Written by Mike Koch, photo by Mike Koch

Tucked behind the Boatwright Library is the Virginia Baptist Historical Society. The Society is probably better known outside of the University of Richmond community, even though it has been on campus since 1876. 

I met with Fred Anderson, director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, to discover the purpose of the society, its goals, and its history. Mr. Anderson, on staff for 35 years, noted that the society is a repository of the history of the Baptist denomination in Virginia. The original, stated purpose of the society was “discovering, procuring, and preserving whatever may relate to the history of Baptists in Virginia.” This the society has definitely done. The historical collection may be found throughout four floors of Boatwright Library. Baptist churches in Virginia have sent and continue to submit their church records, which now include sermons, baptisms, diaries, church records, manuscripts, artifacts, rare books, and even hymnals. In fact, the society has a large collection of Baptist hymnals, the oldest dated 1790.

Anywhere from 350­ to 600 researchers from Virginia, the nation, and across the globe come through the society’s doors every year to comb through the archives for historical information. The society is now experiencing great interest in family ancestry research.  

In 2000, an educational component, the Center for Baptist Heritage and Studies, was added to teach Baptist history and heritage. Additionally, academic courses are provided at the School of Professional and Continuing Studies of the University of Richmond.

Currently, the society has a fascinating on-going exhibit titled “free indeed!”  This is an exhibit telling the stories of African-American (free and slaves) and white Baptists in Virginia. 

The Society hosted a Heritage Festival on campus, right next to the society’s office, on Saturday, May 17. This day commemorated the first Baptist minister appointed in Virginia.