Documenting Camp Security
Camp Security was probably similar to this Charlottesville, Virginia Revolutionary War prisoner-of-war camp. Some of Camp Security’s prisoners were previously detained at the Charlottesville camp.
“At York 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.”
Exactly where were the camps described above by General Samuel Graham, one of the British troops surrendered at Yorktown? How far did they extend? We don’t really know, and we will never know if more thorough archaeological investigation is not done on the site, the whole of which we now call Camp Security.
Upon returning recently from a trip to Florida to visit relatives, I discovered that there was a new proposal for development at the site of Camp Security, this time on both the Weist and Rowe parcels.
After catching up on the newspaper articles, I reread the archaeology reports produced in 1979 and 2000. The 1979 study, funded by Springettsbury Township and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, with participation of Historic York, Inc. and others, was more extensive than the 2000 archaeological survey done for the developer who owns the Wiest tract. As a result of these surveys, some features have been identified and artifacts have been found.
Those excavations and samplings are a start, but there are clearly more questions to be answered. Where was the stockade? Where was the cemetery? We have clues from contemporary reports and documents and passed down stories. Even after extensive documentary research, researchers don’t agree on locations. Clearly, more definitive archaeological studies need to be done.
I was present at the October 11, 2001 meeting when Dr. Brent Glass, then Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, offered to do extensive archaeology on the site the following summer, at no cost to the developer. That offer was turned down. Once houses and condos are built on Camp Security, this last remaining American Revolution prisoner of war camp, it will be too late. Let’s hope something substantial is done before time runs out.
For a concise history of Camp Security, see below for my previous York Sunday News column.
Some of the artifacts from the 1979 exploration are on display at the Pennsylvania State Museum.
Numerous newspaper stories on Camp Security and threatened development can be found by doing a search at www.InYork.com.
Copies of the archaeological reports, contemporary accounts, modern papers and much more on Camp Security are contained in file 16140 at the York County Heritage Trust Library/Archives. There is a nominal daily fee for non-members of the Trust. (It is a large file, so allow plenty of time for in depth perusal.)
Click below for links to more blogs on Camp Security.
Prisoner numbers hard to pin down.
Marker replaced with new text.
New excavations at Schultz House near Camp Security.
From the York Sunday News:
Why We Shouldn’t Forget Camp Security
The Pennsylvania State Historical Marker is missing from its location on Route 462 near Locust Grove Road. Friends of Camp Security is working to replace it. In helping revise the text for them, I am reviewing extensive research done on Camp Security and realize once again what an important site it is.
Camp Security is exceptionally significant in both national and local history. It is the only existing undeveloped Revolutionary War prisoner of war camp. It has been threatened with development several times, and we are in an uneasy lull at present. In 2005 the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Camp Security one of the 11 most endangered sites in the country. Just last month the National Park Service released its monumental Report to Congress, listing Camp Security at the highest priority for preservation. You can read it at www.nps.gov/history/hps/abpp/Rev1812Study.htm
Camp Security came about because of the terms of British General Burgoyne’s surrender to American General Gates at Saratoga, New York in October 1777. (Continental Congress was meeting here in York at the time because the British were occupying our former capital, Philadelphia.)
The war hadn’t been going well, so Congress was elated to hear of the surrender of Burgoyne’s army, but less happy with the Saratoga Convention (agreement) to which Gates had consented. It allowed the British and Hessian (German mercenary) enemy troops to return to Europe by promising that they would not again take up arms against the colonies.
The Congressmen feared that Burgoyne’s soldiers would rejoin the British army or return home and free up replacement troops to come to America, so Congress stalled their return. The prisoners were held in New England for about a year, until late 1778, when the 4,500 prisoners were marched from New England through Lancaster and York to camp at Charlottesville, Virginia. American guards supposedly were happy to have prisoners desert along the way. Many slipped away as they passed through our area, especially Hessians, whose service had been sold by their rulers to the British king. Quite a few York County families can trace their roots to these Hessians.
The war moved to Virginia in the fall of 1780. Congress, back in Philadelphia, became uneasy lest the British liberate the prisoners. They were moved north, staying briefly in Winchester, Virginia and Frederick, Maryland before going into temporary quarters at Lancaster. Pennsylvania objected, to no avail, to the prisoners staying permanently in the state. The Board of War ordered the Hessian prisoners near Reading and the British near York.
Col. James Wood, was in charge of the British prisoners, assisted by York County Militia commander Lt. William Scott. Wood reported to Pennsylvania President Joseph Reed in early August 1781: “I have fixed British troops on good ground…between York & Susquehanna, so as to be very convenient to throw them across the river in any emergency.” One emergency would be a British attack from the south.
David Brubaker of Lancaster County owned the 280 acres chosen, partially farmed and partially wooded, in then Hellam (now Springettsbury) Township. Johannes Schultz was an earlier inhabitant of the property. Most of Brubaker’s land today covers the area popularly known as the Wiest farm and the Rowe farm.
Lt. Scott provided York County Militia to serve as guards at Camp Security. A good many York County natives have ancestors that guarded the prisoners.
There could have been at least 1,500 prisoners initially sent to Camp Security. In early 1782 they were joined by up to 1,500 more British troops surrendered with Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. Both groups of prisoners lived at Camp Security until after the war ended in 1783.
The prisoners lived in huts and barracks. Some were inside the secure stockade, but officers and their families lived in huts outside those walls. The Saratoga Convention prisoners reportedly made lace and metal items that they were allowed to sell in the area. Some prisoners were paroled out to work within ten miles of camp.
The general site of Camp Security has never been lost. There are many contemporary accounts and descriptions, as well as tales passed down in local families. In the early 1970s several organizations, including the Historical Society of York County, Lower Susquehanna Archaeology Society, and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission concentrated on pinpointing the site.
In 1979 Historic York, Inc., in conjunction with PHMC, did a limited dig covering about 16.5 acres, with only a fraction of that fully excavated. Springettsbury Township produced a separate report based on the dig findings. Enough artifacts–period buttons and coins, over 600 straight pins (used in lacemaking), and nearly 2,000 shards of pottery and dishes were found. Seventeen dish-shaped pits were uncovered, meeting the description of the fire pits in the middle of the huts.
Based on contemporary accounts, Camp Security covered up to 40 acres of David Brubaker’s property. The stockade area and the cemetery have yet to be located. Preservationists and historians agree that further archaeology is needed to identify all of Camp Security before it meets the fate of the Reading camp, developed in 2002.