History of the Muster Roll
The Muster Roll Project is a fully volunteer effort of Valley Forge Park Alliance, formerly known as The Friends of Valley Forge Park. As a history lover, we thought you might enjoy reading more about the Project’s background to provide individuals throughout the world a chance to discover and honor their ancestors who encamped at Valley Forge.
Please help us to maintain this important legacy, offered free of cost to the public, by enrolling as a member of the Valley Forge Park Alliance. 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.
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 the muster rolls was to allow the Continental Army to track the army’s strength.
Although the Valley Forge Muster Roll was initiated in 1941, the idea of taking information gathered from these 18th-century muster rolls and making it available electronically was spearheaded in 1992 by the late Tom McNichol and the late Frank Resavy. They sought 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 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 by manually verifying notes gathered over 50 years from earlier researchers. They greatly added to that work with new research by documenting the names, ranks, and dates of enlistment from microfilm and books in the Horace Wilcox Memorial Library located in the Philander Chase Knox Estate at Valley Forge National Historical Park. A total of 14 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 finding on paper,” laughed Tom, “and our notes quickly turned into a mountain of paper and then a moveable wall of sorts so that Frank could take them to other locations when needed.”
By 1997, the number of Muster Roll names had grown exponentially…from a few hundred to several thousands. To preserve their work and widen its availability, Tom and Frank enlisted the help of Lockheed Martin NOVA volunteers. “The great folks at Lockheed Martin stepped in at a perfect time, helping us create a special database to electronically catalogue the Muster Roll. While we had published our work in the book, The Continental Army: 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.”
Along with providing NOVA volunteers, Lockheed Martin management agreed for the use of their computers, servers, and software to be used for completion of this project. They also purchased kiosks for the Visitor Center and several other computers for Valley Forge National Historical Park and the Valley Forge Park Alliance. Lockheed Martin truly was a key partner in getting the Muster Roll off the ground!
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 28,700 entries that can be researched by a soldier’s last name, first name, rank, ethnicity, state, or regiment. The revised web-based Muster Roll is dedicated to Founders Frank Resavy and Tom McNichol, and has had over 250,000 visits since its launch in 2011.
“The Muster Roll Project will never be finished,” said Tom, “because we continually find new additions. Imagine getting a volunteer assignment that never ends…but also providing a lifetime of enjoyment and meaning.” And Tom loved everything about the Muster Roll!
The Valley Forge Muster Roll Project is dedicated to the memory of Frank Resavy and Tom McNichol for their years of leadership, energy, commitment, and expertise in bringing the Muster Roll Project to fruition.
The Valley Forge Muster Roll would not exist were it not for the dedicated work of our current and prior volunteers:
Fran La Penna
Mary Lynn Person
Zenon “Nick” Trivelis
Lockheed Martin NOVA
Please visit the following websites for additional insight and information related to the Revolutionary War and Valley Forge National Historical Park. The sites commemorate the sacrifices of the Revolutionary War and honor those who came together to overcome adversity during extraordinary times.
The official National Park Service website for Valley Forge. Includes visitor information, tours and available services, plus calendar of Park happenings and special events.
Support the ongoing work of the Muster Roll Project by making a contribution to or joining the Alliance. The Alliance protects, preserves, and promotes the Park by raising funds for vital restoration projects and contributing thousands of volunteer hours for much needed park maintenance, as well as offering interpretive and awareness programs to assure that Valley Forge remains a significant historical event and place in our country’s history.
The Society was founded for the purpose of compiling a roll and preserving the identity of individual soldiers, especially those who lie in unmarked graves. The Society continues to attract descendants with a direct blood line from an officer or enlisted man of George Washington’s Army at Valley Forge for educational and charitable purposes.
Saratoga National Historical Park in New York and Heritage Hunters have compiled a list of American participants in this “turning point of the Revolutionary War.” The site also includes an overview of the battles and research references.
Known as the premier website for military records and historical document research, this site contains over 5 million original documents. The name Fold3 is from a flag-folding ceremony in which the third fold is made in honor and remembrance of veterans who served in defense of their country and to maintain peace throughout the world.
As the Nation’s record keeper, this site offers valuable records which may be helpful in finding clues about your family’s history or military services, and conducting other historical research.
The entries in this book primarily show each officer’s rank upon entry into service, dates of promotion, units, and other facts such as when captured, paroled, exchanged, killed, etc. The author believed he had entries for 90% of all officers in the Continental Army.
Painting courtesy of Don Troiani, www.historicalimagebank.com