Archaeologists working at Colonial Williamsburg to uncover what life was like for the original worshipers of one of the country’s oldest black congregations have uncovered one and possibly two graves and more than 12,000 artifacts, including an ink bottle , doll fragments and coins.
By digging under a parking lot in the city of Virginia, researchers were able to find the foundations of a brick church built in 1856, which could be an even older church and potentially one or more graves for members of the congregation, the first historic Baptist. Williamsburg Church, said Jack Gary, director of archeology for Colonial Williamsburg on Tuesday. Mr Gary, who is overseeing the excavation, said there was at least one grave and possibly two and that there were likely more burial pits at the site.
“When I set foot on the dig site and listened to the story they were discovering, it was a great feeling,” said Rev. Dr. Julie Grace, who was baptized at the church in 1949. and is now associate minister. “To stand on the same ground as our ancestors – there is no feeling of realizing that your ancestors have such an important part of history.
Archaeological The project is supported by leaders of the historic church, whose members include descendants of those who attended church at the excavation site. The first phase of excavation began in September and ended earlier this month. The next phase is expected to start in January.
“The presence of African Americans is everywhere in Colonial Williamsburg,” Gary said. “Fifty-two percent of the population was black. The difference here is that it’s a space where a lot of people from this community come together. This is the space where things happened. “
According to the project’s website, free and enslaved blacks met in secret to found the first Baptist church at the start of the American Revolution. The remains of the first Baptist meeting house, which records show were on the site in 1818 and possibly as early as the late 18th century, can be buried at the excavation site, although more will be needed. research to be sure.
Another church building was erected in 1856 and lasted nearly a century until it was purchased by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 1956. The building was demolished that year as part of the efforts Colonial Williamsburg Restoration Facility, with another church being built a few blocks away. The goal, Mr Gary said, was to restore the area to its original state during the colonial period.
“The story of a black congregation was not part of the Williamsburg colonial narrative in the 1950s,” he says.
The site was paved in 1965. A plaque in tribute to the church was placed there in 1983.
“You have to understand that during this time when things have been done and you weren’t able to participate in the decision making, there is resentment,” said Connie Matthews Harshaw, President of the Let Freedom Ring. Foundation of the church. Worshipers who remember the church before it was demolished told him that “community meetings were held in places where blacks were not allowed to come. The black community has not had the opportunity to voice its objection.
Colonial Williamsburg, in historic Williamsburg, Virginia, is an open-air museum that attempts to recreate life in Colonial times. It’s populated by historical re-enactors dressed in period clothing and interpreting the way people lived and worked at the time. However, it was not until 1979 that the stories of black residents began to be interpreted, and even then the primary sources that speak of black life were limited.
The project’s website stated that, if successful, “this initiative will allow Colonial Williamsburg to expand its interpretive programming of blacks through voices that have remained silent since the Revolution.
When the archeology project began to work in earnest to unearth the church, the impact was powerful. “When the trees fell and the parking lot came up, it was quite emotional,” said Matthews Harshaw.
The next phase of the project will last 18 months. Mr Gary said archaeologists hoped to make the excavations as accessible to the public as possible, allowing visitors to see the work daily and ask questions.
Ms Matthews Harshaw said her immediate concern was to identify those still buried at the site. At the same time, she and the church are recording the oral histories of the remaining descendants. She hopes the church will be restored and eventually become a museum.
“I didn’t grow up in this church,” she admitted. “But I am a member of this church. And I want to know the story. What happened to all these people? Where did they go?”