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Camp Security

John Horner

Camp Security was a camp for captured British prisoners and was in operation from August, 1781, until sometime in 1783. An act of Congress in 1781 directed that the British Convention of Prisoners in Maryland and Virginia be removed to Yorktown, Pa. for fear of rescue by Cornwallis, and the York County Militia was ordered out to guard them.

In a letter from Joseph Reed, President of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania to Lt. William Scott, commanding officer of the York County Militia, dated June 28, 1781, it was ordered for the prisoners to be placed in huts near York. Col. James Wood wrote from Lancaster on the 30th day of June, 1781, that he intended to "hut" the prisoners near York, and subsequently a spot four and a half miles east of town was selected. This was a small plantation owned by Daniel Brubaker, of Lancaster County, and was situated in the extreme northeastern part of Windsor Township, on the north side of the road leading from Longstown to East Prospect.

 Lt. Scott wrote to President Reed on July 28, "Agreeable to your Excellency's orders, I have found a place for the convention prisoners to encamp, about four and one half miles southeast of Yorktown which Col. Wood has approved 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."

On August 2, 1781, Col. Wood states, "I have fixed the British troops on good ground between York and the Susquehanna, so as to be very convenient to throw them across the Susquehanna River in any emergency!"

The real story of Camp Security began at Saratoga, N. Y., on October 17, 1777, when General John Burgoyne, following strict military etiquette, presented his sword to victorious General Horatio Gates. "The fortunes of war, General Gates, has made me your prisoner", he said. To sound of muffled drums, the remnants of Burgoyne's army, numbering about 5,800 men, stacked their arms on the level plain above the banks of the Hudson River near the ruins of old Fort Hardy and became prisoners of war.

The "Convention Army", as it was called, was lodged in eight of the thirteen states at one time or another and traveled more than a thousand miles, before they finally came to York. Prisoners incarcerated in Charlottesville, Va., after the long trek south from Mass., were ordered to Fort Frederick, Md., when war intensified late in 1780. By now, deaths, desertions and partial exchanges had reduced their numbers to about 4,000. Shortly after the poor devils settled into Frederick prison, orders from Continental Congress set them on the road to York to prevent their rescue.

Hannah Williams described the prisoners to a friend, "I never had the least idea that creation produced such a sordid set of creatures in human figure-poor, dirty, emaciated men, great numbers of women who seemed to be but beasts of burden, having a bushel basket on their backs by which they were bent double. The contents seemed to be pots and kettles and various sorts of furniture. Children peeping through the gridirons, some very young infants who must have been born on the road, the women in bare feet, clothed in dirty rags."

When the locals heard that 2,000-4,000 British prisoners were coming to town, they were naturally upset. To allay their fears, the prison pen was given the comforting name of "Camp Security".

The chronology of events above show that during the summer of 1781, plans were executed to prepare a place for the displaced British prisoners, the Camp was established in August of that year, and "the Fourth Class of Militia called. . . to guard them".

Robert Horner is listed as a Fourth Class Recruit as of February 1, 1771 and perhaps he was one of the 100 or so militiamen called up. Sgt. Lamb was a soldier in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and was taken prisoner at the surrender of Burgoyne's Army at Saratoga. His description of the Camp follows:

"A great number of trees were cut down in the woods; these were sharpened at both ends and drove firmly into the earth, very close together, enclosing a space of about two or three acres, American Sentinels were placed outside of this fence, at convenient distances in order to prevent our getting out.

At one angle, a gate was erected and on the outside thereof stood the guard-house; two sentinels were constantly posted at this gate, and no one could get out unless he had a pass from the officer of the guard, but this is a privilege in which very few indulged. Boards and nails were given to the British in order to make them temporary huts, and to secure them from the rain and heat of the sun."

Other descriptions of the Camp were more down to earth. Inmate huts were small, poorly constructed wooden hovels with dirt floors. Each hut had no windows, one door fixed in place by five or six nails and no insulation to speak of. Rain and snow leaked in everywhere. Cooking fires were made in the center of the floor. Food, clothing and warm blankets were in meager supply and disease was rampant throughout Camp in the early days. Meal, flour and occasional rancid meat was supplied the prisoners, but in miniscule amounts.

The lack of food, clothing and heat brought on the spread of disease. In a 35-day span, more that 40 men, women and children were buried-an average of over one per day. Medicine was quite scarce and mostly reserved for the colonists who were in want of many things due to the war. As supplies became depleted, prisoners simply had to fend for themselves. Provisions that were supposed to be shipped in by Congress rarely arrived. The conditions in this prison pen were not vastly different from those of the Civil War which would follow 80 or so years later. In addition to Camp Security, a small village was constructed mainly for some of the non-commissioned officers, their wives and children. Their huts were similar to the ones within the stockade, but since they were "paroled" prisoners, that is, they could travel within ten miles of the stockade unimpeded, their village was nick-named "Camp Indulgence".

During a two-month tour of active duty, guards served one day on and one day off until their time ended and they could return home. For over a century, the exact location of Camp Security was in oblivion. Then, in 1979, combined efforts of Historic York, Inc., Springettsbury Township officials and Dr. Barry Kent, state archaeologist, pin-pointed the location on a parcel of undeveloped land known as the Wiest farm in the Stonybrook section of Springettsbury Township.

A subsequent series of digs and excavations to a depth of about ten inches revealed 100 refuse fire pits, outlines of building foundations and "privies", as well as thousands of artifacts associated with this type of facility. A historical marker at the corner of E. Market St. and Locust Grove Rd., four and one half miles east of York City indicates the location of the Camp.

Read other articles on the Revolutionary War

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