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First Baptist Church collection

Identifier: MS 00341

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Content Description

This collection is formed of materials created by the First Baptist Church of Williamsburg, dating from the mid-1800s to the present day. Inculded in this collection are church records such as member rolls, meeting minutes, photographs, bibles, building blueprints, and audio visual materials.


  • Creation: 1866 - 2017


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to all researchers. Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, such as the Virginia Public Records Act (Code of Virginia. § 42.1-76-91); and the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (Code of Virginia § 2.2-3705.5). Confidential material may include, but is not limited to, educational, medical, and personnel records. If sensitive material is found in this collection, please contact a staff member immediately. The disclosure of personally identifiable information pertaining to a living individual may have legal consequences for which the College of William and Mary assumes no responsibility.

Conditions Governing Access

Viewing Series V is restricted to members of the First Baptist Church of Williamsburg.

Conditions Governing Use

Before reproducing or quoting from any materials, in whole or in part, permission must be obtained from The First Baptist Church.

Biographical / Historical

The history of the First Baptist Church (FBC) can be traced to 1776 when a group of free and enslaved Black people began publicly worshiping after the constraints of British Anglicanism was lifted in Virginia. The First Baptist Church claims to be the oldest continuously operating black congregation in the United States, as it was practicing prior to applying for admittance to the Dover Baptist Association in 1791.

Worshippers first met under a brush arbor built near Green Spring, a plantation west of Williamsburg. A white landowner named Robert F. Coles offered the congregation space in his carriage house on Nassau Street around 1776. This is where the congregation was located when they became a part of the Dover Baptist Association as the African Baptist Church. Membership to the Association lapsed and resumed several times between 1776 and 1828. 1828 saw the remodeling of the carriage house to accommodate a growing congregation. After several rebellions against slavery across the country, including one led by Nat Turner in Southampton, Virginia, the Virginia House of Delegates passed an act on March 15, 1832 that required white pastors to lead Black religious organizations. As a result, the membership rolls decreased by nearly half. On Friday, April 14, 1834, a tornado destroyed the remodeled 1828 church building. The congregation moved to worship at the white Zion Baptist Church. In May 1856, the new African Baptist Church on Nassau street was dedicated.

During the Civil War, the church building was used as a hospital for Confederate soldiers until the Union army took the city. Soon after in 1863, the congregation regained control of the building and changed the name to The First Baptist Church of Williamsburg. The Philadelphia Friends Freedman’s Association established a school in the church that same year, which flourished until the establishment of free public schools in 1870. After the Civil War, the requirement for a white pastor was removed and the congregation was able to choose their own leadership.

1871 saw an additional expansion of the church ground by thirty-five feet of land to the south side. In 1886, the church’s womens’ auxiliary committee raised funds to add a fence, a belfry and bell, a woodhouse, and in 1887, another twenty feet of land was purchased. A building committee was formed, and the structure was renovated with the side galleries removed in 1893. A fire damaged the building in 1930, but was repaired within a year. An annex was planned to be built in 1953, however, that same year Colonial Williamsburg offered $130,000 as well as a larger plot of land on Scotland street to purchase the church building on Nassau street. In August 18, 1954, the church trustees agreed to the deal. Attorney Lewis Armistead oversaw the legal proceedings while Bernard B. Spiegel was hired as the architect of the new church on Scotland Street. The church was completed in late 1956. Colonial Williamsburg demolished the Nassau street building in 1956 and constructed a parking lot.

In the spring of 1984, the coordinator of James City County’s 350th Anniversary, Mrs. Robinette Fitzsimmons, requested that church members allow visitors to tour the church, view artifacts, and listen to history lessons. That request led to the creation of the Church Historian Position, and Miss. Marie Sheppard was appointed. Sheppard agreed to Colonial Williamsburg’s request with the stipulation that a history book be jointly created and requested that Colonial Williamsburg restore the Nassau street church. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation agreed, but on the condition that the 1818 version be restored instead of the 1856 church building that was demolished. The Lilly Foundation provided a grant of $74,000 for an exhibition on the history of First Baptist Church, and it opened to the public in 2003. In 2020, Colonial Williamsburg began archaeological excavations of the original church site, and in 2021 discovered evidence of human remains. Currently, the church burial grounds are undergoing further research.


16.7 Linear Feet




This collection is arranged into five series. Series I, Administrative Papers; which holds documents related to the oganization and operation of the church such as meeting minutes, notes, member registers, ledgers, and bylaws. Series II, Photographs; contains images of, and pertaining to, the First Baptist Church. Series III, Bibles and Hymnals; Bibles and Hymnals either held by the church itself, or by church members. Series IV, Audiovisual Materials; CDs, audio recordings, and oral histories. And Series V, Blueprints; blueprints of the 1956 church building, as well as other documents pertaining to the construction process.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

On extended loan from the First Baptist Church of Williamsburg.

First Baptist Church Collection
In Progress
Veronica Parker
2022 December 9
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center Repository