Surrounded by residential neighborhoods just east of York, Pennsylvania is the site of Camp Security, the last remaining undeveloped Revolutionary War era prisoner-of-war camp in the United States. Between the summer of 1781 and spring of 1783, the camp housed British and Canadian prisoners who were guarded by members of the York County Militia and Convention troops.
During the war there were very few camps like this constructed, and all have been destroyed by development – all except for Camp Security. The time to research her secrets is upon us, and we mustn’t let the opportunity pass us by.
After a decade of threats, history has been saved…
For more than 10 years the site of Camp Security was been threatened by a proposed housing development known as “Hunter’s Crossing”. A group of concerned citizens known as “Friends of Camp Security” was formed with a goal of saving this nationally significant site from destruction. Last year a 116-acre parcel known as the “Walter’s Farm” was the first portion to be purchased and turned over to Springettsbury Township. That piece of land was merged with the township’s current Camp Security Park to be used for recreational purposes.
Just last week the remaining 40+ acre tract of land was purchased by non-profit preservation group “The Conservation Fund“, ensuring a future for this one-of-a kind historical landmark. Les Jones (left) and Todd McNew (right) are shown above during a brief presentation about the purchase of a 40+ acre tract of land once housing Camp Security.
By looking at the image below (obtained from Bing Maps) you can easily see how large the site really is. Residential neighborhoods surround the former camp, with a pre-Revolutionary War era farm shown in the middle of the property.
Camp Security has the potential to be the most significant site from the Revolutionary War that has never been thoroughly researched. When a limited archaeological dig was performed in 1979, only a few acres were explored and lead to the discovery of several thousand artifacts including period buttons, coins, and shards of pottery and glass.
Unlike Valley Forge which for six months served as a camp for General George Washington and his men, Camp Security housed well over 1,000 men and some of their families for nearly two years. We’re talking four times as long as Valley Forge was occupied. Imagine what we could learn if the entire 150+ acre Camp Security site was subjected to extensive archaeological research.
The men who lived and died at Camp Security…
For several years I’ve been researching the men who served tours of duty at Camp Security. To date there are over 1,000 men in my database, but these men only served there between July 1781 and May 1782. The remaining year that the camp was occupied still needs to be researched, and the names of those men need to be added to the database.
Efforts are also underway to document the British and Canadian men who were housed at the camp as prisoners, some with their families. Under some circumstances these men were permitted to leave the camp and work in the surrounding areas. While some were never heard from again, most were honorable and returned to camp. It’s likely that once they were released, some of these men integrated into the local area and became residents.
During the nearly two years of the camp’s existence, illness spread causing a great number of men to perish. Their bodies were laid to rest at a location that was never discovered. These unmarked graves should be found, and a proper memorial placed to mark their lives.
To further enhance the database being created, descendants are being searched for who came from the camp’s guards and prisoners. If you believe you are one of those people, I ask you to contact me so we can verify the information and add you to the database.
My heartfelt connection to Camp Security
I don’t remember the moment when I discovered one of my ancestors served at Camp Security, but I know it was an exciting time in my genealogical research. Further research would show that several other ancestors of mine also served at the camp as guards.
I’m confident that a great many residents of York County, Pennsylvania and surrounding areas would find they too have ancestors who served at the camp, or were possibly prisoners there.
In an unusual chain of events during March 2001, I had the opportunity to meet Ron Bissett, a Canadian man with a similar connection to Camp Security. Following a business trip to eastern Canada, Ron journeyed to the area so he could walk the site where his ancestor was a prisoner over 200 years earlier.
When Ron and I met that afternoon, we immediately embraced and felt a rush of emotion. Here were two men that met as strangers, but after a short while left the site as everlasting friends.
During our meeting, Ron and I learned some fascinating things about our connection to Camp Security:
- Ron’s ancestor was a prisoner at the camp during my ancestor’s tour-of-duty there.
- Ron’s ancestor was named Andrew Bissett while mine was named Andrew Stough.
- Each of these ancestors were our fifth great-grandfathers.
- While my ancestor served his tour of duty and returned to his family, Ron’s succumbed to illness and died at Camp Security. His unmarked grave is somewhere at the site, waiting to be discovered.
Fundraising campaign begins…
Non-profit group “The Conservation Fund” (TCF) has purchased the final tract of Camp Security property, ensuring its survival for future generations to enjoy. The selling price of the property was just over $1 million which was much less than the $4 million the developer originally was asking for. In order for the title of this land to be transferred to Springettsbury Township, TFC needs to be repaid for the generous loan they gave for the purchase.
The Friends of Camp Security organized an English Tea gathering which was the start of their efforts to raise the funds to repay TCF. Janet Johnson, Archaeology Curator with The State Museum of Pennsylvania even shared some artifacts found at Camp Security during the 1979 archaeological dig.
Hosted by Jill and Les Jones, the event was attended by many important supporters including:
- Todd McNew: GIS Planning & Real Estate Representative, The Conservation Fund
- Janet Johnson: Archeology Curator, The State Museum of Pennsylvania
- Betsy Merritt, Deputy General Council, The Natural Trust For Historic Preservation
- Julie Landis and George Dvoryak, Springettsbury Township Board of Supervisors
- Barbara Bair, York County Treasurer
- Keith Gillespie, Pennsylvania State Representative, 47th Legislative District
- Chris Reilly and Doug Hoke – York County Commissioners
Howard Mayo (right) is shown above speaking to other guest at the English Tea event organized by Friends of Camp Security. Examples of some artifacts found at Camp Security are shown on display at the end of the pool table.
The Friends of Camp Security have already raised $350,000 and are asking for the public’s assistance in raising the remaining $650,000 to repay TCF. ALL money donated will be used towards the loan repayment. Camp Security was occupied four times as long as Valley Forge, and contains an unimaginable amount of artifacts still to be discovered and researched. We can’t let this opportunity slip away.
Camp Security is more than York County history. Camp Security is more than Pennsylvania history. Camp Security IS United States history, and every member of this great country should be proud that this historic treasure has been saved.
How you can help…
Please be sure to send this story to everyone who may be interested including friends, family, coworkers, regional and national news organizations, veteran organizations, etc. On behalf of Friends of Camp Security, we thank you for your continued support.
Donation pledge agreements can be obtained by contacting me, or you may send donations directly to:
Friends of Camp Security
P.O. Box 20008
York, PA 17402
- The last time I walked at Camp Security was the day I met Ron Bissett in March 2001 when Camp Security was being threatened. Now that the camp has been saved, I hope to meet him there again one day.