Excavation finds evidence of location of Revolutionary War POW camp

Researchers say they solved a decades-old puzzle this week by finding remnants of the stockade and thus the site of a prison camp in York, Pennsylvania, which housed British soldiers for nearly two years during the war. of American independence.

The Camp Security location was believed to be on land acquired by the local government nearly a decade ago. On Monday, a team of archaeologists working on site located what they believe to be the prison camp’s outer security fence.

The camp housed more than 1,000 English, Scottish and Canadian soldiers and non-commissioned officers for 22 months during the war, beginning with a group of prisoners who arrived in 1781, four years after their surrender at Saratoga, New York. The following year there were approximately 1,200 men in the camp, along with hundreds of women and children.

Fieldwork at the site, which also includes the lower-security Camp Indulgence, has been going on for decades, but the exact location of Camp Security – where prisoners from the 1781 Battle of Yorktown, Virginia, were held – was unknown until a telltale pattern of post holes in a foot-deep trench was discovered.

“It’s been a long project, and to finally see it come to fruition, or at least know you’re not crazy, is wonderful,” said Carol Tanzola, who as president of Friends of Camp Security has spearheaded fundraising for the project.

Senior archaeologist John Crawmer said the locate site was reduced after around 28 acres (11 hectares) were plowed for metal detecting and collecting surface artifacts in 2020. This further reduced the research area about 8 acres (3 hectares), where long exploratory trenches were dug last year.

These trenches helped the team identify postholes which, in turn, led to the pattern of the holes and a palisade trench that matched palisades at other 18th-century military sites, Crawmer said.

Next spring, Crawmer and other researchers hope to determine the actual size of the palisade and conduct a targeted search for artifacts in and around it.

“Was it circular or square, what’s inside, what’s outside? Crawmer said. “As we do, we’re going to start finding these 18th century artifacts, the garbage pits. We can start answering questions about where people slept, where they lived, where they threw things, where the toilets were.

Crawmer said there is evidence that the vertical posts that formed the security palisade had not been in the ground for very long and may have been dug up and reused after the camp closed in 1783.

A contemporary account of camp life by a fellow British surgeon said there was a “camp fever” which may have killed some of the prisoners, and a list of camp security inmates was in the archives British nationals. No human remains were found at the site.

Historians have confirmed local lore about the general location of Camp Security and Camp Indulgence after a 1979 archaeological survey of a small portion of the property produced buckles, buttons and other items associated with British soldiers of the time. This investigation also found 20 coins and 605 straight pins which could have been used by the prisoners to make lace.

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