The Burwell School


A place of beauty and history
Open to the public Wednesday - Sunday
Free admission

The Burwell School Historic Site brings important 19th century history alive for over 5000 visitors a year.  The three buildings (house, classroom building and "necessary") stand on Churton Street in Hillsborough's Historic District.   From 1835 - 1857 this was the home of the Rev. Robert Armistead Burwell, his wife, Margaret Anna Robertson Burwell, and their twelve children.  For twenty of those years they operated a landmark girl's academy for both day and boarding students, Mr and Mrs. Burwell's Academy for Young Ladies.  Over 200 girls from NC and other states pursued a "classical English education" through a four-year course of study, with an emphasis on composition, literature, grammar, mathematics and science, French, art, music, philosophy and more.  Mrs. Burwell was the central force of the school whose goal was to create "thorough scholars and useful members of society." At least seven students later ran their own schools.  The Burwell family later operated the Charlotte (NC) Female Academy (now Queens University) and Peace Institute in Raleigh, NC (now William Peace University).  

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly

As an antebellum southern academy, the Burwell School admitted only white girls.  However, for seven years the site was also the home and workplace of a literate, talented and determined young African-American Burwell family slave, Lizzie Hobbs.  During her seven years in Hillsborough she endured loneliness, hard work, even severe beatings, and a forced relationshiop with a local white man resulting in the birth of a son.  Later, in the St. Louis household of Rev. Burwell's sister, where she had been put to work as a dressmaker, she purchased freedom for herself and her son George.  Under her married name of Elizabeth Keckly she established herself as a successful dressmaker and businesswoman in Washington, DC, and became "modiste" (designer/dressmaker) to First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.  Her autobiography, "Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House," is both a slave narrative and a unique account of life in the White House.  She actively supported important African-American causes during the Civil War and, in later years, taught at Wilberforce University.   In 2018 the Burwell School will observe the bicentennial of her birth with events and exhibits.


Tea and History June 11



Five O'Clock Tea, Mary Cassatt
Mary Cassatt/via Wikimedia

We have a charming and interesting afternoon planned for you!   Join us on a Sunday afternoon for teatime and a chance to hear a distinguished scholar share her research into some Hillsborough history.  Dr. Sylvia Hoffert will talk about Maria L. Spear, the leader of the Hillsborough Female Academy, an Episcopal girl's school that operated during some of the same period as the Burwell School.  There are very interesting aspects to Miss Spear's time in Hillsborough -- and drama!

We'll have tea, lemonade and some delicious nibbles.

Dr. Hoffert holds a PhD. from the Univerisity of Indiana-Bloomington.  Now retired and a member of the Historic Hillsborough Commission, she has had a distinguished career in women's history, holding professorships at UNC-CH and Texas A&M University.  She is a Fellow of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University.  Dr. Hoffert is the author of five books and numerous articles.

Admission is $5; you can purchase your ticket that the Burwell School or through Eventbrite (no fee).

Click here to reserve your seat(s) to Tea and History.

Dr. Sylvia Hoffert

The Friends of the Burwell School

This beautiful place is almost 200 years old and needs your friendship to enter her third century in good shape.  The Historic Hillsborough Commission, a volunteer board established by the NC General Assembly in 1963, needs YOUR help to keep up with the needs of the site.  Will you join the Friends of the Burwell School? 
Annual basic membership is only $35 but all giving levels are welcome. 
Click here for more information.