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blogbrainsmallSeacoast Blog #32
February 11, 2009

 It only took me 40 years to find John Stark’s house. It’s right on Elm Street in Manchester, NH, although dwarfed by fancy Victorian homes and, yesterday, half-buried under a snow drift. My brother Brian was still in middle school back in the 1960s when he worked on the prehistoric Indian "dig" where the house once stood, closer to the Merrimack River near Canal Street. I saw the little red house then, but lost track of it. The house moved, and so did I. It found it’s way up toward Elm Street and I ended up in Portsmouth. But I was back in the Queen City yesterday, and at the invitation of the Daughters of the American Revolution, finally found my way inside. (Continued below)

 

READ: More on John Stark  

This is the boyhood home of General Stark, built around 1736. He stayed here off and on while aligned with Roger’s Rangers, the famous "Indian fighters" of the French and Indian War. At one point the family cape looked over 800 acres. Stark and his wife Molly later moved up River Road where he kept a mill. John and Molly had 8 children when the Revolutionary War began. They had three more when it ended. Stark returned home between the opening initial battles of Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill, Trenton, Bennington, Saratoga and others. An excellent leader, Stark is credited with the controversial state motto "Live Free or Die" and lived to age 94.

Stark Homestead in Manchester, NH / SeacoastNH.com photo

I was there to speak briefly about John Paul Jones, courtesy of the NH Humanities Council. Jones was a temporary New Hampshire resident whose name has shown much more staying power than Stark’s. Jones is the subject of more than 100 biographies, while Stark has barely half a dozen, three of them published in 2007. I have all three of the latest Stark books and have corresponded with all three authors. My goal is still to include all three in a "dueling Starks" interview, once I read all three volumes – someday. Sorry John, It just hasn’t happened yet.

The Molly Stark DAR, like its 3,000 sister organizations, still stands on ancient ceremonies. Meetings open with a prayer, then attendees are asked to recite a patriotic "creed" and sing the national anthem acapella. At least 50 people crowded into the narrow ell of the house yesterday, not bad for an early afternoon on a winter Monday. A 10-year old essay contest winner named Liam spoke first. His patriotic essay on Abraham Lincoln was perfectly constructed and well received. We posed together for photos afterwards and there followed a fancy tea with a home cooked banquet served on china.

Three John Stark biographies / SeacoastNH.com

I desperately wanted to see the old house itself, but kept getting drawn into conversation. My digital camera could scarcely eke out the darkened rooms, blocked by the original Indian shutters in the setting sun. The exhibit portion is immaculate, set out in the Colonial Revival style popular early last century, with spinning wheels, open hearths, framed pictures, display cases and dressed manikins. But the Daughters have done a superb job in adding a comfortable basement library that looks like the ideal place to study.

I’m still uncertain about "lineage" organizations. Limiting membership only to women who can trace their genealogy to "Americans" of the Revolutionary era seems strange these days. There is a rigidity of form and tradition, an obsession with white Anglo-Saxon blood lines, a religious fervor about the nostalgic perfection of the past, and an Onward Christian Soldiers-type patriotism that makes one nervous. Even George Washington was uncomfortable with the concept of lineage clubs when he refused to join the Society of the Cincinattis back in the late 18th century.

But clearly the Stark homestead is in good hands. The house built by Archibald Stark, a Scotts-Irish immigrant farmer, is well cared for. Unfortunately, the house is only open on request. There are, as far as I know, no regular public hours. There is a rough-hewn web site with a very few details, but at yesterday’s meeting we were told there will be more data coming online. Hopefully, there will also be more open hours so the public can enjoy this carefully guarded historic house.

John and Molly Stark are well-preserved, but are still largely suspended in time like mummies waiting to be unwrapped. They remain pale white patriotic figures, never yet "fleshed out" or made relevant to we citizens of the 21st century. I posted a single uninspired page about Gen. John Stark online over a decade ago, and that page is still among the Top 2 Google listings. Hopefully the Stark revival is just beginning. When it does, we can be sure, their homestead will be prayerfully preserved.

© 2009 J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved.

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With Apologies to General John Stark
Friday, November 17, 2017 
 
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