WHRO debuting film about unearthing history, burial sites of one of America’s oldest Black churches in Williamsburg

·2 min read

WHRO is premiering Sunday “Buried History: First Baptist Church,” a short documentary about the excavation of Historic First Baptist Church of Williamsburg-Nassau Street, one of the country’s oldest African American congregations.

Archaeologists began digging under a Nassau Street parking lot in September to find traces of the first structure. In November, in that lot one block south of Merchants Square, they discovered human remains.

Researchers can determine the approximate ages of individuals and information about nutrition and disease by examining teeth and bone. If enough DNA is present, scientists might be able to connect the deceased to descendants. The second phase of excavation began and archaeologists are looking at two potential human burials near the church’s 1856 foundation to discover how many people may be buried. They are working with William & Mary’s Institute for Historical Biology and will keep looking for more evidence of the church’s first permanent, pre-1818 structure.

“This important work to uncover the history of Historic First Baptist – Nassau Street and to present a story, in what we would imagine to be the voices of the free and enslaved African Americans who were brave enough to assemble and worship, could not have come at a better time in our history,” the church pastor, Rev. Reginald F. Davis, in a January news release. “We are facing, yet again, a time in our nation when we must step up — and step out — to lead the important conversation on race and unity with the hope that we will understand clearly that we are all members of the human race.”

The first congregants met in 1776 on the outskirts of Williamsburg because Blacks were prohibited by law from meeting. A white landowner, who overheard and was moved by their worship, allowed them the use of a building at the corner of South Nassau Street and West Francis Street. The congregation eventually moved into a new brick church in 1856, which was bought and torn down a century later by Colonial Williamsburg. The congregation used the proceeds of the sale to construct its current home at 727 Scotland St.


The documentary premieres at 9 a.m. on YouTube and Facebook at WHRO Public Media. It will be available through July 31.


Denise M. Watson, 757-446-2504, denise.watson@pilotonline.com

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting