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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Last Muster

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, March 10, 2013

In the development of a Local History/Genealogy Collection, librarian Sandy Day is always looking for newly published information regarding veterans, as it is helpful in various genealogical searches.

 

Recently, an order from her contained the book “The Last Muster: Images of the Revolutionary War Generation” published by Kent State University Press and written by Maureen Taylor assisted by David Allen Lambert.

 

I added it to our ordering process, and although it took awhile, the book finally arrived.

 

I pulled it from the order cart, for another reason that I will discuss later, and brought it to my desk to browse.

 

The book contains the stories of elderly Revolutionary War veterans that were in the “sunset of their lives” during the 19th Century.  As those veterans reached an advanced age, most were interviewed and documented by various sources.

 

The development of this book is a story within itself, as the authors researched available research information already published, as well as an exhaustive search for materials unpublished in archives and private collections.

 

They used library conferences as a way of “getting out the word” about their project, and were amazed by the librarians who came forth with information to contribute.

 

Looking at the bibliography of a sample veteran; sources for this one individual included a history from a private library, a transcript from an 1844 “Boston Daily Transcript,” various Harvard University archive documents, a digital image from the National Archives, and documents from the New England Historical and Genealogical Register online.

 

Each veteran has a history and biography, as well as a bibliography of all of the sources used to develop that information.

 

From a librarian’s perspective, this is critical information for now and the future.  There is nothing more frustrating in the library world than not being able to determine “where” information came from within a text.

 

The other reason I picked up this book was a personal one, as I have a Revolutionary War ancestor who joined the military at age 16, and lived to be 104 years old; and thus was the oldest living veteran of the Revolutionary War when he died in 1868.

 

And yes, the authors recorded the vignette of John Gray (1764-1868) within their book, finding some new information to expand on his life story.

 

Now, I know there is nothing more boring that someone droning on about their family tree, so I will digest this info a concise format.

 

John Gray’s service was in 1781, and following the Revolution me moved to Ohio via Morgantown and Moundsville via the “Federal Trail” ending up in southeastern Ohio for the rest of his life.

 

He was a farmer for the rest of his life, and little is recorded about his life until the novelty of his age brought biographer James Dalzell to his house at age 100.

 

By then, Gray didn’t even know where his children were located, living or dead, as he resided with a step-daughter at the little house at near Hiramsburg, Ohio.

 

Information about Gray came from the Library of Congress and Pension Files, and surprisingly from an 1868 article in an Idaho newspaper.

 

A biography using the Dalzell interview is contained in the Library of the DAR in Washington, D.C. as well as the actual interview.

 

Chewing tobacco and “keeping a hound dog” were listed by Gray as reasons for his extended lifespan, and I am sorry to report five generations later, I have failed to keep those traits.

 

The many stories in the book are fascinating, as well as the many photographs including a veteran in front of his house, sitting in a straight chair and wearing his uniform while holding a flag saying, “liberty.”