How volunteers are working to save – and honor – an important part of American history
Fighting for independence is as important today as it was in 1777. That’s when Gen. George Washington led the Continental Army through the battles at Germantown, Paoli, and Brandywine before seeking respite in the winter encampment at Valley Forge.
During their stay at Valley Forge, the Continental Army unified into a fighting force, retraining and reinforcing specific skills and tactics. Valley Forge became known as the camp that helped turn the Continental Army from a group of common citizens into well-trained soldiers ready to fight the Redcoats, the greatest army at that time.
Who were these brave individuals who gave up everything for our liberty? They were common citizens. Some served in local militias for a few months or less, while others joined the Continental Army for a year, or for the war’s duration. Some enlisted in a militia unit that was later incorporated into the Continental troops. The army’s documentation was very good, and thanks to that, volunteers can prove exactly who they were.
The Valley Forge Muster Roll Project, a database containing over 28,000 names, is dedicated to the memory of those who encamped at Valley Forge from December 1777 until June 1778. The Continental Army used monthly muster rolls to track the army’s strength. Each roll contains names, ranks, dates of enlistment, and other notes on soldiers’ assignments, activities, or conditions.
The idea of collecting information from these 18th century muster rolls began in the 1940s. The effort to make it available digitally was spearheaded in 1992 by the late Tom McNichol and the late Frank Resavy, with the help of the Lockheed Martin volunteers. They created a list of the Continental soldiers who were at Valley Forge for at least one day. That core criterion remains applicable today.
Are you related to someone who was part of the Continental Army’s encampment at Valley Forge? Find out by going to the Valley Forge Muster Roll’s website. Click on “Search the Muster Roll” and follow the instructions to see if your ancestor is currently listed.
Do you think an ancestor was part of the encampment but isn’t listed? If so, email the Muster Roll Project. Include your ancestor’s name and any other information that can help them search, i.e., rank, state, regiment. The project’s leaders require primary documentation to prove that someone was, indeed, at the encampment. If you have a pension, original muster records, a payroll stub, or discharge papers, email copies of them. The Muster Roll volunteers will conduct a search to see if your ancestor was at Valley Forge.
Other great places to search:
- Fold3: Known as the premier site for military records and historical document research, this site contains over five million original documents.
- The National Archives: As the nation’s record keeper, this site offers valuable records which may be helpful in finding clues about family history or military service.
- Family Search: With over a billion records, this is a great place to discover family history.
Have a story about a relative who was part of the Valley Forge encampment? Take a picture of the place where your ancestor encamped and send it to the volunteers. It may be featured as part of Valley Forge Stories.
If a relative is on the Valley Forge Muster Roll, consider making a gift to show your heritage. Items for sale include a Muster Roll certificate, Muster Roll mug, Continental “USA” Army pin, maps, books, and a magnet with a scene from the camp. Visit the Valley Forge Muster Roll’s online shop to view all the items available.
The Muster Roll is part of Valley Forge Park Alliance, a nonprofit that facilitates programs for park funding, education, volunteer programs, and partnerships to preserve the park. VFPA is committed to ensuring that Valley Forge is a beautiful gathering place of inspiration, refuge, and commemoration for generations to come. Please visit www.vfparkalliance.org to learn more about the Alliance’s many programs and opportunities.
Main Line Tonight is a proud supporter of Valley Forge Park Alliance.