. In two of the three geographic areas of this study, funding from the Associates was predated by the existence of informal schools led by black community members. Moreover, this thesis reveals that the success of the Bray Schools, where the American Colonization Society failed to attract students, was contingent upon their acceptance of the involvement of black people within the institutions. In doing so, this thesis adds to the current, growing historiography on private education in the early United States that highlight the renewed debates about private schools in modern American life. Lastly, it also adds to our understanding of the role of African American leadership in the development of the United States.



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