Dangerous Guests

Dangerous Guests: Enemy Captives and Revolutionary Communities during the War for Independence

Ken Miller
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
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    Dangerous Guests
    Book Description:

    InDangerous Guests, Ken Miller reveals how wartime pressures nurtured a budding patriotism in the ethnically diverse revolutionary community of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. During the War for Independence, American revolutionaries held more than thirteen thousand prisoners-both British regulars and their so-called Hessian auxiliaries-in makeshift detention camps far from the fighting. As the Americans' principal site for incarcerating enemy prisoners of war, Lancaster stood at the nexus of two vastly different revolutionary worlds: one national, the other intensely local. Captives came under the control of local officials loosely supervised by state and national authorities. Concentrating the prisoners in the heart of their communities brought the revolutionaries' enemies to their doorstep, with residents now facing a daily war at home.

    Many prisoners openly defied their hosts, fleeing, plotting, and rebelling, often with the clandestine support of local loyalists. By early 1779, General George Washington, furious over the captives' ongoing attempts to subvert the American war effort, branded them "dangerous guests in the bowels of our Country." The challenge of creating an autonomous national identity in the newly emerging United States was nowhere more evident than in Lancaster, where the establishment of a detention camp served as a flashpoint for new conflict in a community already unsettled by stark ethnic, linguistic, and religious differences. Many Lancaster residents soon sympathized with the Hessians detained in their town while the loyalist population considered the British detainees to be the true patriots of the war. Miller demonstrates that in Lancaster, the notably local character of the war reinforced not only preoccupations with internal security but also novel commitments to cause and country.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5494-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Prologue: A Community at War
    (pp. 1-7)

    On a chilly winter day in late 1778, a weary traveler passing through Lancaster, Pennsylvania, en route to a more southerly destination marveled at the inhabitants’ “diversity of religions, nations, and languages.” Yet even more astonishing to the bemused traveler was the “harmony they live in.” Thomas Anburey’s observation was hardly novel. Lancaster had long evoked similar reactions from visitors unacquainted with the striking diversity of the mid-Atlantic interior. Centrally located some sixty miles west of Philadelphia and ten miles east of the winding Susquehanna River, Lancaster exemplified the pluralism of the Pennsylvania hinterland. Founded more than four decades earlier,...

  5. Chapter 1 “A Colony of Aliens”: Diversity, Politics, and War in Prerevolutionary Lancaster
    (pp. 8-40)

    The provincial assembly carved out Lancaster County from the western portion of Chester County in 1729 amidst a rising tide of German and Scots Irish immigration into the Pennsylvania interior. Drawn to a colony rich in affordable land and free of oppressive taxes, military obligations, and an established church, waves of immigrants disembarked at the bustling ports of the mid-Atlantic seaboard and pushed into the rapidly expanding provincial hinterland to plant their scattered settlements east of the Susquehanna River. As their numbers swelled, the newly arrived backcountry settlers bristled at their remoteness from Chester, the county seat, situated along the...

  6. Chapter 2 “Divided We Must Inevitably Fall”: War Comes to Lancaster
    (pp. 41-71)

    In early June 1774, news of Parliament’s passage of the Coercive Acts roused the residents of Lancaster to action. The legislation came in response to the Boston Tea Party, where, on the night of December 16, 1773, American rebels dumped 342 chests of taxed tea into Boston Harbor in defiance of the recently implemented Tea Act. Soon reviled throughout the colonies as the Intolerable Acts, the measures closed the port of Boston until residents paid for the lost tea, restricted Boston’s town meetings to once a year, transformed the Massachusetts Council from an elective to an appointive body, and barred...

  7. Chapter 3 “A Dangerous Set of People”: British Captives and the Sundering of Empire
    (pp. 72-95)

    Lancaster’s first British captives arrived during early December 1775. On Saturday, December 9, 250 members of the British Seventh Regiment of Foot, Royal Fusiliers, marched into the borough under military escort, accompanied by sixty women and children. Another 130 prisoners, members of the Twenty-sixth Regiment of Foot, followed two days later. Lancaster’s new Committee of Observation faced an immediate crisis when Egbert Dumond, commander of the American escort, announced that the prisoners had only two days’ provisions. Dumond added that he had received no specific orders concerning the captives and could offer local officials no more guidance than to “take...

  8. Chapter 4 “’Tis Britain Alone That Is Our Enemy”: German Captives and the Promise of America
    (pp. 96-124)

    On the evening of December 30, 1776, Lancaster received heartening news of Washington’s surprising victory at the Battle of Trenton. The Americans’ unexpected triumph in New Jersey restored faith in the beleaguered resistance by ending a string of demoralizing military setbacks suffered since the beginning of their disastrous campaign for New York. In Lancaster, ecstatic Whigs celebrated the victory, little realizing that the battle carried serious consequences for their community. When Washington’s triumphant troops recrossed the Delaware into Pennsylvania, they had more than eight hundred Hessian prisoners in tow. In early January, elation turned to dread when the locals learned...

  9. Chapter 5 “Enemies of Our Peace”: Captives, the Disaffected, and the Refinement of American Patriotism
    (pp. 125-151)

    Late summer 1777 found Lancaster’s revolutionaries in a mounting state of distress. Sobered by two years of war, with prospects of military success bleak and the future of the cause in doubt, local Whigs had lost much of their initial enthusiasm. Independence and Pennsylvania’s radical constitution had fueled long-simmering divisions between the community’s militants and moderates. Recent military setbacks, meanwhile, had slowly eroded support for the cause, fostering war weariness, exacerbating internal tensions, and increasing the pressure on Pennsylvania’s beleaguered revolutionary government. In 1775 and 1776, locals had watched the war unfold from afar. Now, to their horror, the enemy...

  10. Chapter 6 “The Country Is Full of Prisoners of War”: Nationalism, Resistance, and Assimilation
    (pp. 152-186)

    As the Revolutionary War shifted theaters, gradually moving from north to south, and British operations became more unpredictable, deviating with successive changes of command, Continental officials shuffled their captives among multiplying detention sites, and Lancaster remained the central hub through which most of the prisoners eventually flowed. By the time Cornwallis’s surrendering troops emerged from their entrenchments amid the smoldering debris of the Yorktown plain, Lancaster had been joined by more than a half-dozen related host communities in an expanding Continental detention network stretching from the Pennsylvania interior to the Virginia backcountry. As the revolutionaries’ leading detention center, Lancaster became...

  11. Epilogue: The Empty Barracks
    (pp. 187-194)

    By the late 1780s, the Lancaster barracks which had loomed so large in locals’ wartime imagination had sunk into disrepair. Stripped of its purpose, the hulking edifice that had only a few years before housed thousands of enemy prisoners now stood a silent, empty shell. Overgrown with weeds from years of neglect, the building’s adjacent graveyard, permanent home to the British and German prisoners who had perished in captivity, merged indistinguishably with the surrounding landscape. The decaying grounds eloquently symbolized residents’ determination to exchange the unwelcome intrusions of war for the more predictable rhythms of their once flourishing market community....

  12. Notes
    (pp. 195-238)
  13. Index
    (pp. 239-248)