History of the Muster Roll
The Muster Roll Project is a fully volunteer effort of The Friends of Valley Forge Park. As a history-lover, we thought you might enjoy reading more about the Project’s background and current work to provide individuals throughout the world a chance to discover and honor their ancestors that encamped at Valley Forge.
You can continue to maintain this important legacy – offered free of cost to the public, by enrolling as a Friend of Valley Forge Park. Net proceeds from your membership underwrite expenses for technical support and commercial research sites used to authenticate Muster Roll names and history. Thank you for visiting the Muster Roll website. We look forward to your ongoing involvement as a Friend of Valley Forge Park.
FOUNDING FATHERS OF THE MUSTER ROLL
The Valley Forge Muster Roll Project is dedicated to the memory of those who encamped at Valley Forge from December 19, 1777 to June 19, 1778. The original purpose of keeping muster rolls was to allow the Continental Army to track the army’s strength. The idea of putting information gathered from these 18th century muster rolls and making it available electronically was spearheaded in 1992 by Tom McNichol and the late Frank Resavy. They desired to create a list of the Continental soldiers who were at Valley Forge for at least one day. This core criterion remains applicable today.
What Tom and Frank did not realize is that their fully-volunteer labor of love would continue for so many years. Working from the basement of Frank’s home and without the convenience of today’s computers, they began with notes gathered over 50 years from early researchers, then manually verified the previous work, greatly adding to that work with new research; documenting the names, ranks, dates of enlistment from microfilm and books in the Park’s Horace Wilcox Memorial Library located in the P.C. Knox Estate. A total of 17 reference points were used to authenticate names on the Valley Forge Muster Roll.
Initially, they gathered once a week. But their work quickly expanded to several days a week and then to different locations to accommodate their progress. “We hand-wrote our findings on paper,” laughed Tom, “and our notes quickly turned into a mountain of paper and then a movable wall of sorts so that Frank could take them to other locations when needed.”
Within a few years, the number of Muster Roll names grew exponentially... from a few hundred to several thousands. “The great folks at Lockheed-Martin stepped in at a perfect time, helping us create a special database to electronically catalogue the Muster Roll” said Tom. “While we had published our work in the book, The Continental Army at Valley Forge 1777-1778, I think it was even more gratifying to know that two ‘old guys’ equipped with only pencils and paper required 13 ‘young’ computer programmers to transfer our manual work to an electronic database.”
Thanks to Frank and Tom, plus Valley Forge National Historical Park staff and many more volunteers and donations from private sources, the Muster Roll Project continues today. It includes more than 25,000 entries that can be researched by a soldier’s last name (or a portion of the last name) or combined with a state or regiment to refine the search. The newly revised web-based Muster Roll is dedicated to Founder Frank Rasavy and has had over 250,000 visits since its launch in 2011.
“The Muster Roll Project will never be finished,” says Tom, “because we continually find new additions. Imagine getting a volunteer assignment that never ends... but also providing a lifetime of enjoyment and meaning – that’s my work and I love it!”