History

INTRODUCTION

Camp Security, an American Revolutionary War prison camp built in 1781, was first occupied by the troops of British General John Burgoyne who were captured at Saratoga, New York in 1777. In the summer of 1781, a stockade and living quarters were built on the 280-acre farm confiscated for the camp. Early in 1782, Burgoyne’s men were joined by troops from the Cornwallis army that were recently captured at Yorktown. Only privates and noncommissioned officers from both armies were held at Camp Security.  Officers were either exchanged, held in county prison facilities or released on parole. Period memoirs indicate some members of the Convention Army, first housed in the stockade, were permitted to live in a nearby “village of huts.”  Cornwallis troops, considered a greater escape risk, were imprisoned in the stockade.

The York County militia guarded Camp Security, except for part of 1782, when the prisoners were guarded by General Hazen’s Continental Army regiment. A pass system allowed some prisoners to work for local residents, thereby supplementing the camp’s meager supply of food, clothing and blankets. Wives and children accompanied many of the prisoners, a common practice at that time. The camp perhaps even housed a few Americans, as some Convention prisoners may have married former colonists during their seven years in captivity. A fever reportedly hit the camp killing many prisoners and family members who were buried near the camp.

Following the end of the war in the spring of 1783, Camp Security was abandoned. Some of the former prisoners may have been given lands in Canada in exchange for their service. Others stayed in the United States, but most returned to Britain.

Schultz House 7
Source:  Friends of Camp Security

CAMP CONSTRUCTION

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.”

Streams

Source:  Friends of Camp Security

CONVENTION TROOPS

The surrender of General John Burgoyne to General Gates at Saratoga, New York, on October 18, 1777 placed nearly 6,000 British, Hessian, and Canadian prisoners of war in the hands of the Continental Congress, then in session at York, Pennsylvania. An official report states that 5,800 troops surrendered at Saratoga, of which there were 2,400 Hessians. According to the terms of their surrender, written in a document entitled the “Convention of Saratoga,” the prisoners were to be marched to Boston, and shipped back to Great Britain.

When the prisoners arrived at Boston, they were quartered on Winter and Prospect Hills. Congress, wanting to ensure that none of the officers returned to the battlefield, asked that General Burgoyne write a descriptive list of each of the officers under his command. This request was not specified in the Convention of Saratoga, and General Burgoyne became personally offended and refused to heed the request. On the 8th of January 1778, Congress resolved to suspend the terms of the Convention of Saratoga and kept the prisoners in custody.

After remaining in the Boston area for the winter, the decision was made to relocate the prisoners to Charlottesville, Virginia, where they could be more closely watched and better supplied. In November 1778 the prisoners marched southward. Many of the British soldiers had their wives and children with them, and wagons were provided for their transportation, but the men had to march on foot. They traveled through Lancaster and York, Pennsylvania in December of the same year, and finally reached Charlottesville, 550 miles from Boston, in January 1779.

They constructed a rectangular camp there, but the war came to Virginia and Continental Congress ordered a move to the north.  The march northward began in October 1780 to Winchester, Virginia, and then Frederick, Maryland.

In the spring of 1781 Congress ordered the prisoners to be moved again, this time into Pennsylvania, where food production remained relatively unaffected by the war. There were by this time about 3,000 of Burgoyne’s officers and men in custody. Joseph Reed, President of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council, objected to the number of prisoners being brought into his state. In response to his objection, the Board of War asserted that Congress would not change its decision and that Pennsylvania must begin looking for a suitable site to house these prisoners. At the same time, Governor Thomas Lee of Maryland wrote to President Reed to inform him that Governor Thomas Jefferson of Virginia had told him that British captured at Cowpens, South Carolina were also on their way to Pennsylvania, and British prisoners at the town of Frederick, 800 in number, were being relocated to York as well.

Although President Reed again protested, arguing against Pennsylvania becoming the main location for British prisoners, Congress would not budge. The British prisoners began to reach Lancaster in early June 1781, and were quartered at and near the Lancaster Barracks. On June 30, 1781, President Reed was instructed to separate the men and move the Hessian troops to Reading and the British to a camp near York.

Surrender

Source:  John Trumbull Surrender of General Burgoyne

BRUBAKER’S PETITION

David Brubaker, a citizen of Lancaster County, owned the land on which the camp was situated. In December 1781, four months after the arrival of the first prisoners, he sent a petition to General Benjamin Lincoln, Secretary at War, setting forth certain grievances regarding damages caused by the construction of the camp. He stated that he owned 280 acres of land near York, for which he had paid 1,200 pound specie. This land had been selected for the prisoner-of-war camp. One hundred acres of land had been cleared, he complained, the persons employed by the government had cleared an additional thirty acres for timber, for which he received no pay. The guards had also used his enclosure rails. This had deprived his tenant of the Indian corn on the property and the use of his pasture. He further stated that he did not want to say anything against Colonel Wood, but regretted the condition to which his land had been subjected. Brubaker acknowledged that the prisoners could not be removed due to inclement weather, but requested that no further damage be done to his property.

According to Gibson’s History of York County… (1886), about twenty acres of the land was cleared for the placement of the prison.  Huts were said to have been surrounded by a picketed stockade of timbers, 15 feet high, closely fitted together and sharpened on the tops.  Outside of the stockade, a village of huts was constructed. This second camp came to be known as “Camp Indulgence” because its inhabitants were not as closely guarded and some were given liberties to leave the camp.

Picture possibly drawn  by Sergeant Roger Lamb, a British prisoner at the camp.
Source:  Friends of Camp Security

CHANGES AND TROUBLE

By the end of 1781, it appears that many of Burgoyne’s troops had accepted their confinement and became friendly with the Americans. They were also permitted to establish cottage industries, such as making lace, buckles, spoons, pins and other items. If they were considered trustworthy, the prisoners were allowed passes to travel outside the camp to work and to sell items to the local residents.  Some of the prisoners, upon approval, were hired out to local farmers.

 

LAMB’S RECORD

Sergeant Roger Lamb, an educated Irishman, who was captured with Burgoyne at Saratoga, later wrote a work entitled Journal of Occurrences during the Late American War, which was published in Dublin in 1809. He served in a regiment of Welsh Fusiliers and after his capture accompanied the British prisoners to Boston and Virginia. He escaped, and joined the troops of Major Andre. In October 1781 he was captured, with the British troops at Yorktown, but he escaped and fled to Frederick, Maryland.

Unfortunately for him, Sergeant Lamb was again captured at Frederick and placed in the prison barracks there for two weeks, before being sent to Winchester, Virginia. “Part of the British troops remained in Winchester until January 1782,” wrote Lamb.

He continued: “…When Congress ordered us to be marched to York, in Pennsylvania. I received information that as soon as I fell into ranks to march off, I should be taken and confined in the Winchester jail, as the Americans were apprehensive that when I got near to York I should again attempt my escape. I was advised by my officers to conceal myself until the troops had marched. I took the hint and hid myself in the hospital among the sick, where I remained until the American guards had been two days on their march with the British prisoners. I then prepared to follow them, but at a safe distance.

“The troops arrived at York and were confined in a prison similar to the one at Rutland, Massachusetts, where Burgoyne’s prisoners were held in 1778. A great number of trees were ordered to be cut down in the woods; these were sharpened at each end and driven firmly into the earth very close together, enclosing a space of about two to three acres. American sentinels were planted on the outside of the fence, at convenient distances, in order to prevent our getting out. At one angle, a gate was erected and on the outside thereof, stood a guard house, two sentinels were posted at this gate, and no one could get out unless he had a pass from the officers of the guard; but that was a privilege in which very few were indulged.

Camp

Picture possibly drawn  by Sergeant Roger Lamb, a British prisoner at the camp.
Source:  Friends of Camp Security

 

“About two hundred yards from this pen, a small village had been built by prisoners of General Burgoyne’s army, who were allowed very great privileges with respect to liberty in the country. When some of my former comrades of the Ninth Regiment were informed that I was a prisoner with Lord Cornwallis’ army, and that I was shortly expected at York, they immediately applied to the commanding officer of the Americans for a pass in my name, claiming me as one of their regiment. This was immediately granted, and some of them kindly and attentively placed themselves on the watch for my arrival, lest I should be confined with the rest of Cornwallis’ army. When I reached York I was most agreeably surprised at meeting my former companions; and more so when a pass was put in my hands, giving me the privilege of ten miles of the country round while I behaved well and orderly.

“I was then conducted to a hut, which my poor loving companions had built for me in their village before my arrival. Here I remained some time, visiting my former companions from hut to hut; but I was astonished at the spirit of industry, which prevailed among them. Men, women and children were employed making lace, buckles, spoons, and exercising other mechanical trades, which they had learned during their captivity. They had a very great liberty from the Americans and were allowed to go round the country and sell their goods, while the soldiers of Cornwallis’ army were closely confined.

“I perceived that they had lost the animation, which ought to possess the breast of the soldier. I strove by every argument to rouse them from their lethargy. I offered to head any number of them, and make a noble effort to escape into New York and join our comrades in arms; but all my efforts proved ineffectual. As for my part, I was determined to make an attempt. I well knew from experience, that a few companions would be highly necessary. Accordingly I sent word of my intention to seven men of the Twenty-third regiment who were confined in the pen. That I was willing to take them with me. I believe in all the British army that these men, three sergeants and four privates, could not have excelled for courage and intrepidity. They rejoined the idea; and by the aid of some of Burgoyne’s army, they were enabled under cover of a dark night, to scale their fence and assemble in my hut. I sent word of my intention to my commanding officer, Captain Saumarez, of the Twenty-third, and likewise the names of the men who I purposed to take with me. As my money was almost expended, I begged of him to advance me as much as convenient. He immediately sent me a supply. It was the first of March 1782 that I set off with my party.”

Camp Work

Picture possibly drawn  by Sergeant Roger Lamb, a British prisoner at the camp.
Source:  Friends of Camp Security

 

After Sergeant Lamb escaped with his seven companions, he went to New York City, and joined the troops commanded by Sir Guy Charlton. Lamb was able to return to Dublin, where he became a teacher and an author, and died in 1830.

The account of Sergeant Lamb is valuable in depicting the conditions of the camp and in describing the mental state of the Burgoyne prisoners. By then, after years of confinement, many of Burgoyne’s troops had given up any desire to escape. They were being reasonably well treated in America, and were able to raise families in Camp Indulgence.

 

LAST DAYS

After Sergeant Lamb left, it appears that life at the camp continued as he described it for one more year. The soldiers of Cornwallis’ army remained under close guard, but the residents of Camp Indulgence lived in the village, producing handmade articles and raising children.

The prisoners were held at Camp Security until the British signed the Treaty of Paris, formally ending the war, on April 19, 1783. After their release, some former prisoners stayed in America, while others returned to their former British homes.

 

AFTER THE WAR

A camp fever had broken out sometime among the prisoners, with quite a few dying. They were reportedly buried in a small valley near the camp. Gibson, reporting in the 1880s, said, “the graves are still visible, marked with stones”. It was rumored at the turn of the century that the gravesite was robbed by doctors needing specimen collections. It was also at this time that the graves became the location for a ghost story. The tale, written in a poem entitled Hesse Dahl, tells of the ghosts of the British soldiers that come awake every Christmas, to jeer at their commanding officer who caused them to lose the battle and become captured, only to die at Camp Security.

The land returned to its rightful owner after the war, and the encampment slowly deteriorated. Over the years, the huts and stockades were disassembled and the logs used for firewood, railing or other construction. According to Gibson, local farmers used the posts of the pickets for fencing. It is possible that elements of the camp remain embedded in the fabric of some of the early houses in the York area.

The land was returned to farming, but Gibson’s history states: “Some of the lumber of the fence and stones of the huts yet remain.” George R. Prowell, writing in 1907, states “this historic spot, though very rugged, has been farmed over, so that unless that it is marked, the exact site will be known to future generations only by tradition.”

 

Schultz2 Historic York

Farmhouse standing on land near Camp Security
Source:  www.historicyork.org

 

Lists of York County Militia Officers &
Companies at Camp Security

Camp Security Militia Rosters