If you consider yourself a history buff, Colonial Williamsburg may be the place for you to visit. If you live or went to school in Virginia, then you’ve already seen it plenty of times. Colonial Williamsburg is a historical site where you can see and take a step back in time to colonial America. It includes historical re-enactments, and actors are walking around in costume to make things feel authentic. Recently, archaeologists made a discovery that adds even more historical context to Colonial Williamsburg. Experts believe they have uncovered the remains of one of the oldest Black churches in America.

History of the First Baptist Church of Williamsburg

The First Baptist Church in Williamsburg was formed in 1776 by free and enslaved Black people. Members initially met in secret in fields and under trees. They met this way because, at the time, there was a law against Black people congregating. The church got its first building in 1818, often called the Baptist Meeting House, but a tornado destroyed this building in 1834. Colonial Williamsburg Director of Archaeology Jack Gary confirmed that members built the structure in the early 19th century. Archaeological teams found a coin at the site minted in 1817, so this further confirms the hypothesis.

Archaeologists have been digging at the site since September of 2020, and this 16×20 brick foundation is their first significant discovery. The church’s original structure is near the Nassau and Francis Streets intersection in Colonial Williamsburg’s historic district. A parking lot previously covered up the church site. The Let Freedom Ring Foundation is also helping excavators with this project. They hope to collect and preserve any artifacts that experts find at the site. The president of the organization, Connie Matthews-Harshaw, says that this structure tells the story of the free and enslaved Black people that worshipped there. These individuals risked their lives to have a place to worship.

Significance of Faith

Faith was a significant factor that kept some slaves going every day. Slaves owners treated their slaves as less than human. Slaves had everything taken from them; their homeland, their family, and other things. They may not have had much of anything else, but their faith was one thing they did have. It was their faith that kept them going, even when they wanted to give up. By uncovering this structure, archaeologists have brought attention to the story of these free and enslaved church members. With this information being out in the open, this opens up the possibility of experts doing more research.

Archaeologists started working on this site in 2020. It wasn’t until last week that they uncovered this 16×20 brick foundation of the First Black Baptist Church in Colonial Williamsburg. Slaves defied the law to gather in the fields or under trees to talk about God. This structure represented so much for them. Most importantly, it meant the fact that they no longer had to hide. They could come to this church that they built and worship in public. If experts found this structure after a year, the remains of other old Black churches may be hiding under parking lots.

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