Historic First Baptist Church to Begin Month-Long Celebration of 245th Anniversary

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The Williamsburg community will begin a month-long celebration to honor the 245th anniversary of the Historic First Baptist Church. (WYDaily/Nancy Sheppard)

WILLIAMSBURG — The community of Williamsburg will join the members and congregation of the Historic First Baptist Church to celebrate its 245th anniversary this month.

Historic First Baptist Church was founded in secret by a group of enslaved men and women in 1776 who risked their lives to have a place to worship before they had the legal right to do so in America.

Rev. Gowan Pamphlet was forced to preach in undisclosed locations to continue to spread the word of God to his followers. The First Baptist Church moved to a brick church building before the Civil War.

The church is now a designated National Historic Landmark, and is believed to be the first church in the country organized entirely by African Americans, for African Americans.

One of the oldest African American congregations in the nation today, Historic First Baptist Church will celebrate its 245th anniversary with the Williamsburg community starting on Saturday, Oct. 9.

The month-long celebration will begin with a premiere screening of “History Half Told is UnTold” at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg’s (CW) Hennage Auditorium.

The mini-documentary produced by the Let Freedom Ring Foundation presents
the church’s history from its founding to the 21st century, highlighting significant events over the past 245 years. Tickets to the premiere are free and are available online.

The second event taking place Oct. 9 is a “Behind the Fence” tour of the archaeological site of the Historic First Baptist Church on Nassau Street in Colonial Williamsburg from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Descendants of the First Baptist Church Nassau Street have been working with CW over the past year to uncover artifacts that will help tell the story of the people who lived and worked in Williamsburg during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The community is invited to speak with archeologists and learn more about the project.

On Sunday, Oct. 10 at 11 a.m., the community will celebrate the church’s anniversary on the front lawn of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg by the original
19th century site of the church on Nassau Street.

There, Rev. Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd will deliver the keynote address, and the Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra String Ensemble will be featured with celebrity guest vocalists joined by the First Baptist Church Choir.

On Saturday, Oct. 30 at 10 a.m., the First Baptist Church Nassau Street Steering
Committee will host the descendants for a public meeting at the Bruton Heights’ Lane Auditorium to hear an update on the archaeological site, discuss next steps and examination of intact burial sites discovered over the past year.

The celebration will conclude on Saturday, Nov. 13 with a Black-Tie Gala at the Williamsburg Lodge co-hosted by award-winning actor, producer, and humanitarian Danny
Glover and the Let Freedom Ring Foundation featuring a “one night only” performance from Jennifer Holliday and music by RaJazz.

Face coverings are currently required while inside Foundation-owned buildings regardless of vaccination status, and are encouraged outdoors as well.

For tickets to the Black-Tie Gala, call (757) 585-2146.

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