WDP 2014 Preliminary Research Ideas

The 2014 Williamsburg Documentary Project theme of “Spaces: Lost, Found and Remembered” presents an interesting challenge for me, because not only am I new to Williamsburg, I am new to Virginia altogether.  I moved to Providence Forge in July 2013 and since then have spent most of my time either settling my family or navigating a new town and a new college; I have had limited opportunity to really get to know Williamsburg on an intimate level.   Yet as I reflect on Williamsburg, I realize there are a few places that provoke my curiosity.  At the top of my list are the Williamsburg Pottery Factory (WPF) complex and the Magruder/Grove communities.

On my first visit to Colonial Williamsburg, I noticed an abundance of white clay pottery with blue accents that was advertised as being genuine salt glaze colonial-style pottery.  The advertisement implied that this type of pottery had a special connection with Williamsburg’s history and I was curious about it.  It did not occur to me that this pottery might have a connection to the Williamsburg Pottery Factory (a large discount shopping complex located on the northwest edge of town) until recently, when I was reading a brief history of the town.   Apparently, the Williamsburg Pottery Factory’s predecessor was Williamsburg Pottery, which was founded by area native James (Jimmy) Maloney in 1938.  According to the WPF website, Mr. Maloney was an artisan skilled in the art of throwing clay in the seventeenth and eighteenth century Jamestown Colony style.  I am uncertain what exactly the connection is between Mr. Maloney and the pottery at Colonial Williamsburg, or if there even is a connection.  However, I am aware that the Williamsburg Pottery has a long history with this town and is recently a source of some conflict.  A YouTube video posted in 2010 about the demolition of the former Williamsburg Pottery complex offers a glimpse into the controversial nature of the property (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joTqvpkWcUI&feature=em-share_video_user). It would be interesting to look deeper in to the history of Williamsburg Pottery and the connection to the development of Williamsburg as a tourist attraction.

During my initial meeting with Dr. Lelièvre, she indicated that Camp Peary had a unique history and that some local residents had been forced from their homes to make way for the military complex.  I conducted a brief, informal Internet search and learned that the unincorporated town of Magruder was once located on the property now occupied by Camp Peary.  The Magruder community apparently came together at some point following the Civil War and was composed primarily of freed African Americans.  When the United States decided to put a military base there in 1942, Magruder residents were forced to relocate.  I understand that many Magruder residents may have settled in nearby Grove, Virginia which lies in York County on the James River in sight of the Busch Gardens theme park. I am unsure exactly where an exploration of Magruder and Grove would take me, but I do think it would be a worthwhile journey.

Williamsburg is an important American city, with roots dating back to the seventeenth century.  Certainly there are other American cities with as much “history” as Williamsburg, but Williamsburg is unique in how it has chosen to preserve that history.  While other cities constructed monuments or museums to document their past, Williamsburg leaders chose instead to popularize the town, thereby capitalizing on tourist dollars to fund historical preservation efforts.   I propose that a project documenting Williamsburg Pottery would demonstrate that Williamsburg Pottery was/is more than a discount shopping center, but in fact a microcosm of the greater Williamsburg effort to preserve history through tourism.

Like many other Southern towns, in Williamsburg the Euro-American and African American populations have a deep and turbulent history.  According to author Jack Edwards’ 1999 work on Williamsburg, since the arrival of Anheuser-Busch on the scene in the late 1960s the African American population of the James City County/Williamsburg area has shrunk considerably.  A documentary project focused on the Magruder/Grove community and the decisions that led to the extinction of Magruder may provide valuable insight into what one might call the “whitewashing” of the greater Williamsburg community.

1 Response to “WDP 2014 Preliminary Research Ideas”


  1. 1 mal2013 February 2, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    On the topic of the Magruder and Grove communities, you could start by determining what local histories already exist. The Williamsburg Public Library should have resources to help. Perhaps the authors of these histories would be interested in being interviewed.

    The link to the Williamsburg Pottery is great! You might consider consulting the literature on the “archaeology of the contemporary.” Authors like Victor Buchli, Shannon Dawdy, Rodney Harrison and John Schofield examine our relationship to the “ruins of modernity” (Dawdy 2010) exemplified in the images presented in the video.

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The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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