The foundation of one of the oldest Black churches in America was uncovered in Williamsburg, Va., and will now be included in a living art museum that wants to tell the truth about Black colonial America.
On Thursday, Colonial Williamsburg, an open-air museum, announced that its archaeologists found the brick foundation of the church after analyzing layers of soil and artifacts, including a one-cent coin and straight pin along with more than a dozen human burials.
Here’s more from NBC News:
The First Baptist Church was formed in 1776 by free and enslaved Black people. They initially met secretly in fields and under trees in defiance of laws that prevented African Americans from congregating.
By 1818, the church had its first building in the former colonial capital. The 16-foot by 20-foot (5-meter by 6-meter) structure was destroyed by a tornado in 1834.
First Baptist’s second structure, built in 1856, stood there for a century. But an expanding Colonial Williamsburg bought the property in 1956 and turned it into a parking lot.
First Baptist Pastor Reginald F. Davis, whose church now stands elsewhere in Williamsburg, said the uncovering of the church’s first home is “a rediscovery of the humanity of a people.”
According to the New York Times, archaeologists have been digging at the site since September 2020. Now, they’ve found the foundation for the original structure at Nassau Street and at least 25 human burials along with it. Descendants of its original members and current congregants will discuss what to do with the remains on Oct. 30.
“Imagine being a child going to this church, and riding by and seeing a parking lot ... where possibly people you knew and loved are buried,” said Connie Matthews Harshaw, a member of First Baptist and board president of the Let Freedom Ring Foundation.
Colonial Williamsburg features hundreds of original or reconstructed buildings from the 18th century with actors who dress the part to recreate colonial life. More than half of the 2,000 people who lived in Williamsburg at that time were Black—and many were enslaved, NBC notes. The museum began telling Black stories in 1979 and launched its American Indian Initiative in 2002 to be more honest about the history there.
In recent years, the museum is making an effort to showcase more Black history, which was largely erased from its collection. NBC reports that the church is a large part of the initiative and the museum’s historic conservation experts already repaired the church’s bell a few years back.