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Remnant of One of the Oldest Black Churches in US Is Unveiled in Virginia

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(RNS) — Archaeologists believe they have discovered the foundation of the original building of the First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, Virginia, one of the nation’s oldest Black churches.

The announcement, shared first with descendants of First Baptist Church members, was officially made on Thursday (Oct. 7) by Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which runs the well-known outdoor living museum and historic district in Williamsburg.

“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,” said the Rev. Reginald F. Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church, in a statement.

“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.”

The discovery of the first permanent structure of the church — which is set to celebrate its 245th anniversary on the weekend of Oct. 9-10 — comes after a year of excavation at the site.

Archaeologists located a 16 X 20-foot brick foundation atop a layer of soil that has been dated to the early 1800s. It sits beside brick paving under which was found an 1817 coin.

Tax records have indicated that the congregation was worshipping on the site by 1818 in a building called the Baptist Meeting House, which was likely the congregation’s first permanent home.

Jack Gary, Colonial Williamsburg’s director of archaeology, said he considers these finds to be just the start of continuing research.

“We always hoped this is what we’d find,” he said in a statement. “Now we can move forward to better understand the footprint of the building. Is it the only structure on the site? What else was around it? What did it look like? How was it being used?”

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AdelleMBanks@churchleaders.com'
Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.