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James Cameron was born in Lancaster County in 1801, the fourth child of Charles and Martha Pfoutz Cameron. In 1808 the family moved to Sunbury. They were very poor, and when the father died, James began working at the Northumberland County Gazette, along with his older brother Simon. In 1827 he worked as a publisher of the Lycoming Gazette and only two years later he returned to Lancaster County as publisher of the Political Sentinel. At that time he read law with James Buchanan, later President of the United States. He was admitted to the bar in 1829 and practiced law until 1846 during which time he served in various public offices including that of superintendent of motive power on the Columbia & Philadelphia Railroad.
In 1846-47 Cameron was a sutler at New Orleans during the Mexican War. The following year he went to Virginia and was engaged in building the steamship Powhatan and repairing other vessels for the government. He bought the Mansion Farm in Milton in 1841, and in 1851 he moved to Milton to enjoy the pursuits of a gentleman farmer. He also assumed a position of importance on the Northern Central Railroad with headquarters in Sunbury. His statue in situated in Cameron Park, Sunbury. In 1856 he sought the Democratic nomination for Congress but was defeated. He was active in local affairs and especially in support of the Milton Fair where he was judge of livestock and submitted numerous entries in the various classes.
As the Southern States began to secede from the Union prior to the Civil War, James Cameron was engaged by the U.S. Government as a secret agent to intercept dispatches from the seceding states and otherwise watch their secret movements.
Upon Lincoln’s ascension to the Presidency, Simon Cameron, James’ brother, had been made Secretary of War. It was through Simon’s recommendation that James be named Colonel of the Seventy-ninth New York Regiment in June 21, 1861.
Col. James Cameron
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A scant month later, on July 21, 1861, Colonel James Cameron led his regiment into the thick of the First Battle of Bull Run, where he fell early in the fight, shot in the chest and instantly killed. He was the first officer of his rank in the Union Army and the first officer from Pennsylvania to be killed in action. He was buried in a mass grave.
In the fall of 1861, the Cameron Family was determined to locate his body. He was identified by the peculiar buckskin shirt he wore and his wife’s miniature located on his body. He was returned to his brother William’s home in Lewisburg. The burial took place in March, 1862 in Lewisburg Cemetery with much military pomp. The Milton Silver Band provided music. Over 5,000 people attended.
James’ wife, Rebecca continued to live at the Mansion Farm until the fall of 1861 at which time she moved into ex-Governor James Pollock’s home in Milton when the Pollocks moved to Philadelphia. On November 1, 1861, a public sale notice offering the property of the late James Cameron appeared in the Miltonian newspaper. On September 12, 1862, the Miltonian announced that Mrs. Cameron had sold her household furniture and intended to reside with friends in or near Lancaster.
Colonel James Cameron and his wife Rebecca purchased the property in 1841. It was a working farm that included a federal farm house, barn, and outbuildings. The West Branch Canal ran along the eastern boundary of the property. The Camerons made improvements to the home and occupied it as gentry farmers in 1851. Built in three stages, the kitchen dates back to the late 1700’s, the main house from 1810 to 1815 and the connecting wing was added sometime between 1830 to 1840. The Camerons added the Italianate porches, cornices and brackets.
The home had several owners after the Camerons, including the Pennsylvania State Motorcycle Police. The garage located at the back of Cameron House was used to house the motorcycles.
The home is open for tours by appointment. Please call 570-568-5603 to schedule a time to visit.
Col. James Cameron 1801 - 1861
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MILTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY
5340 State Route 405, PO Box 5 • Milton, PA 17847 | Phone- (570) 568-5603
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