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Excavators in Williamsburg, VA have found remnants of one of the United States’ oldest African American Churches. The foundation of The First Baptist Church was discovered recently within Colonial Williamsburg. The church is one of the oldest dating Black churches in the country and was formed in 1776. The church was home to both free and enslaved people who met in secret as at the time African Americans were not allowed to congregate amongst each other.

History tells us the church’s first building came about around 1818 in Virginia’s former capital city according to tax records. It was a small 16 foot by 20-foot structure that was destroyed a few years late in 1834 when a tornado came through. The congregation rebuilt a new worship space in 1856 but Colonial Williamsburg turned it into a parking lot 100 years later. First Baptist still has an active congregation in the Williamsburg area.

Colonial Williamsburg revealed on Thursday the discovery of the foundation. This came after analyzing layers of soil and artifacts found including a one-cent coin and copper pins. A joint effort between the congregation and archeologists is working to find the best route for the excavation as well as preserving and telling the story of the church.

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Work on the project began in 2020. It has included locating 25 graves in the area which are believed to be from the time of the first building. Long-term plans would like to see the building recreated as part of the Colonial Williamsburg museums.

 

Currently, Colonial Williamsburg is the largest outdoor living history museum in the United States. It features recreated and restored buildings from the time of Virginia’s first capital city. 88 of the building are original. According to their website:

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is a private, not-for-profit 501(c)3 educational institution.  As we do not receive state or federal funding, Colonial Williamsburg relies on tax-deductible gifts and bequests from our donors.

Donations enable the research, documentation, and interpretive training fundamental to the presentation of programs in Historic Area buildings, trade shops, and museums. Donations support the acquisition and conservation of art, preservation, and maintenance of buildings, production of publications and audiovisual programs, and all educational activities. Thousands of philanthropic corporations, foundations, and individuals are helping to build a base of financial support for The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

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Gallery: Colonial Williamsburg