Evidence of burials to be identified and will help learn local church's history, researchers say

Posted at 4:34 PM, Nov 23, 2020

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- It is a breakthrough clue, found on a plot of land along Nassau Street where the original First Baptist Church once stood - evidence of graves. Now, researchers - which include archaeologists and members of the church – said it will help tell the story of the original church.

"It's pretty emotional, and it's pretty compelling for us because the story is the common story,” Connie Harshaw, President of Let Freedom Ring and a church member, said.

Archaeologist Jack Gary said the evidence of burials dates back to when the church stood in the 1800s. Now, they want to know who they are.

“We go into it, really, just assuming that we're not going to know to the individual level,” Gary said. “But because the community is still here, there's the possibility of familial relationships."

The purpose of the excavation, which started in September, was to find historical clues and to learn more about the original church.

The team did an underground search using radar, which revealed a dark spot. When they dug, that is when they found the evidence of burials.

"Until you get down to the body itself, that's when you know for 100 percent,” Gary said. "We've seen enough grave shafts here in Williamsburg to know what they look like when we see the shafts."

He added official documents will not help because he said those were destroyed during the Civil War. Now, they will have to rely on whatever documents the church saved.

"There is not a comprehensive document that says where everyone is buried,” Gary said.

Gary said if discovered, any remains would be analyzed by William & Mary.

“I did not hear any objection from the pastor of the church or any of the members or descendant community,” Harshaw said. “That's probably what we would be working with CW [Colonial Williamsburg] to do."

The discovery happened at the end of the excavation's first phase. Phase two is expected to start in January and last a year and a half.