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.

Posted in 1830s, artists, Lewis Miller, oysters, Universal York, York County | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Yorker changes mind about drinks



The Sponslers of York seem to have been an interesting family. Many members were quite musical; there was even a Sponsler family orchestra. In a previous post, I shared a 1904 newspaper account of musician J. V. Sponsler’s attempt at playing the steam whistle at Herman Noss’s lumber yard.

Another Sponsler, Mary Ann, was one of the six wives of inventor Isaac Singer. There was a bit of a problem there, as Singer seemed to have several wives at once. Blogger Jim McClure relayed some of that story in one of his posts.

I was recently talking family history with Library/Archives volunteer Cindy Doll at York County Heritage Trust. She mentioned Sponsler relatives and later shared some 1881 newspaper clippings from the York Daily that she had received from Jeffrey Bernstein. They concern Augustus Sponsler’s attempt, later reconsidered, to get “on the wagon.”
Continue reading “Yorker changes mind about drinks” »

Posted in 1880s, drinks, music, newspapers, taverns, Universal York, York County | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

York Air Cadet encounters obstacle


Jason B. Snyder headed the York YMCA for many years. Many people who remember him as a pillar of the community are probably not aware of his Florida adventure during World War I. His family recently shared a clipping from the Saturday, June 22, 1918 Fort Myers Press as well as photographs. They pretty well explain why Snyder did not become an aviator.

Here is my recent York Sunday News column on the incident: Continue reading “York Air Cadet encounters obstacle” »

Posted in 1920s, accidents, airplanes, military units, Universal York, World War I, York County | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Call put out for information on previous Camp Security finds

Hole showing distinct difference in the soil coloration

Hole showing distinct difference in the soil coloration

I stopped by the site of the Camp Security archaeology dig yesterday and took a few photos.

There have been some small Revolutionary War period artifacts found so far: brass and tombac buttons, a lead musket ball, a British copper coin and a Spanish coin (widely used in Europe and America).

I was especially interested in the holes. That is how we will find the exact location of the stockade that we know from documentary evidence was somewhere on the original 280 acre property.

Archaeologist Steve Warfel and field assistant Amanda Snyder showed me how they determined some kind of past disturbance by the color of the soil. While I was there Snyder was working on a hole that showed distinct disturbance of the subsoil. Warfel cautioned that disturbance can be from natural causes, such a long ago tree roots or an animal burrow. On the other hand, the discoloration of the soil can show where there were post holes. indicating the stockade location. They will expand that excavation to determine what may have been the cause.

Screening of soil removed from pits

Screening of soil removed from pits

Volunteers were digging other exploratory holes, calling Warfel’s attention to anything different. Others were carefully screening the soil taken out of each hole to make sure no small item might have been missed.

The dig will be going on for a couple more weeks, so there is plenty of time to further explore this area of the site. It was flagged by a remote sensing survey two years ago as an area of interest. As Warfel points out, even if little is found and the stockade not located this year, the land is now preserved, thanks to a combination of private and public donations and the cooperation of Springettsbury Township, now the owner of the preserved site. Who knows what exploration in the years to come might uncover.

Warfel and the Friends of Camp Security ask that if anyone has knowledge of anything found at the site over the years, to please share that information, as it could give invaluable evidence on where to keep looking. It is stressed that you would not be asked to return anything found when the site was private property, nor would your ownership be made public. Just call Friends of Camp Security at 717-755-4367 and leave a message so that the call can be returned.

If you wish, you can also contact me through the comment box below—the comment will not be made public without your consent. You can also send a private message through the Friends of Camp Security Facebook page.

This link will take you to the Friends of Camp Security Facebook page.

Part of the Camp Security site

Part of the Camp Security site

Here is a link to my many posts on Friends of Camp Security.

Posted in 1780s, archaeology, Camp Security, Revolutionary War, Springettsbury Twp., Universal York, York County | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Guards of Camp Security 8: John Stewart


Here is another clue from the National Archives records into life at Camp Security.

John Stewart as 77 years old when he applied for a Revolutionary War pension in Clermont County, Ohio in 1832. He states that he was born in Lancaster County, Pa. and moved to Maryland about a year before he was drafted in December 1776. From there he marched with his company to New Jersey, serving about three months.

Stewart goes on to state in his affidavit that he returned to Pennsylvania and served in the Pennsylvania militia for another four months. He states he was at the Battle of Gulph Mills [late 1777].

He next served under Captain Ford and Colonel Bailey guarding Burgoyne’s troops for two months at Camp Security. He started the tour at the end of July [1781]. Stewart states:
Continue reading “Guards of Camp Security 8: John Stewart” »

Posted in 1780s, 1830s, Camp Security, Kentucky, Lancaster County, military units, Ohio, prisoners, Revolutionary War, Universal York, York County | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Not all York County news of the past was good

Newspaper ad for 1929 Ku Klux Klan meeting

Newspaper ad for 1929 Ku Klux Klan meeting

Most of us probably think of African American persecution when we hear Ku Klux Klan. The haters cast a broader net in York County in the first half of the twentieth century. Anyone not a white protestant was fair game to be threatened by these men who hid their identities under white hoods.

The KKK state convention was held in North York in 1929 and again in 1939. Their stand was adamantly anti-immigrant, and in 1939, much against the United States becoming involved in the European War that was heating up. I am always astounded that, then and now, so many people forget their own ancestors were immigrants not that long ago.

The KKK isn’t a pleasant subject, but we need to be reminded to never let that mindset prevail again. My recent York Sunday News column below records some of the newspaper coverage of the 1939 convention:
Continue reading “Not all York County news of the past was good” »

Posted in 1920s, 1930s, immigrants, North York, organizations, Secret Societies, Universal York, York County | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

1939 news from Saginaw, Gatchelville and Wrightsville


County datelines from York County Heritage Trust newspaper microfilm

County datelines from York County Heritage Trust newspaper microfilm

What was going on in York County 75 years ago? If your family was at all known to the newspaper stringer for your area, they probably showed up on the local news pages. The events might seem trivial to us today, but the reporters give us a glimpse into the lives of our forerunners—who they knew and what they did.

Here are a few items from around the county, as reported in the October 13, 1939 York Dispatch:

“SAGINAW, Oct. 13—Luther Mohr, Hanover visited Mr. and Mrs. George Horner, Sunday.

Mr. and Mrs. Paul Krebs and children Barry, Gerald, Linda Lou and Warren, Mt. Wolf; Mr. and Mrs. Purless Gingerich, Manchester; Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Horner and children, William and Gladys; Mrs. John Leader and children, Nancy and Joan; and Lester Brenner visited Mr. and Mrs. Russel Reneberger.

C.C. Kohr and children, Gertrude and Edwin, and Hubert Elvery were guests of the latter’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. George Elvery, McConnellsburg on Sunday.”

Some of you might remember participating in pageants at church. They weren’t anything like beauty pageants, but little plays or shows with songs. I remember participating in Children’s Day pageants at New Harmony Presbyterian Church at the Brogue when I was a child. Crepe paper costumes turned little children into flowers and the like. Remember crepe paper? If you got it wet the bright colors stained your clothes.

“GATCHELVILLE, Oct. 13.—A sacred pageant, ‘Lest We Forget,’ will be presented in the Prospect Methodist Church Sunday evening at 7:45 o’clock.

The cast of characters is as follows: ‘Miss Helpful,’ Nellie Druck; ‘Anne,’ Marie Dunlap; ‘Margaret,’ Verna Gray; ‘Dorothy,’ Ethel Gray; ‘May,’ Leona Jamison; ‘Florence,’ Lavia Jamison; and ‘Elsie,’ Ruth Kimmons.”

Here are more travelers, none venturing too far:

“WRIGHTSVILLE, Oct. 13.—Pauline and Ruth Young, South Second Street, were dinner guests on Wednesday evening at the home of their cousin, Evelyn Gerfin, Columbia.

Mrs. Paul Kinard and daughter, Darlene, and Miss Lucy Kinard motored to Dallastown, Wednesday, where they spent the day as guests of the former’s brother-in-law and sister, Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Dougherty.

Charles Kline, of Ardmore, was a guest over the weekend at the home of his mother, Mrs. Annie Kline, Hellam Street.”

I’m willing to bet that these visits involved rolling out food, perhaps a full Pennsylvania Dutch meal, or at least substantial snacks. How about some homemade pies and cakes? Homemade ice cream, anyone?

Posted in 1930s, churches, food, newspapers, travel, Universal York, York County | Tagged , , | Leave a comment