History

So What’s With This Molly Stark Woman Anyway?

For me, the most puzzling of New England legends is the one involving Molly Stark. Puzzling because the historic Molly Stark never said or did anything of note. Nothing. And yet she is really big in New England today. For instance, the road between Brattleboro and Bennington, Vermont is called the Molly Stark Trail. A […]

By Judson D. Hale

Aug 01 2015

molly-stark-house

The Molly Stark House historical marker in Dunbarton, New Hampshire.

Photo Credit : Wikimedia Commons
For me, the most puzzling of New England legends is the one involving Molly Stark. Puzzling because the historic Molly Stark never said or did anything of note. Nothing. And yet she is really big in New England today. For instance, the road between Brattleboro and Bennington, Vermont is called the Molly Stark Trail. A Bennington school bears her name. There’s a Molly Stark State Park, a Molly Stark Hospital, Molly Stark gift shops and restaurants and street and motels and almost every commercial adventure you can imagine. Seems like about half of everything in Vermont is named after Molly Stark. For no discernable reason. Now her husband, General John Stark of New Hampshire, said and did a lot of wonderful things. It was John who probably made his wife Molly the legend she is today by saying at the Revolutionary War battle of Bennington, Vermont, “there are the Red Coats and they are ours or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow.” John Stark was also a hero at the Battle of Bunker Hill and is said to be the originator of New Hampshire’s state motto, “Live Free or Die.” But not too many people today remember poor John Stark for any of that. Sure, Manchester, New Hampshire, has preserved his boyhood home, but for many years it served as the meeting place of the Molly Stark chapter of the local D.A.R. A small fort in New Castle is named for him and there’s a statue of him in Manchester and another in Concord, New Hampshire, which served as the model for a John Stark commemorative bottle of bourbon several years ago. However, because the figure in which the bottle was molded depicted John Stark with his hand inside his coat, everyone thought it was Napoleon. But even today, more and more things are named after Molly. The people at the Bennington (Vermont) Museum have told me that tourists are constantly asking them, “So who was this Molly Stark woman?” They say there’s not really much to tell. She was born Elizabeth Page in 1737 in Haverhill, Massachusetts and married John Stark in 1758. They had eleven children and then one night in 1814 she turned the tables on that stirring battle cry that made her a legend and John Stark sadly slept a widower, never realizing he’d just lost a wife whose name would live on in New England forever.