Archaeologists Uncover Possible Remnants of America’s Oldest Black Church

  Amanda Casanova | Contributor | Friday, October 8, 2021
A church building

Archaeologists may have found remnants in Williamsburg, Va. of what could be one of America’s oldest Black churches.

Experts uncovered what they believe is the foundation of the First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation announced this week.

“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.”

First Baptist Church is set to celebrate its 245th anniversary this weekend.

Excavation of the location started about a year ago. Most recently, archaeologists found a 16x20-foot brick foundation on top of a layer of soil that dates back to the early 1800s. Next to the foundation was brick paving, where experts also found a coin from 1817.

According to tax records, the church’s congregation met at the site by 1818 and called the building the Baptist Meeting House.

“We always hoped this is what we’d find,” said Jack Gary, Colonial Williamsburg’s director of archaeology. “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?”

In 1856, the church’s original foundation was covered by a new foundation of a brick church. The original building was destroyed in a tornado.

Later, the site of the church became a parking lot for the Colonial Williamsburg Museum, and in 1956 the church relocated to another site.

Excavation work is expected to continue.

“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,” said Cliff Fleet, president and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, in a statement.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/EJ Rodriquez

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and She blogs at The Migraine Runner.