Virginia State Seal

Virginia Department of Historic Resources

137-5071 First Baptist Church

First Baptist Church
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For additional information, read the Nomination Form PDF

VLR Listing Date 03/16/2017

NRHP Listing Date 06/05/2017

NPS property number SG100001050

Constructed in 1956, the two-story Colonial Revival-style First Baptist Church in Williamsburg is nationally important as home to the country’s oldest and continuously active black congregation, a religious community that has endured for some 250 years while overcoming religious prejudices and oppression.

Prior to the American Revolution, the nondenominational colonial congregation faced restrictions imposed by the British, which mandated state support for the Anglican Church and limited the religious rights of dissenting denominations to worship and proselytize. The Revolutionary War led to the disestablishment of the Anglican Church and the advent of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786. Throughout the antebellum era First Baptist’s African American congregation endured interference in its church organization as well as imposed oversight of worship practices by white ministers. Church congregants also had to meet special conditions for membership in the Dover Baptist Association that derived from centuries of legislation and custom severely restricting the rights of free blacks and protecting the institution of slavery. After the Civil War, the congregation and the clergy promoted general and theological education for blacks in Williamsburg and surrounding areas, and during Reconstruction in the 1870s the church’s minister was elected to statewide office. In the 20th century, the church clergy and congregation participated in organizations and activities of the Civil Rights Movement.

The First Baptist Church building is one of two known examples of ecclesiastical architecture designed by Bernard Spigel, a prominent Virginia architect. His design deftly interprets the Colonial Revival-style, heavily influenced by the nearby restoration architecture of Colonial Williamsburg.


Abbreviations:
VLR: Virginia Landmarks Register
NPS: National Park Service
NRHP: National Register of Historic Places
NHL: National Historic Landmark

Updated September 19, 2018