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Camp Security exploration will go on

This is a 1779 plan to house the Saratoga captives in Virginia.  Camp Security was said to be similar, but two-thirds in size.
This is a 1779 plan to house the Saratoga captives in Virginia. Camp Security was said to be similar, but two-thirds in size.
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

The hunt goes on for the various components that made up Camp Security, the Revolutionary War camp established to detain British prisoners in York County. Specific areas of interest, such as the palisaded stockade and the village for the captives accompanied by families, will eventually be located by careful research and archaeology.

Although the dig completed last month turned up just a few artifacts and no hoped-for evidence of the stockade, it was an important first step in the process. Over seventy volunteers now have locating, digging and cataloging experience that will be utilized in subsequent years; also, that particular part of the site has been ruled out as being of importance and the exploration can move on to another area.

For more information on Camp Security and future plans, please attend the upcoming public Friends of Camp Security meeting on Tuesday, November 18 at 7 p.m. in the all-purpose room of Grace Baptist Church, 3920 East Prospect Road, York.

See below for my recent York Sunday News column outlining some of the ongoing research and the importance of the site.

Looking for the Camp Security stockade and village

The site of our Revolutionary War prisoner of war camp, Camp Security, has never been lost in the broader sense. Documents and accounts recorded ever since the camp opened in the summer of 1781 verify that the camp was on David Brubaker’s land, then in Hellam Township (now Springettsbury). British troops captured at the Battle of Saratoga with General Burgoyne in 1777 were moved in first, followed by many of those surrendered at Yorktown, Va. with General Cornwallis in October 1781.

Brubaker owned a total of 280 acres, and descriptions lead us to believe that the camp complex covered about 40 acres of that property. Through the efforts of Friends of Camp Security and Springettsbury Township, combined with grants and donations from numerous private and public entities, over 160 undeveloped acres of that property have now been secured. Previous archaeological evidence, as well as historical accounts, point to much of the camp waiting to be discovered in this area.

Many eyewitness sources of the time describe at least one stockade, along with a village of log huts for those prisoners who had families with them (common at the time). Pension applications filed by local militia guards also mention additional huts built to house the guards.

There is some confusion in the use of terms “Camp Security” and “Camp Indulgence.” After looking at various collections of papers at the National Archives (i.e. Papers of the Continental Congress and the Board of War), I have not yet seen the term “Camp Security” used at a federal level. Members of the United States government and the military at the time, including the President of Congress and the Commander in Chief, simply called the site “the camp at York.”

Revolutionary War pension applications at the National Archives, filed by local militia members who served as guards, however, do cite their service at “Camp Security,” showing popular use of the term at the time locally for the whole camp. “Camp Security” is also found in numerous papers at the Pennsylvania State Archives, which means the name was also commonly used at state level.

So what then was “Camp Indulgence”? It was the name given to the group of huts outside the stockade inhabited by the Saratoga prisoners, especially those with families. A source often quoted is Captain [later General] Samuel Graham, who surrendered with Cornwallis. Describing the prisoners who came from that Yorktown capitulation, page 73 of Memoir of General Graham… reads: “At York [Pa.] they were kept in huts newly constructed, also surrounded by a high stockade, and were also strictly guarded. At a little distance from, but in sight of, our men’s huts, upon a rising ground were situated a number of huts occupied by soldiers of General Burgoyne’s army, also prisoners of war, but without stockade or guard. Our men named their own camp ‘Security,’ and the other camp ‘Indulgence.’”

Graham was not aware that there might have been another reason for the soldiers with families living in huts outside the stockade. Accounts from guards and prisoners tell of a sickness that rapidly spread through the prisoners, without seeming to affect the guards, when the camp was opened around the end of July 1781. One early guard, John Stewart, stated in his pension application that: “They kept the single men in a stockade under guard and the married men, after they had been there awhile, were permitted to remain outside the stockade. A great sickness set among the prisoners and the married were then permitted to build huts on the hill outside of the stockade.” This measure might have been instituted to slow the spread of the sometimes fatal disease.

An archaeological dig on part of the property in 1979 uncovered numerous shards of pottery and animal bones, likely related to the preparation and consumption of food. Coins and military buttons of the period were also found. Button blanks and hundreds of straight pins, probably related to the making of buttons and lace to be sold in the area, were also discovered. These finds, in my opinion, point to “Camp Indulgence” being at or near that part of the site.

I hoped that the location of the stockade would have been discovered during the recent dig. Some accounts from the militia guards hint that there might have been more than one stockaded area. Combining accounts of the past, looking at the topography and a recent magnetic imaging survey led to the selection of the area just explored as a promising one. Surface exploration and the through excavation of nearly 170 test holes, however, turned up only a handful of significant artifacts, and no telltale line of soil discoloration that would have shown the location of stockade posts.

This spot was only one of several that look promising, so there is optimism for finding the stockade location, perhaps as soon as next year. Archaeologist Steve Warfel points to a bonus in the core of over seventy now well trained volunteers with exploration and dig experience. Continuing archival research is also hoped to refine priority areas.

There are many stories of items being picked up over the years as people walked around the area. Finders are urged to share information on anything they have found, with no questions asked, except where they were found; that information might contain valuable clues. FOCS board members can be contacted through the Friends of Camp Security website (now being revamped), by phone and through the Friends of Camp Security Facebook page. Since I am involved with FOCS, I can also pass information along. (My email address is below.)

Camp Security is part of our local and national heritage. It was one of only a few prisoner of war camps established during the American Revolution, and it held British troops captured at two of the war’s major battles: Saratoga and Yorktown. Well over a thousand members of York County militia companies served as guards, leaving many thousands of direct descendants of those guards still here in the county and elsewhere.

The Friends of Camp Security invites everyone to a public meeting to update everyone on future archaeology plans for the site as well as ongoing research. It will be on November 18 at 7 p.m. in the all purpose room of Grace Baptist Church, 3920 East Prospect Rd., York.

June Lloyd is Librarian Emerita of York County Heritage Trust and can be contacted at ycpa89@msn.com.