Episode 048: Ken Miller, Dangerous Guests: Enemy Captives During the War for Independence

Dangerous Guests

When we think about the War for American Independence many of us conjure images of Washington crossing the Delaware, Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown, or perhaps the freezing winters at Valley Forge or Jockey Hollow.

What we don’t tend to think about are enemy prisoners of war, the British and German soldiers the patriot militia and Continental Army units captured during and after battles.

Today, we explore the day-to-day experiences of British and German POWs during the War for Independence with Ken Miller, Associate Professor of History at Washington College and author of Dangerous Guests: Enemy Captives and Revolutionary Communities during the War for Independence.


About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with an historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Episode Summary

Ken MillerKen Miller, Associate Professor of History at Washington College and author of Dangerous Guests: Enemy Captives and Revolutionary Communities during the War for Independence, joins us to discuss how British and German prisoners of war promoted the creation of an American identity in Lancaster, Pennsylvania during the American War for Independence.

During our conversation, Ken reveals details about what American prisoner of war camps for British and German Revolutionary War POWs looked like; Why the Continental Congress and Army insisted on sending at least 3,000 POWs to Lancaster, Pennsylvania; And, the day-to-day experiences of both the British and German POWs in Lancaster and the civilian residents who lived among them.


What You’ll Discover

  • How Ken became interested in early American history and early American identity formation
  • Why Ken studied Lancaster, Pennsylvania
  • Details about Revolutionary War prisoner of war camps
  • Details about Lancaster during the War for Independence
  • How German POWs influenced American identity formation in Lancaster
  • Statistics about the number of British and German POWs
  • Why the Continental Army and Congress sent over 3,000 POWs to Lancaster
  • Locations of other American POW camps for captured British and German soldiers
  • The Continental Congress’ strategy to encourage German soldiers to desert the British Army
  • Day-to-day experiences for German and British POW soldiers in Lancaster
  • How prisoners’ experiences differed based on nationality and rank
  • Housing and conditions for POWs in Lancaster
  • Details about the hiring out system for prisoners
  • Information about the experiences of the wives and children who followed their POW husbands into the camp at Lancaster
  • Provisioning of POWs and their families
  • What it was like for American civilians to host British and German POWs in their community
  • Whether the presence of British and German POWs inspired Lancaster Loyalists to riot, revolt, or join the King’s cause
  • The Loyalist-POW escape network in Pennsylvania
  • The role the citizens of Lancaster played in helping German POWs decide to desert for American citizenship and land


Links to People, Places, and Publications


Time Warp Plain

Time Warp Question

In your opinion what might have happened if Lancaster had not played host to over 3,000 British and German POWs? How would the POW’s absence have affected the process by which the people of Lancaster created an American identity?


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