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First Baptist Church Excavation Project

Colonial Williamsburg has partnered with the First Baptist Church of Williamsburg and the Let Freedom Ring Foundation to locate the remains of the Nassau Street site of the First Baptist Church. The First Baptist Church of Williamsburg is one of the country’s earliest African American congregations and was founded by enslaved and free Black worshipers. This project will guide how this site is interpreted, commemorated, and ultimately recreated so present and future generations may learn about this nationally significant Church.

In the first phase of excavation, the team located the foundation of the 1856 church, along with the remains of an earlier building. While we do not yet know whether the remains of the early structure represent the “Baptist Meeting House,” where the congregation worshipped beginning in the early 19th century, a second phase of work is set to begin in January 2021 and hopes to answer that question and many more. In the second, expanded phase of excavation, the team will be taking a closer look at the previously identified structure and searching for others on the lot to try and locate the building where the congregation first met for worship in the city of Williamsburg.

In addition to identifying any structures that may have served as an early meeting space for the congregation that would come to be known as the First Baptist Church, archaeologists will work to identify burials that may be associated with the church. This process will be guided by members of the First Baptist Church and the community of its descendants so that any burials located may be protected and memorialized.

The archaeological work at the Historic First Baptist Church of Williamsburg on Nassau Street offers a unique opportunity for Colonial Williamsburg to strengthen our partnership with the Church and its community of descendants. Together, we will work to understand and share the story of this nationally significant site.

Read updates from the project timeline below to learn more.


July 2023 – Two years ago, archaeologists began excavating the site of one of the first Black churches in the United States. Now, field work is complete.

April 2023 –Experts from Colonial Williamsburg, William & Mary and the University of Connecticut presented the results of the archaeological, osteological and DNA analyses of three burials excavated at the site of the church’s original structure. The results confirmed that the individuals buried there are the ancestors of the First Baptist Church community, which extends well beyond the current Scotland Street congregation. You can read more in the press release here.

July 2022 – After a private blessing ceremony, Colonial Williamsburg archaeologists are excavating three burials at the original location of the First Baptist Church, launching an extensive process to unearth information about who was buried there and the lives they led.

October 2021 – Archaeologists shared with the First Baptist Church descendant community, and then the wider community that they believe they’ve found what they and members of First Baptist Church have been searching for: the church’s first permanent structure dating to the early 1800s. The announcement coincides with the church’s community-wide 245th anniversary celebration this weekend. You can read more in the press release here.

July 2021
– Archaeologists met with the project steering committee to update the community on findings, including more information about the found burials.

February 2021
–When archaeologists found human remains, the project steering committee gathered virtually to seek community input on next steps. Descendants of the church’s earliest members said they want the archaeology to continue to continue to learn as much as possible about the church’s early congregation, and who the deceased were, so that they can be properly honored. You can watch this February 22, 2021 meeting in the videos below.

January 2021
– Phase two of excavations begin, under the guidance of today's First Baptist Church congregation.

November 2020
 – As phase one of excavations wrap up, community and archaeology project leaders met to discuss to share key findings, including evidence of burial grounds. Read our blog update and watch our community meeting in the video section below.

October 2020
– Phase one excavations revealed intact foundations of the early First Baptist Church structure. In addition to unearthing the church’s 19th-century foundations, archaeologists found a smaller brick structure that predates the 1856 building.

September 2020
- Under guidance of First Baptist Church, we began to excavate the site of America’s oldest church founded by enslaved and free blacks at the intersection of Nassau and Francis streets in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area. Read our press release.

May 2020 - First Baptist Church and Colonial Williamsburg teamed up with archaeologists from the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation to conduct ground-penetrating radar. Radar indicated evidence of remains of the early structure used by members of First Baptist Church — originally founded in secret by free and enslaved Blacks at the start of America’s Revolution — prompting the planning of further excavations.

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The first phase has already yielded significant findings and set the stage for future discoveries - please help us continue this important work by making a gift today.

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On Saturday, March 12th, 2022, a panel of experts on biological anthropology, genealogical research, and human DNA analysis met with the First Baptist Church Nassau Street Steering Committee to answer questions regarding the excavation of a small number of burials uncovered at the First Baptist Church Archaeology site.
On Saturday, October 30, 2021, the First Baptist Church Nassau Street Steering Committee participated in a community forum and the Williamsburg Regional Library. A panel of experts on biological anthropology, genealogical research, and human DNA analysis discussed the possibility of conducting in-depth analyses on burials recently uncovered at the former church site.
The First Baptist Church Nassau Street Steering Committee met on February 22, 2021 for an important update on the Nassau Street archaeology project. Discussions included how to proceed after archaeologists found human remains.
This virtual meeting with community stakeholders, served as an update on the results of the first phase of archaeological research. Members of First Baptist Church, the City of Williamsburg, the College of William and Mary, and Colonial Williamsburg met on November 23, 2020, moderated by Connie Mathews Harshaw, President of the Let Freedom Ring Foundation. Discussions included how to proceed with the next phase of archaeological investigation, with a focus on the treatment of any burials and human remains. You will hear comments and presentations from Cliff Fleet (CEO of Colonial Williamsburg), Dr. Rev. Reginald Davis (Pastor of First Baptist Church), Jack Gary (Director of Archaeology for Colonial Williamsburg), Dr. Michael Blakey (Director of the Institute for Historical Biology at William and Mary), Rev. Juanita Graham (Chair of the Oral History Committee), and Ron Hurst (Vice President for Museums, Preservation, and Historic Resources at Colonial Williamsburg).


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