Virginia: Archaeologists uncover one of America’s oldest black church buildings

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by Karen Faulkner, Worthy News Correspondent

(Worthy News) – Archaeologists in Virginia believe they have uncovered the foundation of an early 19th-century building that used to house Williamsburg’s First Baptist Church, one of America’s oldest black churches, Religious News Service (RNS) reports.

Originally founded in a forest in 1776 by enslaved and free Blacks who defied laws prohibiting African Americans from assembling, First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, Virginia celebrated its 245th anniversary on the weekend of October 9-10 this year.

The discovery of the First Baptist building was officially announced on October 7 by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which owns the land on which the original church was built and which manages a museum and historic district in the area, RNS said. Tax records show there was a church called Baptist Meeting House at the site by 1818.

Following a year of excavations, archaeologists found a 16 X 20-foot brick foundation dated to the early 1800s; an 1817 coin and the remains of 25 burials were also found close to the structure, RNS reports. It is believed the recently discovered structure was the congregation’s first permanent building.

In a statement about the discovery, Rev. Reginald F. Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church, said: “The early history of our congregation, beginning with enslaved and free Blacks gathering outdoors in secret in 1776, has always been a part of who we are as a community. To see it unearthed — to see the actual bricks of that original foundation and the outline of the place our ancestors worshipped — brings that history to life and makes that piece of our identity tangible.”

Cliff Fleet, president and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, added in a statement: “Colonial Williamsburg is committed to telling a more complete and inclusive story of the men and women who lived, worked, and worshipped here during our country’s formative years.”

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