Escape from Camp Security
How easy was it to escape from Camp Security near York? It doesn’t seem to have been very difficult. Many of the first group of British Revolutionary War prisoners confined there, the so-called Convention Troops surrendered by Burgoyne at Saratoga in the fall of 1777, seems to have lived in an unstockaded village of huts after they ended up at Camp Security in the summer of 1781. Some were also allowed to be hired out to work for local citizens.
Accounts indicate that the second contingent of British prisoners at Camp Security, those captured with Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781, were more closely confined in a stockade. There are, however, also accounts of some of the Yorktown prisoners also escaping.
Below is an excerpt from a letter dated Easton, March 30, 1782 from Robert Levers, one of the Justices of Northampton County, to Secretary of War Lincoln about one such escapee. The original document, previously discovered by my friend, Jonathan Stayer, is in the collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives. (PA State Archives, RG-27, Supreme Executive Council, Executive Correspondence, 30 March 1782.)
Yesterday in the afternoon a certain Person, who called himself James Young, was brought before me, on suspicion of being a Prisoner of War, belonging to Lord Cornwallis’s captured Army, he said he had at Norfolk in Virginia deserted from the British (& belonged to the 33rd Regiment) before the surrender, but from many circumstances, being convinced he was no deserter, I committed him to the Goal in this Town, giving strict orders to search him, least he might have letters &c. with him.
In consequences of which it appears, by a discharge, found with him from the Hospital at Norfolk, dated the 22nd July 1781, his name is James Bruce, a Corporal in Lt. Col. Balper’s Company of the 23rd Regiment, and he has since confessed he is a Prisoner of War, that at York in Pennsylvania he was with a party of six to hunt wood, and took that opportunity to make his escape and came thus far, on his way towards some relations he has in the Jerseys, at some distance from Brunswick. That he had no intention to attempt to go to New York. He is a Scotchman. I have since wrote to the Keeper of the Ferry, to examine and stop all travelers, that he may have reason to suspect.
There will be some recruits sent from hence next week to Reading, with whom this prisoner of war may be forwarded—as there is no provisional post here, in which manner are prisoners of war, should others be taken up to be subsisted, until they can be removed from hence.”