WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — One of the country’s first Black Baptist churches will undergo archeological discoveries, a reconstruction and live interpretations thanks to a $3 million national grant.
The First Baptist Church in Williamsburg was one of the nation’s earliest Black Baptist churches. It was founded in 1776 by Rev. Gowan Pamphlet, who was enslaved and worked in a Williamsburg tavern. The church was later admitted into the Dover Baptist Association in 1793, the same year Pamphlet gained his freedom.
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation first began archaeological work on the First Baptist Church project in 2020. In the last three years, archaeologists have located the church’s original structure and uncovered more than 60 burial sites. Currently, three of the burial sites are undergoing analysis to discover more information about who was buried in the area.
Once archaeology on the church has been completed, the congregation’s first meeting house will be reconstructed. There will also be a religious interpretive staff at the church, featuring Rev. James Ingram as Rev. Pamphlet.
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation was able to complete this archaeological work in part thanks to grants from Lilly Endowment’s Religion and Cultural Institutions Initiative. Lilly Endowment made a $2.5 million grant to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 2020 and most recently awarded the foundation a $3 million grant.
“Lilly Endowment’s wonderful commitment to supporting interpretive staff will ensure that the history and many of the remarkable stories of First Baptist Church’s early years are shared with Colonial Williamsburg visitors for generations to come,” Ingram said. “The stories of Rev. Pamphlet and the First Baptist Church congregation provide critical lessons about the nation`s religious history.”
Lilly Endowment’s recent grant also initiates a matching gift challenge, which requires Colonial Williamsburg to raise an additional $1 million for the project by the end of October.
The First Baptist Church is located at 727 West Scotland Street in Williamsburg and offers services every Sunday at 11 a.m.
The First Baptist Church project is a partnership with First Baptist Church’s descendant community, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and the Let Freedom Ring Foundation.