Under Pennsylvania Soil, Remnants of a POW Camp

Researchers say they've found remnants of Camp Security in Yorktown, Pa.
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 28, 2022 7:35 AM CDT
Dig Unearths Remnants of Revolutionary War POW Camp
In this photo, Jane C. Skinner excavates postholes at the bottom of a stockade trench on Thursday in York, Pa. Researchers say they've solved a decades-old riddle by finding remnants of the stockade and therefore the site of a prison camp in York that housed British soldiers for nearly two years during...   (John Crawmer via AP)

Researchers say they've solved a decades-old riddle this week by finding remnants of a stockade, and therefore the site of a prison camp in York, Pa., that housed British soldiers for nearly two years during the American Revolutionary War. The location of Camp Security was thought to have been on land acquired by the local government nearly a decade ago, per the AP. On Monday, an archaeological team working there located what they believe to be the prison camp's exterior security fence.

The camp housed more than 1,000 English, Scottish, and Canadian privates and noncommissioned officers for 22 months during the war, starting with a group of prisoners who arrived in 1781, four years after their surrender at Saratoga, NY. By the next year, there were some 1,200 men at the camp, along with hundreds of women and children. A contemporaneous account of camp life by a British surgeon's mate said there was a "camp fever" that might have killed some of the prisoners, and a list of Camp Security inmates was located in the British National Archives. No human remains have been found.

Fieldwork at the site, which also includes the lower-security Camp Indulgence, has gone on for decades, but the exact spot of Camp Security—where prisoners from the 1781 Battle of Yorktown, Va., were kept—had been unknown until a telltale pattern of postholes in a foot-deep trench was uncovered. Lead archaeologist John Crawmer said the location site had been narrowed down after about 28 acres were plowed for metal detection and surface collection of artifacts in 2020. That further reduced the search area to about 8 acres, where long exploratory trenches were dug last year. Those trenches helped the team identify postholes that in turn led to the pattern of holes and a stockade trench that matched stockades at other 18th-century military sites, Crawmer said.

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He added that there's evidence the vertical posts that formed the security stockade weren't in the ground for very long, and that they may have been dug up and reused after the camp was closed in 1783. Next spring, Crawmer and other researchers hope to determine the full size of the stockade and perform a focused search for artifacts within and around it. "Was it circular or square, what's inside, what's outside?" Crawmer said. "As we do that, we're going to start finding those 18th-century artifacts, the trash pits. We'll be able to start answering questions about where people were sleeping, where they were living, where they were throwing things away, where the privies are." (More Revolutionary War stories.)

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