When it comes to New Hampshire heroes, they don’t get any bigger than Gen. John Stark. His statue stands before the state capitol and his legend looms large. Tradition says he coined the famous Granite State motto "Live free or die."
READ: NH at Bunker Hill
New Hampshire's most famous soldier, Gen. John Stark, the hero of Bunker Hill and Bennington, was the right man in the right place at the right time. His early training with his father in heavy farm work and lumbering operations, his later practice in hunting and trapping, his capture by the Indians and his study of their language and customs, all led to his success as a member of Rogers' Rangers in the French and Indian Wars. This in turn fostered the soldierly quality of leadership that he showed so strongly in the Revolution. He developed an ability to foresee what the enemy would do and to forestall him, thus gaining distinction among Revolutionary officers. Stark's life encompassed the whole revolutionary period, and he was instrumental in the cataclysmic events that produced a free and independent nation.
BLOG: At John Stark's House
John Stark was born in Londonderry, New Hampshire, August 28, 1728. When he was eight years old he moved with his family to Derryfield (Manchester), his home for the remainder of his long life.
Rodgers' Rangers & Molly Stark
He was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in Rogers' Rangers attached to Col. Blanchard's regiment at the outbreak of the French and Indian Wars. In 1758, hearing of his father's death, he obtained a leave of absence to come home to help settle the estate. At this time he was a frequent visitor to the Page homestead in Dunbarton and on August 20, 1758, he and Elizabeth Page were married. From that time on, she was known as Molly Stark. The couple settled in the Page home but after a few weeks of inactivity, Stark eagerly responded to Gen. Amherst's request to build a road from Crown Point to Fort No. 4, Charlestown.
It soon became apparent that resentment of the British was building. The rangers, a rough and independent lot, were consistently made to feel inferior to the British. Army discipline was severe and unyielding and the rangers were in no mood to endure it. In 1760, the French capitulated and Stark, after a dispute with his superiors, was glad to come home to build up the family property. His father's estate settled, he bought the land his brothers and sisters had inherited and became sole owner of a substantial estate. He and Molly were now living with his mother in Derryfield (Manchester).
Resentment of British soldiery following the French and Indian Wars came to the surface as King George imposed more and more taxes on the colonies. The Stamp Act of 1765, the Boston Massacre of 1770, the tea tax resulting in the Boston Tea Party of 1773-all were sparks helping ignite the conflagration which would soon envelop the colonies.
War Breaks Out
The Battle of Lexington and Concord was the opener, followed by the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. Stark was a formidable antagonist in that battle and following it was attached to the Continental Army under George Washington. He took part in the New Jersey campaign and commanded the right wing at Trenton.
Knowing how New Englanders would ally to Stark's call, Washington sent him home to recruit new troops. Stark was in a cheerful and optimistic mood as he travelled around the settlements, talking to farmers and townsmen as he recruited replacements for the troops. But the calm was abruptly shattered when word reached Stark that Col. Enoch Poor of the Second New Hampshire Regiment had been promoted to brigadier general. This was the last straw for Stark, whose limited patience had run out. It was not the first time he had been passed over for lesser men with less experience but with more social graces and more tactful tongues. He appeared before the Exeter Legislature and resigned his commission, receiving their vote of thanks for his services. In spite of urgent efforts to get him to reconsider, Stark remained adamant, though he pledged immediate assistance to New Hampshire should it be needed.
After four months as a private citizen, Stark was asked by the Exeter Legislature to accept a commission as brigadier general of the New Hampshire militia. He agreed on condition he be answerable only to New Hampshire. This proved to be wise. When ordered to join Schuyler at Saratoga, Stark refused and went instead to Bennington. The Battle of Bennington, often called the turning point of the war, led directly to the Battle of Saratoga where Burgoyne was defeated.
The war dragged on for six more years. Stark sometimes took part and sometimes, when cold weather settled in, went home to recuperate from the attacks of rheumatism that were to plague him the rest of his life.
Retirement in Manchester
At the close of the Revolution, he settled down on the home farm. He and Molly now had ten children, five boys and five girls, having lost one daughter in infancy. In 1783, John Stark was ordered to headquarters by Washington, given the personal thanks of the Commander-in-Chief and the rank of Major General by brevet.
Molly Stark died of typhus in 1814, aged 78. John was 86. He lived to his 94th year and died May 8, 1822, reportedly the last surviving Continental general of the Revolution.
SEE MORE: Framers of Freedom
By Isabel Tarant. Originally published in "NH: Years of Revolution," Profiles Publications and the NH Bicentennial Commission, 1976. First published by SeacoastNH.com in 1997. Updated 2005
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