Getting Closer to York’s Camp Security Numbers

Letter to General Carleton from General Washington (In the hand of his aide).

There is a quote that goes something like “Even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while,” meaning that if you keep rooting around you might come up with something.

Every chance I get the past few years, I have been hitching a ride to the National Archives with friend Dennis Brandt, who is researching another Civil War book. This spring and summer I managed to spend at least one whole day a month reading the original hand written records of Continental Congress on microfilm. Their arrangement and indexing can be confusing, so I find it easier to just visually scan the films, page by page, for 1781-1783, the years of the prisoner of War Camp at York. Besides, even though the term “Camp Security” was used at a local and state level, it was referred to federally only as the “camp at York;” there are no entries under Camp Security in the indexes.

I finally found at least part of an acorn last Friday.

The war was winding down in 1782 and early 1783 following Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, Va. on October 19, 1781. The British were busy transporting troops and loyalists away from the former American colonies. Repatriation of the British and Hessian Prisoners of War was addressed at the highest level, between the commanders in chief: George Washington and Sir Guy Carleton. On April 21, 1783 General Washington wrote from his headquarters to General Carleton at New York, enclosing a copy of the resolution Congress had passed April 15 calling for the liberation of all prisoners. Washington wrote:

“The prisoners lodged at Fredericktown and Winchester in the states of Virginia and Maryland, in number about 1,500, including women and children… . The remainder of the prisoners, being in Pennsylvania, amounting to about 4,500…except those at Reading, which are about 3 or 400… .”

Further research will give a better idea of how many of the prisoners, sometimes with their families, were at the Camp Security, but at least it is a number to start with. Some were at Lancaster and other sites in Pennsylvania, like Carlisle and Philadelphia. The numbers fluctuated over the years at all sites, but I have always thought that Camp Security had the larger facility. Some sources claim about 1,400 were held at Lancaster at one point. Still, a total of 4,500 in Pennsylvania at the end of the war, after many prior exchanges and escapes, is a significant number.

Back to rooting around.

Click the links below for more on Camp Security or click on Camp Security in the table of categories on the right.

Background of Camp Security.

Numbers or prisoners hard to pin down.

Preservation of part of the Camp Security site.

New Camp Security park preserved.

Map of the original Camp Security site.

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