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Sarasota residents gather descendants of Washington's Army

Society of the Descendants of Washington's Army helps people trace their lineage to the patriots who camped at Valley Forge.

Brigade Inspector Dan Kennedy and Brigade Commander Rebecca Morgan
Brigade Inspector Dan Kennedy and Brigade Commander Rebecca Morgan
Photo by Ian Swaby
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The winter of 1777 to 1778 was a formative moment in U.S. history: the encampment of the Continental Army at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. 

Often called the birthplace of the American army, the plateau of Valley Forge was the site where General George Washington’s forces wintered during the Revolutionary War before emerging a more cohesive and better trained force. 

Sarasota’s community has several members who have taken up the challenge of tracing their and others’ lineage back to that historic event. 

Few are more passionate about genealogy than Rebecca Morgan, who recently decided to found a brigade of The Society of the Descendants of Washington’s Army at Valley Forge (DVF) for the state of Florida. 

Established on May 2, the brigade places Florida among 15 states in the country with a chapter of the organization, whose members must prove descent from a patriot who spent the winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge with the Continental Army.

Armed with knowledge

Morgan admits to being so invested in genealogy, that her children will warn others not to ask her about it, or she’ll never get off the subject. 

She’s performed genealogical work for friends and family along with local public figures like Dick Vitale and Congressman Vern Buchanan.

She even had the chance to ask her dentist, after she found they were distantly related from the 1700s, “Well, cuz, do I get the family discount?”

For Morgan and others who are invested in history, exploring it is more than a hobby. It’s a way to open the eyes of others to the people who fought to establish the United States. 

Brigade inspector Dan Kennedy is second in command to Morgan. Another member of Sarasota’s community, he is the founder of Sarasota Military Academy and the marshal for the annual Memorial Day Parade.

“It’s a fairly serious endeavor, and it’s a patriotic endeavor, too, to honor your relatives who are part of the formation of our country,” he said. 

Morgan is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, while Kennedy belongs to the Sons of the American Revolution. 

The two organizations comprise members who are descendants, more broadly, of those who aided the cause of the American Revolutionary War.

It was while hearing the state registrar of Daughters of the American Revolution, Debbie Duay, speak on the subject of DVF, that Morgan decided to found the chapter.

“We’ve had a really good response,” Morgan said.

The chapter has gathered about 150 members statewide, with a high concentration in the local area, including 15 in Sarasota County, and 25 in areas including Bradenton, St. Petersburg and Tampa. 

They join a group of some 3,000 members nationwide.

“This area is extremely patriotic,” Kennedy said. “There are so many people that support the military, and if they know they have some military in their background, they’re really likely to settle in this area,” he said. 

“It’s an area that’s very interested in history, I think,” Morgan said, highlighting the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and the area’s other historical aspects. 

Genealogy work, Morgan and -Kennedy said, is a mystery to solve, a process of one clue leading to another that involves everything from pension records, to birth certificates, to trips to locations with ties to the genealogical record. 

“It’s a very precise process,” Kennedy said. “You can’t put something on that form, and say, this is my relative, and this is a genealogy unless every single fact is 100% verified.”

Kennedy joined the Sons of the American Revolution in the early 2000s. His ancestors at Valley Forge were Phineas Manning and William Manning, a father and son. 

Both wintered with Washington, and both survived, receiving pensions after their service and establishing themselves as farmers in the region. 

But it took him five years to identify them, and he almost gave up while searching for pension records and pictures of gravestones — until Sons of the American Revolution was able to help.

At the time she was joining DAR over 20 years ago, Morgan had been invested in genealogy for several years, and finding her patriot took about two years. 

Hers was Mathias Shultz, a scout for George Washington.

A Kentucky farmer, he served twice in the war, first in the place of his sister’s husband, to whom she had just been married at the time, then again when he was later called to serve.

Genealogy work requires the collection of many documents, such as this one on Rebecca Morgan's patriot Mathias Shultz.
Photo by Ian Swaby

“The hardest thing is sometimes connecting the two generations,” she said. “You can do that sometimes with land records, sometimes with wills, especially before 1850, because before that, names were not mentioned on census records.”

She said local libraries tend to house plenty of information of local relevance not found elsewhere. 

“Our library here in Sarasota has a wonderful genealogy area, that has lots of books, so you can really find some information there,” she said.

In addition to its focus on genealogy, goals of the organization include preserving and teaching history, and it offers contests through which students can earn scholarships. 

Brigades participate annually in the Wreaths Across America event at the site of Valley Forge, part of the nationwide initiative to lay wreaths on the graves of veterans at Christmastime.

In Sarasota, the brigade will step into the public eye during the Memorial Day Parade on May 27, where it will have the chance to be seen by the approximately 10,000 attendees the event usually draws.

“Hopefully our presence will encourage more people to do the research necessary to find more about their families and the role of that family in the foundation of our country,” Kennedy said.



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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