Readers asking “who is John Stark?” can be excused, since not much has
recently been written about this American Revolutionary General from New Hampshire until now. Those who live in New Hampshire and other New England states may know his name and his story; his statue, along with that of Daniel Webster, represents New Hampshire in the United States capitol in Washington D.C. Stark is also the author of New Hampshire’s state motto, “Live Free or Die.”
in 1728 and died in 1822, at 94 John Stark was one of the few remaining
Revolutionary War generals still alive at the time (he was outlived by General Thomas Sumter of South Carolina and General Lafayette of France). Author Ben Rose compares Stark to American World War II General George Patton:
he was not always an easy person to get along with, but his men were loyal to him. He learned much about soldiering and strategy during the French and Indian War, in which he and other colonists in militias served alongside the regular British Army. The militias, created to help protect the colonies from French and their Indian allies’ attacks, had more at stake than those serving in the regular army; they were protecting their homes and families. The British treated colonists like Stark as second-class citizens, one of the causes that led to the Revolution. Ironically, Stark and his comrades picked up new strategies from their Indian allies and enemies that helped them fight the British during the Revolutionary War.
At the beginning of the Revolution, John Stark started as a colonel commissioned by New Hampshire to serve in their militia. He and his men were dispatched to aid the militias of Massachusetts, who were trying to keep the British in Boston. When the British tried to push out of Boston by attacking the colonists, the colonists fought valiantly at what became known as the Battle of Bunker Hill. John Stark’s men filled a gap that had been created in the colonists’ lines. That the colonists were able to hold off the British longer than expected was due mainly to John Stark’s strategy and encouragement. Stark was eventually commissioned a brigadier general by New Hampshire and later commissioned to that rank by the Continental Congress for the Continental Army under George Washington. After his involvement in such battles as Trenton, Bennington and Saratoga, at the end of the Revolution he was promoted to the brevet rank of major general.
Stark had several disagreements with his political and military superiors, including General Washington. Though Stark did not enter into politics like other Revolutionary generals did, he corresponded with Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. His suspicious attitude toward the British opposed
the veiws of many in New England who did have sympathies toward the British, and he was pleased when the United States declared war on the British in 1812.
Stark’s famous expression “Live free or die” was only a part of a phrase; it finished with “Death is not the worst of evils.” Rose says that civil libertarians, those who oppose too much government involvement in people’s lives, have
co-opted the motto to represent their views. Some so-called radicals like it, too.
Rose provides a lively biography on John Stark. Though he sometimes repeats descriptions of a person or an event, especially on the same or previous page, this seems to happen more often in the front section of the book. Other than this, the book is a great short biography on General John Stark; Rose is to be commended for
helping to bring him out of obscurity. This volume includes maps from the Revolutionary War period, several illustrations, a short chronology of Stark’s life, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.
John Stark biographies are few in number; his grandson Caleb Stark wrote
Memoir and Official Correspondence of General John Stark, which was published in early 1831. Edward Everett’s Life of John Stark was published in 1834. The third biography, A Life of General John Stark of New Hampshire, written by Howard Parker Moore, was privately published in 1949. Rose’s other sources include Elizabeth Stark Maney, who wrote about her famous ancestor in her books The Family of General John Stark, 1728-1822, of New Hampshire and Molly Stark: A Woman of Great Patriotism and Courage. Maney also shared previously unpublished details with Rose.
Ben Z. Rose is an investment analyst and a graduate of George Washington University who holds an MBA from the University of Michigan. He conducted additional research for John Stark: Maverick General at the New Hampshire Historical Society and state archives, the Vermont Historical Society, the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Bennington Library Museum. Rose’s first book is a good one, highly recommended to Revolutionary War enthusiasts and those interested in New Hampshire history.