April 28, 2104 is John Stark Day in New Hampshire. This celebratory date is set by New Hampshire Revised Statutes 4:13-l – General John Stark Day, that designates the fourth Monday in April as such. “And the governor …. shall urge cities and towns throughout the state to observe this day in commemoration of General Stark’s gallant and illustrious service to New Hampshire and his country.” (I am unsure of why April was chosen to celebrate a John Stark Day, since he was born in the month of August, and died in the month of May.)
If you would like to participate in related events in 2014, the General John Stark Scenic Byway web site lists several, including a Program and Wreath Laying Commemorating General John Stark on Monday, April 28, 10:00am, Stark Park (Manchester) and at 12:00pm, Caleb Stark Monument, Town Hall (Dunbarton). On the day before (Sunday, April 27th) you can even have tea with John’s wife, Molly Stark, but you must pre-register to attend the tea.
Much has been written about John Stark’s quote, “Live Free or Die.” Here is the letter he wrote, in its entirely, from which the quote was taken.
- A letter written by John stark to the committee having charge of the celebration of the battle of Bennington -
At My Quarters,
Derryfield, 31st July 1809
My Friends and Fellow Soldiers:–
I received yours of the 22nd, instant, containing your fervent expressions of friendship, and your very polite invitation to meet with you, to celebrate the 16th of August, in Bennington.
As you observe, I “Can never forget, that” I “commanded American Troops” on that day in Bennington,– They were men that had not learned the art of submission, nor had they been trained to the art of war. But our “astonishing success” taught the enemies of Liberty, that undisciplined freemen are superior to veteran slaves. And I fear we shall have to teach the lesson anew to that perfidious nation.
Nothing could afford me more pleasure than to meet “the Sons of Liberty” on that fortunate spot. But as you justly anticipate, the infirmities of old age will not permit; for I am now fourscore and one years old, and the lamp of life is almost spent. I have of late
had many such invitations, but was not ready, for there was not oil enough in the lamp.
You say you wish your young men to see me, but you who have seen me can tell them that I never was worth much for a show, and certainly cannot be worth their seeing now.
In case of my not being able to attend, you wish my sentiments,–then you shall have them as free as the air we breathe. As I was then, I am now–The friend of the equal rights of men, of representative Democracy, of Republicanism, and the Declaration of Independence, the great charter of our National rights:–and of course the friend of the indissoluble union and constitution of the States. I am the enemy of all foreign influence, for all foreign influence is the influence of tyranny. This is the only chosen spot for liberty,–this is the only Republic on earth.
You well know, gentlemen, that at the time of the event you celebrate, there was a powerful British faction in the country (called Tories), and a material part of the force we had to contend with was (at Bennington, Hoosick) Tories. This faction was rankling in our councils, till they had laid the foundation for the subversion of our liberties. But by good sentinels at our outposts, we were apprised of our danger; and the Sons of Freedom beat the alarm–and, as at Bennington, “They came, they saw, they conquered.” But again the faction has rallied to the charge, and again they have been beaten.
It is my orders now, and will be my last orders to all volunteers, to look well to their sentries; for there is a dangerous British party in this country, lurking in their hiding places, more dangerous than all our foreign enemies. And whenever they shall appear openly, to render the same account of them that was given at Bennington, let them assume what name they will; not doubting that the ladies will be as patriotic, in furnishing every aid, as they were at Bennington in ’77, who even dismantled their beds to furnish cords to secure and lead them off.
I shall remember, gentlemen, the respect you, and “the inhabitants of Bennington and its neighborhood” have shewn me. Till I go to the country from which no traveler e’er returns. I must soon receive marching orders.
P.S. I will give you my volunteer toast: “Live free or die. Death is not the greatest of evils.”
In 1945 the New Hampshire State legislature designated part of John Stark’s toast, i.e., the words “Live Free or Die,” as the state’s official motto. That quotation has been the subject of many comments, both proud and disparaging over the years. Writers and researchers feel compelled, ad infinitum, to either try to present their own version of John Stark’s intent, or to state that because he was not the first to use these words somehow they are less powerful. Indeed the words “Live Free or Die,” were used before John Stark penned that letter in 1809, and others could have been the source of his inspiration. But we will never truly know, since he is dead, and therefore all discussion become conjecture.
On Tuesday, July 17, 1798, the Courier of New Hampshire (Concord NH) Vol IX, Issue 24, page 4 posted the words to a song called, “Independence” apparently reprinted from the Dartmouth Eagle. “A Patriotic Song, for July 4, ’98″  by Josiah Dunham, A.M. set to the tune of “Dauphine.”
On Tuesday, July 17, 1798, the Courier of New Hampshire (Concord NH) Vol IX, Issue 24, page 4
HAIL, Independence, hail,
Bright Goddess of the skies!
Behold thy sons unite,
Behold thine altars rife!
Lo, freeborn millions kneel and swear,
Their birth-rights to maintain,
Resolv’d no foreign yoke to bear,
To drag no Tyrant’s chain
“Tis Freedom’s day — let millions rise,
To Freedom’s stanards fly;
Obey Columbia’s call,
Unite — live free — or die.”
[the poem continues, and the words live free or die are found again in the last stanza].
Josiah Dunham, A.M. was a 1789 graduate of Dartmouth College, who commenced the first newspaper at Hanover, N.H. on July 22, 1793, called the “Eagle.” That publication continued until 1799. He was partner, with Benjamin True, in “Dunham & True” a local publishing house. He was the son of Daniel & Anna (Moseley) Dunham, and was b. 1769. In addition to being the editor and publisher of a newspaper, he as a colonel in the army, and principal of an Academy in Windsor VT. He married Susan Hedge, daughter of Samuel Hedge.[see end notes]
Could John Stark have been aware of this song, or even heard it–possibly. Again we will never know. All we do know is that it was John Stark’s use of the words that the New Hampshire legislature honored by incorporating them as its motto.
John and Molly Stark. had eleven children. More about this family, their achievements, ancestors and descendants can be found on my History of Manchester web site. More about Molly Stark.
A stone marks John Stark’s birthplace on Stark Road in Derry New Hampshire, six-tenths of a mile easterly on Lawrence Road. A New Hampshire Historical Marker #48 is located on the east side of NH 28, about 2.3 miles south of the Derry rotary, the intersection of Bypass NH 28 and NH 102 in Derry Village.
His burial site is on the grounds of Stark Park, in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Source of John Stark letter: Willey’s semi-centennial book of Manchester, 1846-1896 : and Manchester edition of the Book of Nutfield : historic sketches of that part of New Hampshire comprised within the limits of the old Tyng Township, Nutfield, Harrytown, Derryfield, and Manchester, from the earliest settlements to the present time by George Franklyn Willey, Manchester, N.H.: G.F. Willey, 1896; page 308-309.
RE: Eagle Newspaper: The Eagle or Dartmouth Centinel
Was published by Josiah Dunham, A.M. from 22 July, 1793, to 23 February, 1795. It was then published from 2 March, 1795, to 30 March, 1795 by John M. Dunham. From 6 April 1795, to 13 March, 1797, it was published by Dunham and True. From 20 March, 1797, to 24 July, 1798, it was published by Benjamin True, under the same name. From that period it was published by True, with the title of the Eagle, but under the superintendence of Moses Fiske, A.M. till the first week of June, 1799 when it was stopped. [This history from web site: Black Robe Regiment, their sources not stated]
RE: Josiah Dunham [see Dunham genealogy: English and American branches of the Dunham family, by Isaac Watson Dunham, page 81.
Please note: This story was originally printed on April 26, 2006 and has been revised in 2014 to include current celebrations, and additional information. JWB