Magruder Project Research Proposal

Williamsburg Documentary Project 2014

Research Proposal

            The attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 was a pivotal moment in United States history.  Prior to this attack, the United States watched from a distance while European nations battled each other in bloody conflict.  After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the nation catapulted into action and fully engaged in World War II.  By the fall of 1942, the United States military was scrambling to develop sufficient troops and infrastructure to support the advancing military campaign.  It was in this atmosphere that the Department of the Navy determined to expand training facilities for its construction battalion (colloquially known as the “Seabees”).  Ultimately, the Navy targeted a rural area located on the banks of the York River in Virginia for their new Seabees facility, which was conveniently positioned near the existing naval base in Norfolk.  Although this area was rural, it was nonetheless populated by hundreds of American citizens.  Any effort by the Navy to take this land would mean displacing those citizens, which the Navy proceeded to do in late summer/early fall 1942.  The unincorporated town of Magruder lay directly in the midst of the targeted area.  As result of the Navy’s efforts to establish the military installation that came to be known as Camp Peary, residents of Magruder were forced from their properties and the entire town was, essentially, erased.

The theme for the 2014 iteration of the Williamsburg Documentary Project is “Spaces: Lost, Found and Remembered”.  In keeping with that theme, I propose to research Magruder’s transformation from a vibrant community to a distant memory and gain understanding of where the displaced citizens of Magruder are today.  Through this research I hope to reengage a conversation about Magruder and encourage the present day community to consider how the displacement of these citizens impacted Williamsburg in 1942 and how that displacement continues to impact the community in 2014.  The primary question that will guide my research is “How can the decisions, actions and events surrounding the displacement of Magruder citizens help contemporary observers gain a more broad understanding of present day community relations in the greater Williamsburg area?”  Questions that will support this primary directive will include the following:

–          When and how was Magruder formed?  What evidence is there that Magruder was a town?  Who were the citizens of Magruder?   What was Magruder’s demography?  Where did citizens of Magruder live, work, play, worship, and go to school?  How many citizens were affected when the decision was made to include Magruder into the Camp Peary land taking?  Where did displaced citizens go after their eviction?  How difficult was it to find a new place to go?  How did those citizens integrate into their new communities?  Were those citizens able to maintain any connection to Magruder?  If so, how?  What does Magruder look like today, as it has been encompassed by Camp Peary?

–          What is Camp Peary?  Why was it developed?  Who were the key players in the decision to select the York County territory as the new base’s location?  What was the demography of the boards and committees that drove this decision?  What were the driving factors that influenced that decision?  How were those key players affected by the decisions they made?  How were the citizens of Magruder notified of their evictions? Why was that method chosen? What was the generally prevailing sentiment among the Magruder and broader Williamsburg communities upon learning of the land taking?  If there was pushback, who were the drivers of that effort?  What was their motivation?  How were displaced citizens remunerated for their losses?  Who determined the amount/method of remuneration?  What method was used to determine the amount of remuneration?  Beyond remuneration, were any other actions undertaken to mitigate the challenges evictees faced?  Why or why not?

–          What is the demography of the greater Williamsburg area today?  How has the greater Williamsburg area expanded and developed in the years since Magruder was closed down?  Are there any distinctive patterns discernible through analysis of that development over time?  How do present day Williamsburgians live, work, play, worship and educate their children?

I will attempt to answer these questions through the close analysis of primary and secondary resources, oral history and statistical data.  I will use those resources to make connections and propose hypotheses for the purpose of engaging a broader conversation about displacing citizens through authoritarian means.

Although there was a lot of press surrounding the Navy’s taking of the land in York County at the time, preliminary research efforts indicate that little attention has been paid to this event in subsequent decades and what attention has been given occurred on an ancillary basis. I will attempt to develop a more thorough and nuanced record of the town of Magruder and, particularly, those who called Magruder home.  I will utilize archived collections of personal papers, periodicals, and government records to support my research goals.   I will also utilize secondary sources such as scholarly journal articles, dissertations and books to supplement primary resources.  Research materials will be obtained through local and state public libraries, through the Swem Library resources at the College of William and Mary, and through federal, state, and local government records.    I anticipate that the greatest challenge I will have is gaining access of any sort to Camp Peary; however I also anticipate that present day satellite imaging technologies will allow me to get some sense of that space today.   Beyond challenges of access to Camp Peary, I may encounter difficulty in finding surviving interview subjects.  In the event that I am ultimately unable to locate even one witness, I will nonetheless be able to use primary resources (collections of personal papers along with period newspaper clippings and government records) to formulate a well evidenced argument about Magruder and its citizens in the wake of the 1942 evictions.

I intend to identify and interview citizens who either lived through the eviction or are descendants of citizens who did, as well as military or local government personnel who were involved in executing the eviction order.  Because this event occurred more than seventy years ago, it is possible that finding primary witnesses to this event will be challenging.  Interview subjects are likely to range in age from 65 and up; I have no indication at this point whether subjects will be male or female. I hope to get perspectives from both men and women.  In the event I am able to find witnesses, I recognize that it may be difficult for those individuals to discuss the matter.  Evicted citizens may continue to harbor sensitivity to the event that is too difficult to bear, making them unwilling to discuss it.  Those who were involved in the decision to evict those citizens and/or those who executed the order may be unwilling to discuss it for similar reasons; or, they may be unable to discuss the matter due to restricted authorization.   The actions necessary to mitigate a subject’s unease will be driven by the extent of the subject’s actual need.  However, such efforts may include providing the subject with the necessary assurances about the project, my research goals, anonymity if requested; and creating a safe, comfortable, nurturing interview environment.  Once a subject has agreed to be interviewed, I will have a personal conversation with the subject about informed consent.  Further, I will provide the interviewee with a written summary of my research goals in order to insure both that the subject is fully aware of the project’s scope and has an opportunity to consider any potential ramifications.  All of this will be done in advance of their interview.  All subjects will be provided with a final copy of my research project in advance of my submitting it for evaluation.  Finally, all subjects will be advised that they may withdraw their authorization at any time throughout the process, up to such time as the paper is submitted for the Williamsburg Documentary Project archive.


March 3 – March 7, 2014                    Conduct research expeditions to Library of Virginia in Richmond and York County Public Library.  Contact Mt. Gilead Baptist Church and arrange a meeting to discuss this project.  Finalize selection of primary and secondary resources necessary to complete the histories of Magruder, Camp Peary and the land taking.   Identify at least four potential oral history interview subjects and initiate contact.  Prepare informed consent letter.

March 10 – March 14, 2014                Continue to analyze and synthesize primary and secondary sources. Organize outline for the paper.

March 17 – March 21, 2014                Conduct Oral History Interviews and prepare necessary Deeds of Gift.  Continue to analyze and synthesize primary and secondary resources.

March 24 – March 28, 2014                Conduct final Oral History Interviews and prepare necessary Deeds of Gift.  Continue to analyze and synthesize primary and secondary resources.

March 31 – April 4, 2014                    Transcribe and index interviews.  Submit copies of transcripts to all interview subjects for review.  Make corrections as needed.  Continue to analyze primary and secondary resources.  Begin drafting paper.

April 7 – April 11, 2014                      Identify, analyze and synthesize resources for present day Williamsburg demographic data, including commercial, ethnological and socio-economic information as it relates to neighborhood boundaries. Continue drafting paper.

April 14 – April 18, 2014                    Compile all exhibits and finalize a clean draft of the paper. Submit copies to all interview subjects for final consideration.  Submit to MAL or KHP for preliminary review/comments/criticisms by April 17, 2014.

April 21 – April 23, 2014                    Make final revisions and corrections.  Finalize paper and all exhibits.

April 24, 2014                                     Submit Oral History materials by 5:00 p.m. (transcripts, indexes, head notes).

April 28, 2014                                     Present oral presentation of research project.

April 29, 2014                                     Submit final project by 12:00 noon to MAL.


Ann T. Chapman Papers
1884-1954 Swem Library Special Collections Research Center.  College of William and Mary, Williamsburg.

Archibald F. Ward, Jr. Papers
1939-2007 Swem Library Special Collections Research Center.  College of William and Mary. Williamsburg.

Belvin, Ed
2002 Williamsburg Facts and Fiction 1900-1950.  Swem Library Special Collections Research Center.  College of William and Mary. Williamsburg.

Bitting, Samuel Tilden
1915 Rural Land Ownership Among the Negroes of Virginia with Special Reference to Albemarle County. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Publications.

Burnham, Philip
2008 The Disappearing Black Community of Williamsburg. The Richmond Voice, March 5.

Carlton Casey Papers
1894-1999 Swem Library Special Collections Research Center.  College of William and Mary, Williamsburg.

Ebert, Bruce C.
1986 Lost Town: 44 Years After Being Displaced, Some Still Bitter Over Camp Peary.  Times Herald, April 7.

Fisher, Terri L., and Kirsten Sparenborg
2011 Lost Communities of Virginia.  Earlysville, VA: Albemarle Books.

Foster, Andrea Kim
1993 “They’re Turning the Town all Upside Down”: The Community Identity of Williamsburg, Virginia, Before and After the Reconstruction. Ph.D. dissertation, Columbian Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The George Washington University.

Julia Oxrieder Papers
1877-1998 Swem Library Special Collections Research Center.  College of William and Mary, Williamsburg.

Magruder School Parent Teacher Association Scrapbook
1949-1960 Swem Library Special Collections Research Center.  College of William and Mary, Williamsburg.

McCartney, Martha W.,
1997 James City County : Keystone of the Commonwealth. Virginia Beach: The Donning Company.

McDonald, Bradley M., Kenneth E. Stuck, and Kathleen Joan Bragdon
1992 “Cast Down Your Bucket Where You are” : An Ethnohistorical Study of the African-American Community on the Lands of the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station, 1865-1918. Williamsburg: William and Mary Center for Archeological Research.  Swem Library Special Collections, Williamsburg.

Porter, Carl
1942 December 10, 1942 Letter to the Citizens of the Magruder Area from Carl W. Porter, Commander of the Public Works Department, Naval Operating Base about Building a Camp for the Seabees and Citizens Needing to Vacate their Homes.  Swem Library Special Collections Research Center.  College of William and Mary, Williamsburg.

Virginia Department of Welfare and Institutions
1942 War Came to Magruder. Virginia Public Welfare Journal, vol. 20, no. 8-9


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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