John Stark (1728 – 1822)
Born in Londonderry, New Hampshire. Although he was a farmer like his father, it has often been said that his career was unequaled in American military history.
He saw service with Rogers’ Rangers in the last of the French and Indian Wars; as a colonel led a force of largely untrained men at Bunker Hill and further distinguished himself at Trenton and Princeton.
He had resigned his commission in protest of the Continental Congress promoting men of less experience over him and had returned to his farm in New Hampshire when Vermont, unable to get help from the same Congress, sounded the alarm over Burgoyne’s march down the Hudson valley. He gathered what troops he could, joining up with Seth Warner and the Vermont Militia just before the Hessians and British moved into the Bennington area.
Stark is reputed to have encouraged his men by saying of the British just before the Battle of Bennington, “There are the Red Coats, and they are ours, or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow”, an indication of his willingness to fight to the death.
It was raining when Thomas Allen (“The Fighting Parson” from Berkshire, Massachusetts) and his men arrived at General Stark’s campground before the fight at Bennington, and the General proposed they wait for the rain to stop before they engaged the British. The Reverend Allen protested the delay, saying that he and his men had been called out many times but had never been allowed to fight the British. General Stark is quoted as saying “If the Lord should once more give us sunshine and I do not give you enough fighting, I will never ask you to come out again.” The sun did break through and the British were soundly beaten by the assembled farmers from Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
A tardily grateful Continental Congress raised Stark’s rank to Brigadier General two months after Bennington. He retired in 1783 with the rank of Major General. Thirty-two years after the battle, he was asked to speak at an anniversary celebration but was unable to attend, so he wrote this sentiment to be read: “Live free or die. Death is not the worst of evils.” The first four words of his message were later adopted as New Hampshire’s official motto.
He was a member of the court martial which condemned John André (the British soldier who negotiated the betrayal of West Point with Benedict Arnold).