Excavation to start soon on land where African-American church once stood

Posted at 2:01 PM, Aug 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-31 07:29:26-04

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. - Archaeologists will soon congregate onto a plot of land along Nassau Street in the Colonial section of the city as they try to uncover an “untold” history where free and enslaved African-Americans worshiped at the original site of the First Baptist Church.

“This is actually African-American history, a story that has to be told,” Connie Harshaw, the president of Let Freedom Ring, said.

The plot of land guarded the story for 200 years with plastic construction fencing lining that land.

“We don't know what happened to that structure or what it looked like,” Jack Gary, one of the archaeologists, said. “Then in 1856, they had replaced that structure with a brick structure where they worshiped for the next 100 years."

Harshaw said that land was given to the worshipers by a white-land owner. They worshiped there for 150 years before moving the church to its current location on Scotland Street, roughly a mile away.

Research, however, did take place in 1957.

"They really didn't interpret what they found, but what they did find is that underneath the 1856 church was an earlier building," Gary said.

That is where that story left off. The only marker recognizing the old location is a plaque.

"I rode by as a visitor before I moved here,“ Harshaw said. “I saw that and thought, 'OK, where's the rest of the story?'"

Now, with the help of the archaeologists, Colonial Williamsburg, the University of William and Mary and the First Baptist Church, they hope to tell and display that story in a more meaningful way.

"The time is right to uncover African-American history in this country, the things that have been covered up for so long," Harshaw said.

"This is their story and we're just a tool to help them tell their story,” Gary said.

Excavation is scheduled to begin after Labor Day and is expected to last seven weeks.