Last week Massachusetts public schools were closed for February vacation. While many of my children's friends escaped to warm destinations like Florida and Puerto Rico, my two ten-year-olds and I headed to a historic site in Pennsylvania closely identified with harsh winter conditions: Valley Forge. Some friends questioned why we'd choose to visit the park in February, particularly since the Northeast has endured so much cold and snow this year, but I maintained that we'd have a much more authentic experience than if we visited in, say, July. (Our Presidents' Day visit was great--although we were disappointed that we had to forgo a visit to Washington's headquarters, the Isaac Potts house
, which was closed due to icy conditions.)Valley Forge National Historical Park
, located twenty miles northwest of Philadelphia, is famous for serving as the encampment site of the Continental Army from December 1777 through June 1778. The approximately 12,000 troops under the command of General George Washington built a city of 2,000+ log huts. In addition to foraging and seeing to their own needs, the men patrolled and drilled. The National Park Service brochure speculates that "Perhaps the most important outcome of the encampment was the army's maturation into a more professional force." Former Prussian officer Baron Friedrich von Steuben arrived in February 1778 and led a training program "that gave the troops a new sense of purpose and helped sustain them through many trials as they stuck to the task of securing independence." The eighteen-minute orientation film, "Valley Forge: A Winter Encampment," shown at the park's theater, can be viewed online
; shorter YouTube videos on specific topics related to Valley Forge can be seen here
Do you think your ancestor was at Valley Forge? The Valley Forge Muster Roll
, a project of the nonprofit Friends of Valley Forge Park
, can help you find out. By using kiosks at the park visitor center or a searchable database online, you can determine what regiments were present during the Valley Forge encampment
. (Regiments were present from Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia.) You can also search for particular soldiers by last name or partial last name. The information in the Valley Forge Muster Roll has been compiled from original muster rolls, payroll records, pensions, letters, orders, and other contemporary primary documents.