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Camp Security Review, Part Two

General Greene's 1779 plan for Virginia camp to hold Convention prisoners.  Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
General Greene’s 1779 plan for Virginia camp to hold Convention prisoners. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

This is the second in a series of posts reviewing the history and significance of Camp Security. As far as we know the site, just east of York, is the only remaining Revolutionary of War prisoner-of-war camp that hasn’t been pretty well completely developed over. The Friends of Camp Security is sponsoring an archaeological dig at the site this May and June. See my previous blog post for information on the excavation plans.

The original of the drawing above, “A Plan of the Barracks for the Convention Troops in Virginia, 1779,” is filed with papers of General Nathanael Greene, Quartermaster General of the United States Army at that time, as part of The Papers of the Continental Congress at the National Archives. The convention troops, surrendered by British General Burgoyne at Saratoga, N.Y. in 1777, were being moved from New England to Charlottesville, Va. in 1779 and a stockade and barracks were being constructed for the prisoners. Many of those prisoners were moved to York County in 1781 because of the theater of war coming to Virginia. It has been said that Camp Security was similar to the camp at Charlottesville, only 1/3 smaller. It is not known for certain if either camp did follow Greene’s plan, but we do have contemporary accounts verifying a stockade and huts (barracks) were constructed at Camp Security.

The complete revised history and description of Camp Security, of which this is an excerpt, can be found at the www.campsecurity.org.

President Reed wrote to Lt. William Scott of the York County Militia to find a suitable spot to construct a prisoner-of-war camp. President Reed instructed that it should be well watered and well wooded — a place where huts could be built, surrounded by a picket. The local militia, intended to guard the prisoners, were to receive pay at the rate of three and a half shillings a day in coin – the Continental money was then nearly worthless.
On July 28, 1781, Lt. Scott wrote back to President Reed:
“Agreeable to your Excellency’s orders I have found a place for the convention troops to encamp; about four miles and a half southeast of Yorktown, which Colonel Wood had approved as a suitable and convenient place. I have also called the fourth class of the militia, who have furnished upwards of one hundred men to guard them. Colonel Wood is of the opinion it will require near double that number until the necessary works on the encampment are erected.
“I have collected all the arms in York and Hanover, which are not half enough for the guards. Therefore I have to request of the Honorable Council to send us arms and ammunition for the use of the guards aforesaid.
“…Colonel Wood has called me for ten or twelve carpenters, and for axes, spades, picks and shovels for the building of the huts and pickets. The carpenters and the smiths who make the tools look to me for their pay; have therefore to beg your Excellency’s directions in this manner, whether it is a county or continental charge and how and when these people are to be paid and by whom.”
On August 2nd, 1781, Colonel James Wood stated: “I have fixed the British troops on good ground, the property of a non-juror, between York and the Susquehanna, so as to be convenient to throw them across the river in any emergency.” The place selected by Colonel Wood as a cantonment for the prisoners was situated in what is now the extreme southeastern portion of Springettsbury Township. The British Convention prisoners numbering about 1,000 (accounts vary) were brought from Lancaster in August of 1781. Some were reportedly required to assist in erecting the stockade of logs and in building huts. This place became known in the Revolutionary annals as “Camp Security.”

(Part three to follow.)

This link will take you to my many posts on Camp Security.