Discovering a Great-Grandfather’s Legacy
Valley Forge National Historic Park
By Carol Johnston
When my sister Susie started a genealogy study of our family tree, she discovered that our fifth great-grandfather Benjamin Strother fought in the American Revolution with the 10th Virginia Regiment. She found his pension records. I continued to research and discovered that later in the war, he became a dragoon in Lee’s Legion which was an elite cavalry group led by “Light Horse” Harry Lee.
When my 7th graders began a cultural research project and started digging into their own roots, I decided to research my family history alongside them. One of the most intriguing stories was following the trail of Benjamin Strother. Part of that trail led me to Valley Forge and the winter of 1777-1778. So, this September, I was excited to visit Valley Forge National Historic Park which is right outside of Philadelphia. I encourage you and your family to visit this park and delve into our country’s revolutionary history.
When you get off the highway, large rolling hills and fields greet you. The Visitor Center is tucked into one of the hillsides. Inside the Visitor Center, a life-size wax figure of George Washington riding one of his favorite horses Blueskin dominates one wall. You can head to the computer that has lists of muster rolls for different regiments. (You can also find the muster rolls online. That’s how I found Benjamin Strother.). Strother fought with the 10th Virginia regiment as a private in Colonel John Green’s regiment. His company captain was John Gillison. In order to find my grandfather’s encampment, I needed to find his brigade which was commanded by Brigadier General George Weedon. At the front ranger desk, volunteers or rangers can tell you where to find different encampment monuments.
After visiting the museum, we started on our encampment tour. Park volunteers told us not to miss the interpreters at the first encampment. A line of replicated huts stand together. One hut held about 12 men. Bunks were stacked up along the walls, and a fireplace cooked their food and kept them warm. As we left one of the huts, along came an interpreter dressed as a regimental soldier. He stood at least six feet tall and wore cream colored breeches, a linen shirt and coat, and a tri-corner hat. We asked him questions about a soldier’s training at Valley Forge, and he showed us how his French-made musket worked. I then told him about my fifth great-grandfather and asked where his regiment would have been encamped. He said, “Right here. Your grandfather would have been living right in this area.”
With goosebumps on my arm, I walked over to the regimental marker and saw Weeden’s brigade and the 10th Virginia regiment carved into the stone along with the names of other regiments. It meant a lot to me to stand on the site where my grandfather survived a harsh winter with his fellow Virginians. I wondered if his regiment was trained by Baron Von Steuben, and if these skills helped him survive the Battle of Monmouth in 1778. I definitely have more research to do.
Valley Forge park rangers and interpreters were helpful and friendly. The park is also dog friendly which isn’t always the case. So get out there and search for your Revolutionary history, walk the encampment areas with your family, have a picnic, ride your bike, and enjoy beautiful eastern Pennsylvania.
See you in the parks,