Thursday, December 31, 2009

Camp Security Artifacts Revisited

Camp Security is a Revolutionary War period prisoner-of- war camp that was occupied by British, Scottish and Canadian prisoners and camp followers (often wives and other family members) between 1781 and the end of the war in 1783. The site is located about four miles east of the City of York, in a relatively small, undeveloped portion of suburban Springettsbury Township. Thirty years ago, Barry Kent and Charles Hunter, archaeologists at the State Museum, located over 100 features here containing artifacts dating to the latter part of the 18th century. In all likelihood, these artifacts are related to the prisoner of war camp. Most of the features are pits, which were dug into the ground and which ultimately became receptacles for a variety of domestic debris.
The most numerous objects recovered from the pit features are discarded animal bones representing food refuse. A preliminary analysis of this faunal material (by Brenda Carr Weller, Lab Manager at McCormick Taylor, Inc.) indicates that beef and lamb were important components of the diet at Camp Security, with smaller amounts of pork and domestic fowl also represented. Wild food sources included small amounts of turtle. It appears the livestock was slaughtered and butchered on site, and the meat was probably eaten as large roasts and stews. These faunal remains suggest the inmates at Camp Security were reasonably well provisioned with food. This is in stark contrast to the experience of thousands of American prisoners who were captured when the Continental Army evacuated New York City in 1776. Many of the Americans were incarcerated in the notorious British prison ships anchored near the Brooklyn shore, where they were deliberately starved by their captors.

buttons fashioned from bone refuse

Other artifacts from the 1979 dig include thousands of fragments of window glass believed to be from the numerous log huts which were built as housing, according to contemporary written accounts. Pieces of clay “daub,” the material used for the chinking to seal gaps between the logs of the huts, were also recovered. The 1979 investigation also recovered hundreds of copper straight pins and crude buttons fashioned from animal bone. This corroborates the written accounts of the practice of “cottage industries,” such as the manufacture of lace and buttons, by the occupants of Camp Security.

straight pins

Currency, such as silver “pieces of eight” (Spanish coins known as “reales,” which were sliced into eight pieces so as to make “change”) was also found. This appears to corroborate written accounts that certain prisoners were allowed to work for local farmers and earn wages. Noticeably absent from the Camp Security collection are items such as fragments of tobacco smoking pipes and liquor or wine bottles. Such artifacts are often abundant on domestic sites dating to the 18th century. However, dozens of other personal items such as buttons, buckles, cuff links and clothing clasps are represented in the Camp Security collection.

Scottish silver brooch

One unique item is a silver brooch in the shape of a heart. This is a distinctly Scottish piece of jewelry, and members of at least one Scottish regiment of Highlanders are known to have been present at Camp Security. This brooch signifies a weeping heart and was given as a farewell token and hopefully, brought protection to a loved one who had been sent to the war in America.

In 2005, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed Camp Security as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered historic places. Although this site has not yet been destroyed, the property is owned by a local individual who intends to ultimately convert this site into a housing development. We believe this unique place should be protected and preserved. So does a local preservation organization known as the Friends of Camp Security. We encourage all who cherish and respect our Revolutionary War heritage to contact the Friends of Camp Security for more information on how to assist with their preservation initiatives.

This week's guest blog is courtesy of BHP Historic Preservation Specialist Mark Shaffer.
For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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