Researchers say they solved a decades-old mystery this week by finding the remains of a stockade and thus the site of a prison camp in York, Pennsylvania, that held British soldiers for nearly two years during the American Revolutionary War.

Camp Security is believed to be on land purchased by the local government nearly a decade ago. On Monday, an archaeological team working there discovered what they believe to be the prison camp’s outer security fence.

The camp housed more than 1,000 English, Scottish and Canadian privates 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. By the following year, there were about 1,200 men in the camp, as well as hundreds of women and children.

Fieldwork at the site, which also includes the lower-security Indulgence Camp, has been ongoing for decades, but the exact location of the security camp, which held prisoners during the 1781 Battle of Yorktown, Virginia, was unknown until the exact site was established. a 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 great,” said Carol Tanzola, who as president of Friends of Camp Security led the fundraiser for project.

Lead archaeologist John Crowmer said the site was narrowed down after about 28 acres were plowed up for metal detecting and surface artefact collection in 2020. This further reduced the search area to about 8 acres, where long search trenches were dug last year.

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

Next spring, Crowmer and other researchers hope to determine the full extent of the stockade and conduct a targeted search for artifacts in and around it.

“Was it round or square, what was inside, what was outside?” Crowmer said. “When we do that, we’re going to start finding these 18th-century artifacts, the trash pits. We will be able to start answering questions about where people slept, where they lived, where they threw things, where the toilets are.”

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

A contemporary account of life in the camp by a British surgeon’s mate said there was “camp fever” which may have killed some prisoners, and a list of camp security prisoners is in the British National Archives. No human remains were found at the site.

Historians have confirmed local accounts of the shared location of Security Camp and Camp Indulgence following an archaeological survey in 1979 of a small section of property made up of buckles, buttons and other items associated with British soldiers of the period. During the investigation, 20 coins and 605 straight pins were also found, which may have been used by the prisoners to make lace.