Today, August 28th, is the birthday of John Stark (August 28, 1728 – May 8, 1822). In an earlier Facebook posting, I touched upon his exploits in the Battle of Bennington in 1777. Those exploits and many others earned him legendary fame, but there’s another John Stark story that, in my opinion, is far more interesting.
In April of 1752, at the age of 24, John, along with his brother William and two other men traveled deep into New Hampshire on a fur trapping expedition. John and one of the men, Amos Eastman, were captured by Abenaki warriors. The Abenaki spotted John’s brother William and the other hunter, David Stinson, in their canoe on the river. John was ordered by his captors to call the two men to the other side of the river where they in turn would also be captured.
Since the Abenaki understood very little English, John was able to warn his brother that he and Eastman had been captured and they should do their best to escape. When the Abenaki saw the canoe heading in the wrong direction, they opened fire. Stark leaped up and struck the Abenaki muskets to throw off their aim. William Stark managed to escape but David Stinson was killed.
The Abenaki warriors took the two captives and their furs to French territory in Canada, intending to sell the men as servants to the French as punishment for trapping on their land without permission. John Stark however was a very uncooperative prisoner and his captors got much more than they had bargained for.
It was the custom of the Abenakis to welcome captives with a ceremony similar to a running of the gauntlet. The young men of the village, armed with sticks and clubs, stood facing each other in two lines. The captives were given a long pole and made to run between the rows of young braves. As the captives ran, the Abenaki men would beat them with their clubs. When it was Stark’s turn, he instead ran straight at the men, yelling “I’ll kiss all your women!” and proceeded to attack them with his thin pole. The chief of the Abenaki tribe was so impressed by Stark’s bravery, he “adopted” Stark into the tribe as one of their own while his companion, Eastman, was sold to the French.
All was not lost however. The following spring a government agent from the Province of Massachusetts Bay paid a ransom to the Abenaki for Stark and Eastman. Both men were eventually able to return safely to New Hampshire.
Stark developed great respect for the Abenaki during his captivity. He stated he had been treated more kindly by the Abenaki than prisoners of war were treated by so-called civilized nations. During his months of captivity, Stark learned a great deal about the Abenaki culture, language and military tactics, which he would find very useful in the coming war.
But here’s the part of the story I find most interesting. In 1759, seven years after his ordeal, Stark, a lieutenant in Rogers’ Rangers, an elite special force, was ordered to attack an Abenaki village in Quebec. As chance would have it, this was the same village in which he had been held captive.
In defiance of his oath to the Rangers and the orders of his superiors, Stark refused to accompany the attacking force out of respect for his Indian foster parents. John Stark was truly a man who marched to the beat of his own drummer, no matter the consequences.