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Guards at Camp Security 10: Ebenezer Ferguson


For nearly a year my research at the National Archives has been focused on copying Camp Security related Revolutionary War pension applications from the microfilm at the National Archives. (They also hold the originals, but neither the Archives nor I want to handle the fragile documents.) I have scanned about 70 of those applications, ranging from a few pages to over 80.

Most of the men who served at least one two-month term at Camp Security mention that their duty was guarding British prisoners. Many refer to the prisoners correctly as having being captured with Burgoyne and/or Cornwallis. Those who served in 1781, when both batches of prisoners arrived, often recount building a stockade/stockades and building huts for the prisoners and huts for the guards.

Just about all the pension applications with which I have been working were filed after the 1832 law granting pensions to the rank and file (non-officers) or the 1838 act allowing pensioners’ survivors (usually widows) to continue receiving the funds. Since the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, this means that the applicants were in their seventies and eighties. This link will take you to a website summarizing the pension acts.

The fifty-year span between the end of the war and applying for pensions might contribute to the brevity of many Camp Security references, and the old soldiers often admitted they had trouble remembering details after so long. Still, there is consistency in the accounts, and, every now and then, an applicant offers another tidbit, sometimes tiny but significant, concerning life at Camp Security.

For example, Ebenezer Ferguson served one term of service at Staten Island and Long Island as part of the militia of his native Philadelphia. Then the family moved to Shippensburg, and Ferguson was called out with his Cumberland County militia company to Doylestown in eastern Pennsylvania. There they “were engaged in marching out to the lines every night to surprise the Tories and take the provisions which they were bringing to the British, then in Philadelphia.” His father then relocated the family again to “a place called Marsh Creek, in York County, now Adams County.” Ebenezer enrolled in the York County militia, and his class “was called out and was commanded by Cpt. James Johnson. They were marched from Marsh Creek to the Barrens of York about 4 miles from Little York, to which place they encamped, and the charge of one hundred men was given to him to erect a Fort or Stockade, to keep the prisoners taken from Burgoin in, and afterwards the prisoners taken from Cornwallis… .”

Ebenezer Ferguson is listed on Captain James Johnston’s pay roll for October and November 1781, extracted from the published Pennsylvania Archives for the Friends of Camp Security website by Blake Stough. The pay rolls are not complete and Ferguson says he served there “not less than 3 ½ months,” so it is possible that he might have been there earlier, when others indicate stockade building was begun.

I found it interesting that Ferguson tells of a hundred men working on the stockade at one time. There could have been even more, as several militia companies seem to have served at the site at the same time. That indicates to me that a stockade could have been very quickly erected, a question that comes up from time to time.

For updated 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.

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