Colonial Williamsburg Project Unearths Graves and Artifacts at Site of Historic Black Church

Archaeologists working in Colonial Williamsburg to unearth what life was like for the original congregants of one of the oldest Black congregations in the country have uncovered one and possibly two graves and more than 12,000 artifacts, including an ink bottle, doll fragments and coins.

Digging beneath a parking lot in the Virginia city, the researchers were able to find the foundations for a brick church built in 1856, what may be an even older church building and a grave or graves potentially for members of the congregation, the Historic First Baptist Church of Williamsburg, Jack Gary, Colonial Williamsburg’s director of archaeology, said Tuesday. Mr. Gary, who is overseeing the excavation, said that there was at least one grave and possibly two and that there were probably more burial shafts at the site.

“When I set foot on the excavation site and listened to the history that they were uncovering, it was an awesome feeling,” said the Rev. Dr. Julie Grace, who was christened at the church in 1949 and is now an associate minister. “To be standing on the same ground of our ancestors — there’s no feeling like realizing that your ancestors have such an important part of history.”

The archaeological project is being backed by leaders of the historic church, whose members include descendants of those who attended the church at the excavation site. The first phase of the dig began in September and ended earlier this month. The next phase is set to begin in January.

“The presence of African-Americans is all over Colonial Williamsburg,” Mr. Gary said. “Fifty-two percent of the population was Black. The difference here is this is one space where a lot of folks in that community are coming together. This is the space where things were happening.”

According to the project’s website, free and enslaved Black people met in secret to found the First Baptist Church around the start of the American Revolution. The remains of the first Baptist Meeting House, which records show stood at the site in 1818 and perhaps as early as the late 18th century, may be buried at the excavation site, though it will take more research to be certain.

Another church building was erected in 1856 and stood for nearly a century until it was purchased by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 1956. The building was torn down that year as part of Colonial Williamsburg restoration efforts, with another church being built blocks away. The goal, Mr. Gary said, was to restore the area to how it appeared during the colonial period.

“The story of a Black congregation was not part of the Colonial Williamsburg narrative in the 1950s,” he said.

The site was paved over in 1965. A plaque honoring the church was placed there in 1983.

“You have to understand that, in that time period, when things got done and you didn’t get to be a part of the decision-making, there’s resentment,” said Connie Matthews Harshaw, president of the church’s Let Freedom Ring Foundation. Congregants who remember the church before it was torn down told her that “community meetings were being held in places where Blacks were not allowed to come. There wasn’t an opportunity for the Black community to voice their objection.”

Colonial Williamsburg, in the historic district of Williamsburg, Va., is an open-air museum that attempts to recreate life in the colonial era. It’s populated by historical re-enactors dressed in period garb and performing interpretations of how people lived and worked at the time. However, it wasn’t until 1979 that Black residents’ stories started to be interpreted, and even then primary sources that speak to Black life were limited.

The project’s website said that, if successful, “this initiative will enable Colonial Williamsburg to expand its Black-interpretative programming through voices that have been silent since the Revolution.”

When the archaeology project started work in earnest to unearth the church, the impact was powerful. “When the trees came down and the parking lot came up, it was pretty emotional,” Ms. Matthews Harshaw said.

The next phase of the project will last for 18 months. Mr. Gary said the archaeologists hoped to make the excavations as publicly accessible as possible, allowing visitors to see the work on a daily basis and ask questions.

Ms. Matthews Harshaw said her immediate concern was identifying those still buried at the site. At the same time, she and the church are recording oral histories from the remaining descendants. She hopes that the church is restored and eventually becomes a museum.

“I did not 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?”

Source link

13 thoughts on “Colonial Williamsburg Project Unearths Graves and Artifacts at Site of Historic Black Church

  1. Hi would you mind letting me know which web host you’re using? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot quicker then most. Can you suggest a good hosting provider at a fair price? Cheers, I appreciate it!

  2. you’re really a good webmaster. The website loading speed is incredible. It seems that you are doing any unique trick. In addition, The contents are masterwork. you have done a great job on this topic!

  3. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be actually something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!

  4. I have seen that currently, more and more people are attracted to cams and the industry of digital photography. However, like a photographer, you will need to first commit so much of your time deciding the exact model of dslr camera to buy along with moving out of store to store just so you could possibly buy the most inexpensive camera of the brand you have decided to choose. But it does not end there. You also have to take into account whether you can purchase a digital digital camera extended warranty. Thanks alot : ) for the good recommendations I gained from your web site.

  5. hey there and thank you for your info ?I抳e certainly picked up something new from proper here. I did however expertise some technical points using this website, since I skilled to reload the web site a lot of times prior to I may just get it to load correctly. I had been pondering if your hosting is OK? No longer that I am complaining, but slow loading circumstances occasions will very frequently impact your placement in google and could injury your high-quality rating if ads and ***********|advertising|advertising|advertising and *********** with Adwords. Well I am adding this RSS to my email and can look out for a lot extra of your respective intriguing content. Ensure that you update this again very soon..

  6. Nearly all of whatever you point out happens to be supprisingly appropriate and it makes me ponder why I hadn’t looked at this in this light previously. Your piece really did turn the light on for me as far as this specific subject goes. Nonetheless at this time there is actually 1 issue I am not really too comfy with and whilst I try to reconcile that with the actual core idea of your position, allow me see what the rest of your subscribers have to say.Very well done.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *