Stark Brewing Company
John Stark Porter
“Live Free or Die”, the New Hampshire State Motto, was adopted from a toast given by native New Hampshirite John Stark (1728-1822), a general of the American Revolution. The full quote is “Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.”
Few state mottos are as well known as New Hampshire’s and it has served as a nationwide reminder of the necessary lengths to which Americans must go in order to maintain freedom and democracy. In addition to New Hampshire, many other New England states adopted state mottos that also focus on the necessity of perseverance in order to maintain American independence, although they remain little known throughout the U.S. For example, Massachusetts’ State Motto is “Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem” which translates from Latin to “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty”; Maine’s State Motto is “Dirigo”, Latin for “I Direct” or “I Lead”; and Vermont’s State Motto is “Freedom and Unity”.
John Stark’s toast was not the first time anyone had ever heard the phrase “Live Free or Die”. In fact, the motto, or something very similar, had long been in use around the world including in France, Haiti, Spain, and even in Scotland as far back as the 1300s. It was actually already a popular saying in France, having taken shape during the French Revolution between 1789-1799.
Stark was a highly respected member of early New Hampshire society. On August 16, 1777, he led a group of American rebels against an invading British force near Bennington, VT and stopped them in their tracks. The defeat was so overwhelming that the British unit completely disbanded shortly after. Stark’s victory at the Battle of Bennington is often credited as a major reason why France entered the Revolutionary War, aiding the American cause for years to come. Stark performed so admirably during the battle that he picked up the nickname, the “Hero of Bennington”. His “Live Free or Die” toast was delivered on July 31, 1809 during a reunion for the soldiers of the Battle of Bennington although the toast was actually sent via letter as Stark was too ill to attend.
“Live Free or Die” did not become the official state motto until 1945, the same year the state adopted the Old Man of the Mountain as their official state emblem. Although Stark’s toast to his fellow soldiers took 136 years to officially represent the state, the memorable line has buzzed throughout New Hampshire ever since it was first spoken. The motto was first added to the state’s license plates in 1971 but not without controversy as the “or die” part of the motto is considered by some to be a bit harsh and was covered up by some motorists. The debate actually went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1977 during which a Jehovah’s Witness named George Maynard won the right to conceal part of the motto.
Stark lived a tremendous life that was filled with many great accomplishments in addition to his success in the Battle of Bennington and unintentionally coining the New Hampshire State Motto. Born in New Hampshire, he also fought in the French and Indian War as well as numerous other Revolutionary War battles like the Battles of Bunker Hill, Princeton and Trenton and was repeatedly commended for his service, even attaining the rank of major general, but one story from Stark’s early life may sum up his character best. In the winter of 1752, while on a hunting and fishing trip, he was captured by some Abenaki Indians and taken back to their settlement in Canada. Stark and another prisoner were then forced to run the gauntlet which consisted of running between Abenaki warriors who were armed with sticks and would beat the men as they ran by. As Stark took his first few steps towards the gauntlet, the first Indian in the line raised his stick to take a swing at him but Stark instead grabbed the stick from his hands and began to beat the Indian severely, scaring off the others in line. The chief of the tribe was so impressed that he adopted Stark and let him live comfortably with the tribe until the next Spring when he was allowed to return home.
“Live Free or Die” has been embraced by New Hampshire and the rest of the country as an inspirational reminder of America’s fierce dedication to independence and a willingness to go to great lengths to maintain liberty and freedom. Today, Stark’s words are undoubtedly more famous than his name, but the brewers at Stark Brewing Company have made a special effort to preserve the memory of the man behind the motto, one of New Hampshire’s, and America’s, first great heroes.
From the Brewer: Named after New Hampshire’s own Revolutionary War hero, Gen. John Stark. This dark brown porter has a full body, complex mast character and a subtle chocolate flavor. A moderate alcohol level and hop bitterness round this out quite nicely. Robust and delicious! ABV 5.4%, IBU 25
Peter Telge - Owner