Shadow of World War Two loomed over York County in 1939



Although the United States did not officially enter World War Two until December 8, 1941, the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Americans knew it was coming. By the fall of 1939, it was beginning to affect people in different ways, as you can see from two items transcribed below. They are both from the November 4, 1939 York Gazette and Daily:
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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.
Continue reading “Finding Nicholas James” »

Posted in 1780s, apprentices, Camp Security, food, Lewis Miller, prisoners, Revolutionary War, soldiers, Universal York, York County | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

More on National Art Week


My last post listed all the artwork, mostly paintings, displayed in downtown York storefront windows during National Art Week in 1939. It caught my eye since The Parliament arts organization is promoting a similar venture, utilizing vacant display windows.

I also found another Gazette and Daily article from November 1939 listing other National Art Week activities. I wondered if there was still a National Art Week, so I did some internet searching: National Art Week seems to have come out of the WPA (Works Progress Administration), created in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create jobs during the Great Depression. The FAP (Federal Art Project) was the visual arts division of the WPA, and that seems to have been the impetus behind National Art Week, which officially lasted only a few years. The Great Depression was coming to an end, and focus shifted quickly to the United States entry into World War II.

A catalog entry for the Smithsonian Archives of American Art references papers from National Art Week from Washington State in 1940 and 1941. We know from the Gazette and Daily articles that is was being observed here in 1939, and an online article from an Alexandria, Louisiana newspaper tells about their National Art Week events in 1938.

Some other countries, such as the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia, seem to be currently observing their own National Art Week. The United States now commemorates Arts in Education week, established by a 2010 resolution passed by the House of Representatives.

Here’s the 1939 article:
Continue reading “More on National Art Week” »

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Storefront art in York is still a good idea after 75 years


I enjoy looking at art wherever it is—in museums, studios and store fronts. The current project by The Parliament arts organization, displaying art in unused store fronts in downtown York sounds like a great idea.

And, it was a great idea 75 years ago, as you can see by the November 6, 1939 Gazette and Daily article below:
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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. Continue reading “Guards at Camp Security 10: Ebenezer Ferguson” »

Posted in 1780s, 1830s, Adams County, Camp Security, Cumberland County, prisons, Revolutionary War, Universal York, York County | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Shooting at York Tavern in 1768


The General Gates house is one of York County Heritage Trust’s historic restorations. It is so named because it is said to have been the residence of Horatio Gates when he served as president of the Board of War [forerunner of the Defense Department] during part of the time Continental Congress met in York during 1777-1778.

Researcher Becky Roman has been trying to find out more about Joseph Chambers, who is credited with building the sturdy stone Gates house on East Market Street in 1751. She recently found Chambers mentioned in the papers of the Court of Oyer and Terminer for York County (Pennsylvania State Archives). It doesn’t have anything to do with Chambers’s stone house, but it is an interesting story, one that would probably make the news today. It also raises some unanswered questions.

The document concerns a Coroner’s Inquest of March 26, 1768 into a February 16th shooting at a York tavern. It reads, in part: Continue reading “Shooting at York Tavern in 1768” »

Posted in 1750s, 1760s, accidents, buildings, Continental Congress, doctors, taxation, Universal York, York County | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Camp Security exploration will go on

This is a 1779 plan to house the Saratoga captives in Virginia.  Camp Security was said to be similar, but two-thirds in size.

This is a 1779 plan to house the Saratoga captives in Virginia. Camp Security was said to be similar, but two-thirds in size.
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

The hunt goes on for the various components that made up Camp Security, the Revolutionary War camp established to detain British prisoners in York County. Specific areas of interest, such as the palisaded stockade and the village for the captives accompanied by families, will eventually be located by careful research and archaeology.

Although the dig completed last month turned up just a few artifacts and no hoped-for evidence of the stockade, it was an important first step in the process. Over seventy volunteers now have locating, digging and cataloging experience that will be utilized in subsequent years; also, that particular part of the site has been ruled out as being of importance and the exploration can move on to another area.

For more 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.

See below for my recent York Sunday News column outlining some of the ongoing research and the importance of the site.

Looking for the Camp Security stockade and village

The site of our Revolutionary War prisoner of war camp, Camp Security, has never been lost in the broader sense. Documents and accounts recorded ever since the camp opened in the summer of 1781 verify that the camp was on David Brubaker’s land, then in Hellam Township (now Springettsbury). British troops captured at the Battle of Saratoga with General Burgoyne in 1777 were moved in first, followed by many of those surrendered at Yorktown, Va. with General Cornwallis in October 1781.

Brubaker owned a total of 280 acres, and descriptions lead us to believe that the camp complex covered about 40 acres of that property. Through the efforts of Friends of Camp Security and Springettsbury Township, combined with grants and donations from numerous private and public entities, over 160 undeveloped acres of that property have now been secured. Previous archaeological evidence, as well as historical accounts, point to much of the camp waiting to be discovered in this area.

Many eyewitness sources of the time describe at least one stockade, along with a village of log huts for those prisoners who had families with them (common at the time). Pension applications filed by local militia guards also mention additional huts built to house the guards.

There is some confusion in the use of terms “Camp Security” and “Camp Indulgence.” After looking at various collections of papers at the National Archives (i.e. Papers of the Continental Congress and the Board of War), I have not yet seen the term “Camp Security” used at a federal level. Members of the United States government and the military at the time, including the President of Congress and the Commander in Chief, simply called the site “the camp at York.”

Revolutionary War pension applications at the National Archives, filed by local militia members who served as guards, however, do cite their service at “Camp Security,” showing popular use of the term at the time locally for the whole camp. “Camp Security” is also found in numerous papers at the Pennsylvania State Archives, which means the name was also commonly used at state level.

So what then was “Camp Indulgence”? It was the name given to the group of huts outside the stockade inhabited by the Saratoga prisoners, especially those with families. A source often quoted is Captain [later General] Samuel Graham, who surrendered with Cornwallis. Describing the prisoners who came from that Yorktown capitulation, page 73 of Memoir of General Graham… reads: “At York [Pa.] they were kept in huts newly constructed, also surrounded by a high stockade, and were also strictly guarded. At a little distance from, but in sight of, our men’s huts, upon a rising ground were situated a number of huts occupied by soldiers of General Burgoyne’s army, also prisoners of war, but without stockade or guard. Our men named their own camp ‘Security,’ and the other camp ‘Indulgence.’”

Graham was not aware that there might have been another reason for the soldiers with families living in huts outside the stockade. Accounts from guards and prisoners tell of a sickness that rapidly spread through the prisoners, without seeming to affect the guards, when the camp was opened around the end of July 1781. One early guard, John Stewart, stated in his pension application that: “They kept the single men in a stockade under guard and the married men, after they had been there awhile, were permitted to remain outside the stockade. A great sickness set among the prisoners and the married were then permitted to build huts on the hill outside of the stockade.” This measure might have been instituted to slow the spread of the sometimes fatal disease.

An archaeological dig on part of the property in 1979 uncovered numerous shards of pottery and animal bones, likely related to the preparation and consumption of food. Coins and military buttons of the period were also found. Button blanks and hundreds of straight pins, probably related to the making of buttons and lace to be sold in the area, were also discovered. These finds, in my opinion, point to “Camp Indulgence” being at or near that part of the site.

I hoped that the location of the stockade would have been discovered during the recent dig. Some accounts from the militia guards hint that there might have been more than one stockaded area. Combining accounts of the past, looking at the topography and a recent magnetic imaging survey led to the selection of the area just explored as a promising one. Surface exploration and the through excavation of nearly 170 test holes, however, turned up only a handful of significant artifacts, and no telltale line of soil discoloration that would have shown the location of stockade posts.

This spot was only one of several that look promising, so there is optimism for finding the stockade location, perhaps as soon as next year. Archaeologist Steve Warfel points to a bonus in the core of over seventy now well trained volunteers with exploration and dig experience. Continuing archival research is also hoped to refine priority areas.

There are many stories of items being picked up over the years as people walked around the area. Finders are urged to share information on anything they have found, with no questions asked, except where they were found; that information might contain valuable clues. FOCS board members can be contacted through the Friends of Camp Security website (now being revamped), by phone and through the Friends of Camp Security Facebook page. Since I am involved with FOCS, I can also pass information along. (My email address is below.)

Camp Security is part of our local and national heritage. It was one of only a few prisoner of war camps established during the American Revolution, and it held British troops captured at two of the war’s major battles: Saratoga and Yorktown. Well over a thousand members of York County militia companies served as guards, leaving many thousands of direct descendants of those guards still here in the county and elsewhere.

The Friends of Camp Security invites everyone to a public meeting to update everyone on future archaeology plans for the site as well as ongoing research. It will be on November 18 at 7 p.m. in the all purpose room of Grace Baptist Church, 3920 East Prospect Rd., York.

June Lloyd is Librarian Emerita of York County Heritage Trust and can be contacted at

Posted in 1770s, 1780s, 1970s, archaeology, Camp Security, Hellam Twp., historic preservation, prisoners, soldiers, Springettsbury Twp., Universal York, York County | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

York County folks still love their oysters

Polly Waltemyer and oyster by Lewis Miller

Polly Waltemyer and oyster by Lewis Miller

At least 1,800 of people made that bivalve love affair plain Sunday at York County Heritage Trust’s annual Oyster Fest. And it has been a long relationship; our proximity to the Chesapeake Bay allowed the earliest county settlers to enjoy the traditional seafood delicacy.

Folk artist Lewis Miller was quite familiar with local oyster sellers and oyster consumers. In the now out-of-print volume Lewis Miller, Sketches and Chronicles, we find:

“Polly Waltemyer, opening Oysters for a Sup to Gentlemen. Well who are they? I tell you–Mr. John Stroman, George Spangler, John Miller, Adam Leitner, and Jacob Wisenthal. Do the[y] pay you for your trouble. I, before the[y] leave my house, one dollar each of this gentleman. I warn you to give notice.”

Polly is making it clear that her customers are expected to settle their bill by the end of the evening.

John Sponsler and oyster by Lewis Miller

John Sponsler and oyster by Lewis Miller

Lila Fourhman-Shaull and I have just finished editing Lewis Miller’s People for York County Heritage Trust, and it will be available in a few weeks. One of the over 700 personalities illustrated in the book is John Sponsler. Miller added some biographical background to this particular drawing. He says:

“John Sponsler, York, Pa., in West College Avenue. Died October 22, 1875 in his 86th year. He was a oyster dealer for many years, came from Baltimore to York 1839.”

Click here for more on the sometimes colorful Sponsler family.

Note that the oyster’s in Miller’s drawings are much larger than today.

Click this link to a Smithsonian online exhibit for more on Chesapeake oysters.

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Long awaited new book of drawings by York folk artist Lewis Miller coming soon


Nearly fifty years ago the Historical Society of York County (now part of York County Heritage Trust) published a selection of Lewis Miller watercolor drawings from its collection; it was titled Lewis Miller, Sketches and Chronicles: The Reflections of a Nineteenth Century Pennsylvania German Folk Artist.

A native of York, Miller is known nationally for his accurate depictions of nineteenth-century American life, and reproductions of many of Miller’s drawings have been widely used in books and other publications to illustrate the period.

York County Heritage Trust is fortunate to hold many more original Lewis Miller drawings, and a new volume, Lewis Miller’s People, will be coming out in a few weeks. This long-awaited, two-part volume of previously unpublished drawings focuses on about 700 mostly full-length profile portraits of York County personalities sketched during Miller’s long life. Miller captioned them with each person’s name and often their occupation, occasionally adding personal and family information. Some are noted “ein Hess,” indicating Revolutionary War Hessian soldiers who settled in York County.

The new publication throws more light on our past, on professions and trades and sometimes the background of the individuals. In many cases, these watercolors are the only images of these people, making them especially valuable not only for social history, but to their thousands and thousands of descendants still here in York County and spread throughout the country.

This link will take you to the index to Lewis Miller’s People. Even if none of your ancestors are depicted, the drawings and descriptions offer a fascinating look into our heritage.

Lewis Miller’s People has been edited by Lila Fourhman-Shaull, York County Heritage Trust Director of Library and Archives and myself, with a foreword by Dr. Simon J. Bronner. Dr. Ted Sickler coordinated the project, with publication by York County Heritage Trust.

A presentation and book-signing by the editors to celebrate the release of Lewis Miller’s People will be held on Sunday, November 16 at 2 p.m. at the York County Heritage Trust Historical Society Museum and Library, 250 East Market St., York. If you are coming, please RSVP to 717-848-1587 x210 or

Click here for ordering information for this limited edition volume.

Some of the individuals from the book will be featured in future posts.

Posted in 1800s, artists, books, Lewis Miller, museums, Revolutionary War, Universal York, York County | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Guards at Camp Security 9: Philip Werntz & Jacob Beam



Here are two more excerpts, possibly related, from Revolutionary War pension applications at the National Archives concerning erecting a stockade for the British prisoners held at York (Camp Security).

By the time he was eligible for a pension under the 1832 act, Philip Werntz was living in Haines Township, Centre County, Pennsylvania, having moved there three years before from Lancaster County. Werntz had been born in Earl Township, Lancaster County, but he was living in York when he was called out with the local militia to guard English prisoners. (Over fifty years after the fact, he thinks this was in 1780, but the duties fit the summer of 1781.)

He attests that in August members of his militia “company were a great part of the time engaged in Fatigue duty—to dig ditches—make palisades &c for the safe keeping of said prisoners. After the expiration of said three months fully served out, a second draft of militia was made and said Philip Werntz served three months more as a substitute for Daniel Sprenkle of York County aforesaid in guarding prisoners at or near the town of York.”

Werntz’s testimony becomes more significant when coupled with the pension application affidavit filed by Jacob Beam, whose tour of duty at Camp Security seems to have immediately followed Werntz’s in the fall of 1781. Continue reading “Guards at Camp Security 9: Philip Werntz & Jacob Beam” »

Posted in 1770s, 1830s, Camp Security, Ohio, prisoners, Revolutionary War, Somerset Co., Universal York, Warrington Twp., York County | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment