Friday, June 4, 2010

General John Stark "Live Free or Die!"

The statue of General John Stark
in Manchester, New Hampshire

You know he said “Live Free or Die” but what else do you know about John Stark? You can learn all about Londonderry’s famous general on June 9th at the Folsom Tavern in Exeter, New Hampshire. The lecture begins at 7PM, admission is $3 for members, $5 for non members. Author Ben Z. Rose, who wrote the book John Stark: Maverick General will discuss Stark’s battlefield history. This is part of a series called “Conversations with Authors” by the American Independence Museum of Exeter, which will continue on September 29th with John P. Resch’s discussion on his book Suffering Soldiers: Revolutionary War Veterans, Moral Sentiment, and Political Culture in the Early Republic. For more information, call the American Independence Museum at 603-772-2622 or check the website at

John Stark was born 28 August 1728 in Nutfield (now Londonderry) to parents from Scotland and Northern Ireland. When the family home in Londonderry burned in 1736 they moved up to the Merrimack River, above Amoskeag Falls. Several other families followed them and it became the town of Derryfield (now Manchester). The Stark family home is now a museum run by the local Molly Stark chapter of the DAR.

In 1752 John, his brother William and two neighbors were ambushed by Indians whilst out hunting. William escaped, and later ransomed John. He became a member of the famous Roger’s Rangers in the frontier. Two years later John led an expedition for Governor Benning Wentworth to explore western New Hampshire. He was commissioned an officer in January 1757, just before the French and Indian War. These frontier experiences would give him an insight into the colony’s borders and northern defenses that other officers of the time period lacked.

After seeing action at the siege of Fort Ticonderoga he returned home to marry Elizabeth “Molly” Page. They had eleven children. Molly was a tomboy who was an excellent marksman and considered “too much for any man to handle.” There is a statue of a gun carrying Molly overlooking the Deerfield River at the Molly Stark State Park in Vermont. Molly served as a nurse to her husband’s troops, and opened the home in Manchester as a hospital during the Revolution.

When he heard of the attack at Lexington, John Stark was supposedly on his horse within ten minutes, and on his way to Massachusetts. Twelve hundred men from New Hampshire joined him at Medford, Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Provincial Congress appointed him Colonel of the 1st New Hampshire Regiment, which defended Bunker Hill at the infamous battle. They fought the rear action of the battle during the British retreat.

Stark went with George Washington to New Jersey, at the Battle of Trenton. He predicted that the next British attack would come out of Canada, and he was correct when General Burgoyne and 10,000 troops came down from Lake Champlain toward Fort Ticonderoga. He was ordered to Saratoga, but refused and instead he mustered men for the battle at Bennington on August 16th, defeating the British and Hessian forces and greatly affecting Burgoyne, who was forced to surrender on October 17, 1777.

The war lasted six more years. After the war John Stark returned to Manchester and private life with Molly. Washington summoned him to headquarters in 1783 for a personal “thank you”, and given the rank of Major General by brevet. He lived to age 94, the last surviving Revolutionary War general.

Perhaps Stark’s greatest contributions to history are his famous quotes, such as:

"There they are, men! We'll beat them before night or Molly Stark's a widow."

Or "Live free or die- Death is not the worst of evils." Which he wrote for the anniversary of the Battle of Bennington, and the first four words live on as the motto of the state of New Hampshire. Of all the license plate mottos in the United States, this is perhaps the most famous! Most folks don’t know the second part, which I think is the most visionary. Most folks also think he said it at the battle, which is not true.

There is a New Hampshire state roadside marker to General John Stark on the side of Route 28 in Derry, about 2.3 miles south of the Derry Rotary. Nearby is a furniture store called “The General Stark Store”. There is a John Stark Regional High School in Weare, New Hampshire. Flag Hill Distillery in Bennington, New Hampshire is now producing fine vodka named “General John Stark.” Molly is memorialized by the DAR chapter, the Vermont State Park, and a cannon in a New Boston park. There is also a Molly Stark Inn in Bennington, Vermont. A tuberculosis sanatorium in Canton, Ohio was named for Molly Stark in 1929.


John Stark’s Family Tree:

Generation 1: Archibald Stark, b. 1697 in Glasgow, Scotland, d. 25 June 1758 in Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire; married to Eleanor Nichols, b. about 1697 in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Archibald Stark is buried at the old burial ground in Manchester where his stone reads "Here Lyes The Body of Mr. ARCHIBALD STARK. He Departed This Life June 25, 1758, Aged 61 Years."

Generation 2: General John Stark, b. 28 August 1728 in Londonderry, New Hampshire, d. 8 May 1822 in Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire; married on 20 August 1758 in Dunbarton, New Hampshire to Elizabeth Page, "Molly", b. 1737 in Haverhill, New Hampshire, d. 29 June 1814. General John Stark is buried at the John Stark State Park, Manchester, New Hampshire.

1. Caleb Page Stark b. 03 Dec 1759, Dunbarton, New Hampshire, d. 26 Aug 1838, Oxford, Ohio
2. Archibald Stark b. 28 May 1761, Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire, d. 11 Sep 1791
3. John Stark b. 17 Apr 1763, Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire, d. 24 Nov 1844, Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire
4. Eleanor Stark b. 04 Mar 1765, d. 20 Aug 1767
5. Eleanor Stark b. 30 Jun 1767, Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire, d. Abt 1843
6. Sarah Stark , b. 11 Jun 1769, Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire, d. 29 Jan 1801
7. Elizabeth Stark b. 10 Aug 1771, d. 13 May 1813, Ryegate (Caledonia County), Vermont
8. Mary Stark b. 09 Sep 1773, Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire
9. Charles Stark . 02 Dec 1775, Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire, d. Nov 1796, At Sea
10. Benjamin Franklin Stark b. 16 Jun 1777, Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire, d. 19 Jul 1809
11. Sophia Stark, b. 21 Jun 1782, Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire, d. 18 Jun 1870, North Reading, Massachusetts

For more information:

History of Manchester (formerly Derryfield), by C. E. Potter, 1856, Chapter 24

John Stark: Maverick General, by Ben. Z. Rose, Hobblebush Books, Brookline, New Hampshire, 2007

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. I understand that Caleb Stark built the home in Dunbarton. Is there any history of him building furniture? Thanks Midge

  2. Very interesting - Stark county, Illinois was named for him, one of my favorite places. Thanks for a great post!

  3. I'm related to General John Stark are last name is stark