Skip to main content

Susquehanna Life

The History of Camp Security

Nov 19, 2014 01:43PM ● By Erica Shames

by Darren Youker 

In 1777, the revolution was not fairing well for the fledging Americans.

Save for the Battle of Trenton and George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River in late 1776, few battles had gone against the British. In Upstate New York, following the taking of Fort Ticonderoga, British General John Burgoyne marched south to Saratoga Springs, hoping to build loyalist support along the way.

Instead, Burgoyne and his force of more than 5,800 British regulars met stiff resistance in the farmland along the Hudson River. In a stirring defeat of British regulars, the Americans prevailed during the October battle, which shifted the momentum of the war.

After more than three years of being moved about the country to various prisons and outposts, roughly 3,000 soldiers from the Saratoga campaign ended up outside York Pennsylvania.

Camp Security, built to house the prisoners, operated more like a camp than an actual

prison. With little money available to feed and house the prisoners, the Americans allowed the British soldiers to work at factories and farms around the area.

Cottage industries also sprang up among the soldiers, who were allowed to go into nearby York to sell their wares.

Sgt. Robert Lamb, a British solider housed at Camp Security, wrote about his time fighting in the revolution, and later confinement, shortly after the close of the war. His memoirs and drawings have helped construct the picture of what prison life was like.

“I was then conducted to a hut, which my poor loving companions had built for me in their village before my arrival. Here I remained some time, visiting my former companions from hut to hut; but I was astonished at the spirit of industry, which prevailed among them. Men, women and children were employed making lace, buckles, spoons, and exercising other mechanical trades, which they had learned during their captivity. They had a very great liberty from the Americans and were allowed to go round the country and sell their goods, while the soldiers of Cornwallis' army were closely confined,” Lamb wrote.

After the war, the land slowly returned to farmland, and the timbers and stones used in construction were mostly used by locals for building materials.

In 1907, York historian George Prowell wrote that little remained of the site, and sounded an early clarion call for preservation. “This historic spot, though very rugged, has been farmed over, so that unless that it is marked, the exact site will be known to future generations only by tradition.”

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Susquehanna Life's free newsletter to stay informed