Friday, December 4, 2015

23. Also Working On Camp Security

[Another eastern Pennsylvania task is trying to enhance Henry Darrah's service as a POW guard in York County during the Revolution. We could not find this site when we were in the area, but our time was tight. Maybe later...]

                Pennsylvania is home to the only remaining undeveloped site of a Revolutionary War prison camp.  Known as “Camp Security,” this prison was located in Springettsbury Township, York County, about one mile south of the Stony Brook intersection on Route 462.  The Pennsylvania State Archives holds militia records such as the one shown here, which document the history of Camp Security (Record Group 4, Records of the Office of the Comptroller General; Revolutionary War Associators, Line, Militia, and Navy Accounts and Miscellaneous Records Relating to Military Service, 1775-1809 {series #4.51}; Subseries 3A: Militia Accounts, 1777-1794; York County, Operations).

                Fearing that the advance of Lord Cornwallis’s army would free British and German prisoners held in Virginia, Continental Congress authorized the Board of War to move them out of that state in the spring of 1781.  Initially destined for Massachusetts, most of the prisoners were detained in Pennsylvania because the Commonwealth’s agricultural bounty could more easily provide for them.  The Pennsylvania authorities sent some British soldiers captured at the battle of Saratoga and their families to York County for imprisonment.  On July 28, 1781, William Scott, in charge of the county’s militia, reported that he had “found a place . . . about four Miles and an half to the Eastward of York Town” where the prisoners could be housed.

                Scott called out the militia to construct a stockade for the prisoners and to serve as guards.  Some 800-1,000 British captives arrived by August 2, 1781.  As evidenced by this document, Major William Bailey of the York County militia became Camp Security’s first commandant.  In addition to the stockade, the prisoners also built huts in which to live.  Following the American victory at Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781, an additional 800 British captives crowded the site.  Owing to a camp fever and the conditions of the prison encampment, as many as 350 prisoners may have died at the site. 

                Camp Security remained in existence until the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783.  With the ratification of a preliminary peace treaty on April 19 of that year, the British quickly acted to arrange for the return of their captured soldiers.  On May 9 or 10, 1783, the prisoners and their families departed from the site and began their march to freedom with the British army in New York.     
PA Archives Newsletter, Vol. 9 Winter 2011