WILLIAMSBURG, VA - Archaeologists have uncovered the foundation of one of the country's oldest black churches from Colonial times.
The congregation of First Baptist of Williamsburg began meeting secretly outdoors in 1776, but much of its history was lost when the building was covered over by a parking lot. Now, black and white Americans are coming together to tell the whole story.
After a year of digging, Colonial Williamsburg's Director of Archaeology Jack Gary says they found what they were looking for.
"We've uncovered two foundations of two different buildings. One of them being what we believe is the first permanent building that the congregation began to worship in in the early 1800s. And then the second foundation is for their second church, which replaced the first church, which actually was demolished by a tornado, if you can believe it. We've also discovered 28 burials that we believe are members of the historic congregation," Gary said.
First Baptist dates back to the same year that America issued the Declaration of Independence when free and enslaved blacks would meet in secret outdoor gatherings despite laws that forbade it.
Years later, a white colonist named Jesse Cole was so moved by their worship he offered them his Carriage House, and that became their first church building, a 16 by 20-foot structure. The second church, which was much bigger, was built in 1856 and stood until 1956 when Colonial Williamsburg bought the property, paid for a new church building a few blocks away, and turned the old church into a parking lot.
Connie Matthews Harshaw of the Let Freedom Ring Foundation told CBN News, "So I have to tell you at the very, very basic level, it was hurtful. Colonial Williamsburg knew this. They accepted it and they acknowledged it. And right now, we've moved from the hurt over to the healing. And it's a pretty powerful feeling now for those descendants that are still here, they actually get to see it all being uncovered."
"HEALING CAN HAPPEN"
Imagine the prayers that were prayed, the songs that were sung, and the sermons that were preached by members of one of the oldest black churches in America. Rev. Dr. Reginald F. Davis, is Pastor of First Baptist in Williamsburg – a church that has thrived since 1776 despite slavery, racism, and its history almost being covered up. He hopes that by uncovering the past, it will bring the healing that America needs now.
"I want people to feel that healing can happen, that togetherness can happen. All we have to do is come together and recognize each other's humanity and that we all serve the same God. We're going to have to make sure that we tell the whole story, not half of the story, and get rid of a lot of the myth that's so inundated in our American history," Rev. Davis said.
"THIS IS A STORY OF FAITH"
Harshaw says first and foremost, this is a story of faith.
"We are now black and white in this community. It has brought the community together and we have three words we just say, 'Look at God, look at God.' He is really, really is in the midst of all of this because everything is lined up perfectly that the nation is struggling right now with a conversation on race. We're all struggling with a conversation on faith. So we now know that this is the time. There is no other time. So I just think that it's one of the things that will bring the country together," Harshaw said.
Some of the exciting findings so far – a one-cent coin dated 1817 and some copper pins that were common on women's clothing. The dig near the intersection of Nassau and Francis streets is scheduled to continue for another year. Then they hope to reconstruct the original church by 2026, in time for the 250th celebration of America's independence in 1776.