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Finding Nicholas James

Nicholas James from Lewis Miller's People, recently published by York County Heritage Trust
Nicholas James from Lewis Miller’s People, recently published by York County Heritage Trust

Nicholas James was a York County teenager during the closing years of the Revolutionary War. He was evidently learning his trade as a butcher, and part of his job was distributing provisions for the guards and British prisoners of war at Camp Security.

James states, in affidavits filed with pension applications for guards, that he was familiar with them and with Camp Security for most of the nearly two years of its existence. He did try to get a federal Revolutionary War pension himself later in life, but it was denied because he would not have been 16, the legal age of service until several months after the end of the war in 1783. He might have had a pension for his serviced from Pennsylvania. I’ll be looking at that later.

I’ve used James as an example of how you can start with just a mention or so of an individual from the past and build upon that information, finding more about his whole life. My recent York Sunday News column below demonstrates what I found in just an hour or so of searching for Nicholas James at the York County Heritage Trust Library/Archives.

Who was Nicholas James?
When exploring the past, I am sometimes surprised at how much you can find if you keep digging. For example, Nicholas James has been showing up in different places in my current research. For example, in Revolutionary War pension applications, James states that he helped supply provisions for Camp Security for most of the two years of its existence

James also appears in two different drawings in Lewis Miller’s People, the book that Lila Fourhman-Shaull and I just finished editing for York County Heritage Trust of previously unpublished watercolors by York County folk artist Lewis Miller. James is identified as a butcher in both drawings, which fits with him provisioning at Camp Security.

In his own Revolutionary War pension application James, born in December 1767, said he served several tours as a militia guard at Camp Security, meeting the six months minimum active service required under the 1832 pension act. His request was denied, as he did not attain the legal service age of 16 until several months after the war ended. Most of the papers are missing from James’s pension file, having been sent to the Committee on Revolutionary War Pensions in 1846 and never returned. The few papers that remain mention guarding British prisoners at York.

James gave affidavits to verify the service of others at Camp Security, including two for Captain Adam Black, stating in the process that he (James) was there for much of the camp’s existence.
In 1844 James attests “that in the Revolutionary War he was acquainted with Captain Adam Black, then of York County, Pennsylvania, that he knew him at Camp Security in said County as a Captain of Militia… in the years 1781 & 1782. That in the Revolutionary War the prisoners taken from Burgoyne, called the Convention Prisoners, were in the early part of the year 1781 brought into the State of Pennsylvania from Albemarle in Virginia, wither they had been removed sometime before from the North, that a large body of said prisoners were kept in York County aforesaid at a place called Camp Security—that afterwards the Prisoners taken from Cornwallis were brought from the South and a large part of them ordered to remain at said Camp Security… . The deponent was engaged in the Commissary department generally, and among other services he rendered, it was his duty to haul and carry provisions to different parts of the Camp, & he was there all the time the Prisoners were in this County, engaged in the Commissary department and otherwise.”

The second affidavit, dated June 1845 reads: “…Nicholas James, who being duly sworn according to law, doth say that in the Revolutionary War he was acquainted with Captain Adam Black… . The deponent was in the employ of several persons who furnished meat and other supplies to the prisoners detained there and their guards, and it was his duty to haul and convey them to different parts of the camp in which service he was engaged for most of the time the prisoners were kept there, nearly two years, or quite that period. [signed] Nicholas James.”

Here is more information that I found by doing a relatively quick search on Nicholas James, using the resources at York County Heritage Trust:

Church records from First Reformed Church in York show August 22, 1795 baptisms for Margaret James, born August 1, 1792; Maria James, born March 10, 1794 and Heinrich James, born July 26, 1795. Parents are Nicholas and Barbara James, and the sponsors are the mother and Margaret Lucas. Barbara James was possibly a member of the German Reformed congregation, and Nicholas might not have been. Nicholas, therefore, would not have been a suitable baptismal sponsor for his children. There is indication of the James family being originally Quaker.

Abraham Miller’s will, filed for probate in 1821, mentions his sister Barbara, married to Nicholas James. A sampling of York Borough tax records show Nicholas James owning one and one half lots in York Borough with one house, valued at 160 pounds in 1795. He is listed as a slaughterer in the 1793 Pennsylvania Septennial Census (tax list), and 1843 York tax records list him as a butcher.

Barbara James is listed as a head of household in the 1800 census. The household members are one female, age 26-45, one male under 10 and four females under 10. I do not know why Nicholas isn’t listed with the family. A Nicholas James is listed as owning land in Huntington Township (then York County, now Adams) in the 1798 direct tax. Perhaps Nicholas had moved there for a while, with Barbara and the children staying in York.

In the 1810 census, Nicholas James is head of household. Ages are one male over 45, one female 26-44, two females 16-25, one male 10-15 and one male under ten. By 1820 all but one child had left home, leaving one female over 45, one male over 45 and one male 10-15.

There is a Nicholas James living in Germany Twp., Adams County in the 1830 Census, listed as one female 30-39, one male 20-29, one male and one female each five-nine and three males under five. . (By age, this Nicholas could be a son of Nicholas and Barbara.) I found a baptism for one of the children, Jacob James, son of Nicholas and Elizabeth, born November 8, 1828 and baptized March 15, 1829 at Christ Reformed Church, Littlestown. The sponsors were Andreas and Maria Kuntz

The 1850 census for the North Ward of York shows Nicholas James, age 80, living with a family headed by Eve Hubley, age 55. There are also persons with the last name of Piper living in the household. I haven’t yet explored those relationships.

When you put the pieces together, you start to see the bigger picture. The local church and civil records give you an idea of York County life in the early 19th century, and the military papers tell us a little more about Camp Security. James was too young to legally serve in the Revolutionary War, but there are many known instances when boys served anyway. He would not have been too young to be an apprentice or helper to local provisioners, including butchers. He may have already been in training for his future trade. His description of taking provisions to different parts of the camp also gives us a clue to the scope of the site, reaching forward to us more than two centuries later.

Another view of Nicholas James from Lewis Miller's People
Another view of Nicholas James from Lewis Miller’s People