Archaeologists oldest black church in America from 1776, klu klux klan

Archaeologists Unearth the Founders of the Historic Black Church in 1776.

Archaeologists have been excavating the foundation of Colonial Williamsburg's First Baptist Church, one of the nation's oldest Black churches, since last year.

Archaeologists believe they have discovered the ancient brick foundation of the First Baptist Church, one of the nation's oldest historically Black congregations.

According to the museum, the church was founded in 1776 at Colonial Williamsburg, a historical park and museum in Virginia, by free and enslaved Black people who convened secretly in defiance of laws prohibiting the congregation of African Americans.

"Our congregation's early history, which began with enslaved and free Blacks meeting secretly outside in 1776, has always been an integral part of who we are as a community," the Rev. Reginald F. Davis, pastor of the First Baptist Church, said in a statement on Thursday.

Archaeologists oldest black church in America from 1776, klu klux klan
On Wednesday, the Rev. Reginald F. Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, Va.; Connie Matthews Harshaw, a member who assists in preserving the church's history; and Jack Gary, Colonial Williamsburg's director of archaeology, posed with the Rev. Reginald F. Davis. They noticed the brick-and-mortar foundation of one of the country's oldest Black churches.

"To see the real bricks of that original foundation and the layout of the location where our forefathers prayed brings that history to life and makes that component of our identity tangible," he continued.

Jack Gary, Colonial Williamsburg's director of archaeology, who is supervising the excavation, said the team "always thought this is what we would uncover."

In a Thursday interview, he described it as "extremely powerful" to be able to inform visitors and people of the community "that you are standing in the location of the world's oldest Black Baptist church."

"Their tenacity and the fact that they continue to exist today is truly an American story," he added.

Since September 2020, archaeologists have been excavating the site of the church's original structure near the intersection of Nassau and Francis Streets in Colonial Williamsburg, an open-air museum in Williamsburg, Virginia, that recreates colonial life through the use of period actors dressed in period costumes.

The archaeologists are seeking for burials and attempting to gain a deeper understanding of the early church's attendees' experiences. The proposal has the backing of church authorities, whose congregation includes relatives of people who attended services centuries ago.

Around the time of the American Revolution, free and enslaved Black people met in secret to found the First Baptist Church.

By 1818, tax records indicate that the group was meeting on the location in a structure known as the Baptist Meeting House. It was destroyed by a tornado in 1834.

A second church construction, a brick structure, was constructed in 1856 and stood for over a century before being acquired by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 1956.

That year, as part of Colonial Williamsburg's restoration work, that structure was demolished and replaced with a parking lot. The congregation transferred to a different structure a few blocks distant.

According to the museum, the newly identified brick structure foundation spans 16 feet by 20 feet and rests alongside a brick paving and on top of an early 1800s layer of dirt.

According to the museum, artifacts discovered beneath the paving included an 1817 coin and a straight pin that appeared to indicate the foundation was constructed in the first quarter of the nineteenth century.

Along with the ancient house, archaeologists unearthed at least 25 human graves on the property.

According to the museum, excavations at the Nassau Street location will continue "as part of a multiyear study" to discover more about the church's first incarnation.

Officials announced on Oct. 30 that they would host a community gathering for descendants to consider burial places and possible next measures.

Connie Matthews Harshaw, a member of First Baptist Church and president of the Let Freedom Ring Foundation, which works to preserve the church's history, stated, "the discovery of our church's original location is such a lovely reminder of the power of public history to inspire and unify us."

Colonial Williamsburg, according to Jody Lynn Allen, an assistant professor of history at William & Mary, "has made significant efforts to include the African American experience since the late 1980s."

"With the addition of First Baptist Church," she stated, "Christianity, a critical component of Black people's life, is now included."