WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Author's Note: The above video is on file from July 15, 2021.
The brick foundation of one of the oldest Black churches in the United States has been unearthed by archeologists at Colonial Williamsburg.
The living history museum announced its confirmation of the church's remnants on Thursday as it continues to reckon with its past storytelling about the country's origins and the role of Black Americans.
The First Baptist Church was formed in 1776 by free and enslaved African Americans.
They initially met secretly in fields and under trees in defiance of laws that prevented Black people from congregating. The church had its first building by 1818, but the structure was destroyed by a tornado in 1834.
Archaeologists have been digging since September 2020 at the site of the church’s original structure near the intersection of Nassau and Francis streets in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area. The church site was previously covered by a parking lot.
Back in February, researchers got a big surprise when they discovered the gravesites.
“We had no idea that there were burial sites there,” Colonial Williamsburg Director of Archaeology Jack Gary previously told 13News Now.
At least 25 confirmed human burials have been located. A community meeting is scheduled for Oct. 30 for the descendant community to discuss the next steps and make decisions regarding the investigation of the burial sites.
"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. Dr. Reginald F. Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church. "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. After 245 years, this is a reason to truly celebrate."
Author's Note: The video below is on file from Feb. 22, 2021.