Godmother of New Hampshire’s War for Independence: Elizabeth “Molly” (Page) Stark (1737-1814)

Likeness of Elizabeth “Molly” Stark, attributed to Henry Benbridge. Original from book, “A Life of General John Stark of New Hampshire,” by Caleb Stark; colorized and her traditional dark blue eyes added by Janice Webster  Brown

Molly Stark deserves to be called ‘Godmother’ of New Hampshire, at least when it comes to her involvement in the American Revolution. Of course there were many women who supported their men and country during that crucial time in United States history. Molly Stark is mentioned in local history due to her active involvement in supporting her General husband, and nursing the  the illnesses and wounds of his troops. She was a frequent and visible reminder to the militiamen of what they had to lose besides their lives–their wives, mothers and daughters.

At the battle of Bennington, one of the turning points of the American Revolution, her husband John Stark, General and leader of the New Hampshire-based army, made his now famous quote, paraphrased here: “The enemy are ours or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow.”  [Note: there were countless versions and revisions of the original quote, so many so that it is impossible to determine the original words spoken].

Portsmouth Gazette newspaper of 26 July 1814, obituary of Elizabeth Stark.

She was born Elizabeth Page, daughter of Caleb and Elizabeth (Merrill) on 16 February 1737 in Haverhill, Essex Co. MA. She married 20 Aug 1758 in Derryfield (later called Manchester) NH to John Stark. She died of typhus 29 June 1814, aged 78 [see newspaper report on left]. At her funeral, reportedly her then frail husband remarked, “Goodbye, Molly, we’ll never sup again in this world.”

She had moved to Starkstown, later known as Dunbarton, New Hampshire with her (Page) family about 1755. She was a teenager on the New England frontier, where life was dangerous enough to require that she know how to use a musket, and to take a turn keeping watch from their fort. She is buried beside her husband in Stark Cemetery in Manchester NH.

Besides being a “faithful consort” to John Stark, she was also the mother of their eleven children, all of whom she conceived and delivered in a 14-year span. She had her last child, Sophia at the age of 45 (she was born in 1782).  Molly gave birth to their three youngest children during the Revolutionary War years of 1775-1783.

Molly, by all accounts, was John Stark’s nickname for his wife, and in official documents, including her obituary, she is listed as Elizabeth. Other nicknames from various sources close and distant from the family include Deborah (her grandmother’s name), and Betty.

Relics and artifacts from General John & Molly (Page) Stark’s family. From an old postcard owned by Janice W. Brown.

There is only one known likeness of Molly Stark, and it is attributed to the painter Henry Benbridge. In that painting her eyes seem brown, but were they actually that color?  [There is also a known painting of Mary Page Russell, Molly’s sister].   William Stark, son of Frederick G. Stark, grandson of General John Stark: “There was no picture of Molly Stark that our family ever knew of. I have heard my father say that she was of medium height, dark blue eyes, brown hair and her face was one which most everyone would remember, there being in it great decision.” (published in the Benningtonian, June 18, 1896). Molly’s son Caleb’s eyes were dark blue, possibly inherited from her.

The book, “A Life of General John Stark,” describes some of the personal artifacts that existed in 1949. “Those on exhibition in the fire-proof building of the Manchester Historic Association need not be described: Archibald Stark’s little leather box from overseas, the maple kitchen table Gen. Stark was “laid out” on, two pairs breeches and a cutaway coat, three Stark books, gold beads, sleeve buttons, fans, thimbles, back combs, hair bracelets, bowls, tongs, shovels, pots, porringers, and, last but not least, a small flat basket, gift of Fred M. Caswell, Stark enthusiast. It was used for the General’s comb and brush, or alternately, for his pipe and tobacco; accounts differ, but not as to ownership. In the perishable wooden Archibald Stark homestead (Chapter House of the “Molly Stark Chapter, D.A.R.) in Manchester, are many articles mostly later than the generation of John and Molly. At Bennington, in the substantial Museum are valuable mementos. . . and a pair of fine pistols attributed to the General as having been carried in the battle. Locks of Stark’s hair are in the Manchester collection and in the N.H. Hist. Society and in possession of the author [of the book quoted]. Many other articles are in possession of descendants most of them unmarked.”

Colonial woman and child from poem, “Merrimac and its incidents.”

Others have written about all the places, buildings, organizations and objects created in her name, so I don’t have to. The Molly Stark cannon of New Boston, the Molly Stark House of Dunbarton NH, the Molly Stark statue in Wilmington, Vermont, the Molly Stark Byway in Vermont, the Molly Stark Chapter of the D.A.R. in Manchester NH, the now-defunct Molly Stark Sanatorium in Ohio, and an alcohol decanter all bear her name.  At one time the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad had a dining car named after her.

According to Olive Tardiff at Seacoastnh.com, “When only fifteen, Molly Stark had used a musket to guard the fort built by her father, Capt. Caleb Page, in Starkstown (Dunbarton), while men were working in the fields. Later, when the mother of several children, she is said to have shot a bear.”  This story was passed down by her descendants.

Stark Cemetery and burial spot of Molly Stark at Manchester NH’s Stark Park. Photograph by Janice W. Brown

The statue of Molly Stark on the grounds of the Crafts Inn in Wilmington Vermont is her most recent tribute, dedicated in June of 2004. It was beautifully sculpted by Robert Shure, the same creator of General John Stark’s statue.  Though this statue marks the half-way point of the Molly Stark Byway, there is no evidence that Molly actually set foot in Vermont. Instead, it is poised along the route that her husband reportedly took on his way home to her. Despite the posture of her statue, there is no evidence that she used a weapon in battle during America’s War for Independence. Bouncing a child on one hip with a gun held in the other would not have seemed a safe thing to do, no matter the time frame. It seems highly unlikely that she ever did.

My favorite quotation about Elizabeth (Page) Stark was one not uttered by her family.  “All Hail to Molly Stark! May her shadow never grow less!” can be found in Pictures of the past: memories of old Toulon, presented to the settlers of Stark County, by Harriet M. Blair, published in 1905.  I say, “May the memory of Elizabeth Page Stark, and all of the amazing, courageous women of the American Revolution, regardless of their role, be remembered.”

For more information, see John Stark: A Hero For His Time And Ours [New Hampshire Magazine article]

===PARTIAL GENEALOGY of ELIZABETH “MOLLY” (PAGE) STARK===

John-1 Page, the immigrant ancestor, was born in England and died 23 Nov 1657 in Haverhill MA. He first settled in Hingham MA where he lived until 1652, when he removed to Haverhill MA. He was one of the signers of a petition to the general court in Hingham 4 November 1645. He married Mary Marsh, daughter of George and Elizabeth Marsh.  She died 15 February 1696-97. They had 10 children.
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Children of John & Mary (Marsh) Page:
1. John Page, bapitzed 11 July 1641 Hingham MA; m. Sarah Davis
2. Onesiphorus Page, bapt. 20 Nov 1642 Hingham MA, m1) Mary Hauxworth; m2d) widow Sarah Rowell
3. +Benjamin Page, bapt. 14 July 1644 Hingham MA
4. Mary Page, bapt 3 May 1646 Hingham MA; m1) 1665 John Dow; m2) 1673 Samuel Sheppard
5. Joseph Page, bapt. 5 March 1647-48 Hingham MA; m1) 1671 Judith Guile; m2) 1673 widow Martha Heath
6. Cornelius Page, bapt 15 July 1649 Hingham MA. m1) 1674 Martha Clough; m2) 1684 Mary Marsh
7. Sarah Page, bapt 18 July 1651 Hingham MA; m. 1669 James Sanders
8. Elizabeth Page, b. 15 June 1653 Haverhill MA, d. 3 July 1653
9. Mercy Page, b 1 April 1655 Haverill MA, m. 13 Nov 1674 John Clough
10. Ephraim Page, b. 27 Feb 1658-59 Haverhill MA; d. 22 July 1659

Benjamin-2 Page bapt 14 July 1644 in Hingham MA, d — ; He m. 21 Sep 1666 in Haverhill MA to Mary Whittier, daughter of Thomas & Ruth (Green) Whittier. She b. c1647, died 28/29 July 1698, aged 51.  She is buried in Pentucket Cemetery, Haverhill MA.  They resided in Haverhill MA. He took the oath of allegiance in 1677.
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Children of Benjamin & Mary (Whittier) Page:
1. + Jeremiah Page, b. 14 Sep 1667 Haverhill MA
2. Mary Page, b. 7 Dec 1669; m. Samuel Merrow
3. Ruth Page, b. 3 Feb 1671, m. Jonathan Eaton
4. Benjamin Page, b. 19 May 1674, d. 23 Dec 1678
5. Susanna Page, b. 28 Oct 1676
6. Abiah Page, b. 15 Dec 1678; m. Robert Hunkins
7. Benjamin Page, b. 30 June 1681; m. Elizabeth Lewis
8. Abraham Page, b. 15 Dec 1683; m. Judith Worthen

Jeremiah Page b 14 Sep 1667 in Haverhill MA, d 7 Dec 1749; He m. 2 July 1696 Deborah Hendrick, daughter of Daniel & Mary (Stockbridge) Hendrick. She b 25 Nov 1666 in Haverhill MA, d –.
They had seven children, born in Haverhill MA.
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Children of Jeremiah & Deborah(Hendrick) Page:
1. Mary Page, b. 19 April 1697, d. 15 July 1717
2. Ruth Page b 9 Nov 1699, d. 17 Nov 1725
3. Zerviah Page, b. 28 March 1701; m. 1731 Joseph Hutchins. Lived in Haverhill MA. Children: Timothy, William, Jeremiah, Timothy2, Ruth, and Joseph.
4. Joshua Page, b. 28 Feb 1702-3, d. 24 Oct 1756; m. 16 Feb 1734-5 Hannah Dustin. Resided Haverhill MA. They had 9 children: Elizabeth, Peter, Mehitable, Hannah, Joshua, Jonathan, David, Daniel and Ruth.
5. +Caleb Page, b. 26 August 1705 Haverhill MA
6. Abigail Page, b. 23 March 1707/8 Haverhill MA; she m. 5 Feb 1735 to Edmund Page, son of John & Sarah (Singletary) Page of Haverhill MA. They had 8 known children: Daniel, David, Ruth, Jesse, William, Deborah, Job and Jeremiah. She is buried in Maplewood Cemetery, Haverhill MA.
7. Daniel Page, b 1 March 1710-1711, d. July 1712

Caleb Page, b. 26 August 1705, d 7 July 1785; m1) 1727 to Elizabeth Merrill. daughter of Nathaniel & Sarah (Woodman) Merrill. She was b 2 November 1704, and died 1740. The History of Dunbarton NH states Elizabeth is buried in Haverhill MA. He m2d) 11 March 1741/42 to Mrs. Sarah Carleton. She was b. — and d. Oct 1785 in Dunbarton NH, reputedly weighed 315 pounds. He was the first postmaster of Dunbarton NH. Captain Caleb Page was paid by the selectmen of Dunbarton for supplies for seven soldiers who served in the Continental Army under Col. John Stark 22 Dec 1775. Caleb Page and Caleb Page (his nephew) signed the Association Test at Dunbarton 22 Nov 1776. Capt. Caleb Page of Dunbarton was a delegate to the Provincial Congress in 1775 and 1776 (N.H. Revolutionary War Rolls 1:254 and Miscellaneous Revolutionary Documents of NH 46 and Stark’s History of Dunbarton NH, p 266). Caleb Page was commissioned Captain of the Provincial Troops by Governor Benning Wentworth 30 May 1758 (Ibid 183). [from SAR application of Russell Chase Pratt, 4th great-grandson of Capt. Caleb Page]. He is buried in Heath Private Graveyard, Bow Center, Merrimack Co., NH
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The Hendrick Genealogy: Daniel Hendrick of Haverhill MA and his descendants, p. 60-61
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Sketch of Dunbarton, New Hampshire, by Mills, Ella, 1848-
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History of the Town of Dunbarton: Merrimack County, New Hampshire, from the Grant by Mason’s …, by Caleb Stark; Published 1860
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Children of Caleb & Elizabeth (Merrill) Page:
1. Caleb Page Jr. b 12 Feb 1727-28 Haverhill MA. In 1752 at a proprietors meeting (of Starkstown aka Dunbarton NH) held at Londoinderry Caleb Page Jr. was chosen surveyors for Starkstown, along with William Stinson and John McCurdy the first ever chosen for this town.
2. Jeremiah Page b. 16 Aug 1730 Haverhill MA, d. 29 Nov 1807, age 77. He married 20 Feb 1752 Sarah Merrill. Children: Caleb, Sarah, Achsah, Elizabeth, Jeremiah, John, and Ruth.
3. Mary Page, b. 22 Aug 1732 Haverhill MA; She m. 24 Nov 1749 to Dea. James Russell. He was b c1729, d. 1797. They lived in Haverhill MA, and had 5 children [Russell]: Jeremiah, Edward, Mary, Elizabeth, and Achsah.
4. Deborah Page, b. 22 June 1735; d. 27 Oct 1736
5. +Elizabeth “Molly” Page born 16 February 1737-8 in Haverhill, Essex Co. MA; m. John Stark [see her descendants, STARK FAMILY].
6. Achsah Page, b. 22 Feb 1739-40 Haverhill MA

[end]

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8 Responses to Godmother of New Hampshire’s War for Independence: Elizabeth “Molly” (Page) Stark (1737-1814)

  1. Pingback: 2017 New Hampshire and National Women’s History Month | Cow Hampshire

  2. Amy says:

    I have seen the statute in Wilmington and wondered who she was, and I believe there may be something else named for her up there. Ah, just checked—the state park! I wonder what her tie to Wilmington was. (We used to ski at Mt Snow up there.) Now I know who she was! Quite a life–eleven children. How did people do that?? Really interesting post, Janice!

  3. Janice Brown says:

    Amy, my grandmother had 12 children, 10 of which lived to adulthood and produced children.

  4. June Saxon says:

    Janice–this was so interesting to me of course! Molly was a very distant cousin of mine as far as I can tell. We branch off at Benjamin Page born in 1681 who married Elizabeth Lewis. Lewis Page son of Benjamin Page born in Haverhill 1714 was the father of William Page born 1737-38. William moved from Haverhill to Londonderry c. 1770 and he and his wife Sarah Silver Page had more children there, one of which was Benjamin Page born c. 1777. He was the father of my great great grandfather, Joel Page b. 1808 in Londonderry.

    Thanks so much for this information site!

    June Page Saxon

  5. Pingback: The Many Faces of General John Stark of Manchester New Hampshire | Cow Hampshire

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