Always the one reading the plaques at museums and frustrating my companions who are on a mission to complete the expedition rather than soak in every detail about fewer exhibits, I am concerned about the attack on statues.
How can we learn our history if we remove items that are meant to stand through time and remind us of our past? Yes, the past includes good and evil. A weapon to combat evil is knowledge. If we erase that knowledge or hide it away, we make ourselves weaker.
Well before statues became so controversial, I began researching and writing about statues that had stirred my curiosity. It was a project I had thought about for years. When I visited Washington D.C. about a decade ago, I came across so many statues that I wanted to know more about. I wondered who and what had inspired the subjects chiseled from marble, cast in bronze, or created from some other material.
There are two statues representing each state in National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. When I first learned about this statue collection, I was curious. Most of the subjects of these statues I knew little or nothing about. I wanted to know more about who inspired the statue. Why should we remember these individuals and their accomplishments? I decided to start a series of posts in a Blog Series and share what I discovered. I hoped to spark curiosity in others that would lead to a greater knowledge of our history.
Freedom is the right to disagree with each other. We must remember that more speech is indicative of a free society, not less speech. Free speech does not mean only speech we agree with. The speech that the majority disagrees with is the speech that it is essential to protect.
The freedom to erect and keep statues is part of freedom of speech. Speech we do not like is not violence, as many who wish to limit certain speech claim. Speech is not violence. Speech is actually a shield against tyranny.
So far, I have written up 67 of the 100 statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol. I also have a Facebook Page where I share these blog posts and other posts about statues; some of the subjects are well known and others lesser-known. All teach lessons from our history. I also post a Daily Quiz question.
Here is a sample of one of the blog posts about General John Stark, one of the statues representing New Hampshire in the National Statuary Hall Collection. He is credited with New Hampshire’s state motto, “Live Free or Die.” Freedom is something we must not forget or take for granted.
The phrase “Live Free or Die” was taken from a toast on July 31, 1809, which was written by General John Stark, a famed New Hampshire soldier of the American Revolutionary War. General John Stark was invited to an anniversary reunion of the Battle of Bennington, but he became ill just prior to the reunion and was unable to attend. He sent his toast by letter, which was “Live Free or Die: Death is not the worst of evils.”
John Stark had fought in the French and Indian War with Roger’s Rangers. A few years earlier, John Stark had actually been captured by Abenaki Indians while on a hunting trip in 1752 with his brother William and neighbors David Stinson and Amos Eastman.
Stinson was killed, William escaped, and John was taken and made to run the gauntlet. The gauntlet was a combination of punishment and test of strength. Two lines of young warriors of the tribe were formed. Each man held a club or rod to strike the captive, who had to run through it. Sometimes the captive was given a six to eight-foot pole to carry as a defensive weapon to defend themselves. According to John Stark’s account, he was able to fend off many blows and pleased the older Abenaki. This earned John Stark good treatment during his captivity.
Six weeks later, William Stark, John’s brother who had escaped the Abenaki ambush, returned with a group of colonists and paid the Indians a ransom for the release of John and Amos. Tensions between the French and British settlers and the native tribes mounted and soon led to war. The French and Indian War lasted from 1754 until 1763.
John Stark was made second in command in Roger’s Rangers during the French and Indian War. John Stark prevented Fort William Henry at the southern end of Lake George (which the French called Lac du Saint-Sacrement) in the Adirondack Region of New York from falling to the French in 1757, but only a few months later, the fort was lost to the French and included a massacre.
At one point during the war, Lord Jeffrey Amherst ordered Roger’s Rangers to attack St. Francis, near Quebec, where the Abenaki Indian tribe that had captured him lived. John Stark refused out of respect to those who had temporarily adopted him during his captivity a few years earlier and had treated him kindly… after he had run the gauntlet successfully.
John Stark returned to New Hampshire and married Elizabeth “Molly” Page in 1758. She was the daughter of the first Postmaster in New Hampshire. For the next sixteen years, John and Molly Stark were busy raising ten children and tending their land. But when news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord reached John Stark, he immediately left with his New Hampshire militia and headed to Boston.
Colonel John Stark fought at Bunker Hill, and his strategy on the battlefield cost the British dearly. Stark went on to fight with General George Washington in New York and retreated with him into New Jersey. He commanded his New Hampshire Regiment in successful attacks in Trenton and the Battle of Princeton. But, when John Stark learned he had been passed over for promotion by men he felt were less deserving than himself, he resigned and went back to New Hampshire.
Stark did, however, promise he would return to military service if needed but said he would only report to the New Hampshire Provincial Congress. He was soon back in the fight for freedom. He raised troops to battle the British and Hessian detachments in the Battle of Bennington.
General John Stark shouted this rally call to his troops as he headed into battle at Bennington, Vermont, “Tonight the American flag floats over yonder hill, or Molly Stark sleeps a widow.” Molly Stark, wife of General John Stark, did not become a widow that night, as the patriots under the leadership of General Stark held their ground, killing and capturing many of the enemies. This prevented the British from retreating north and led to the surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga. General George Washington credited General Struck and spoke of “the great stroke stuck by General Stark near Bennington.”
John Stark returned to his farm after the war in 1783 with the rank of Major General and lived until the age of 94. Many statues and monuments honor him, along with towns bearing his name. His wife, Molly Stark, also contributed to the cause for freedom by opening her home to nurse patriot soldiers during a smallpox epidemic. Today a statue of Molly Stark stands in Vermont, and Route 9, which crosses southern Vermont and is thought to be the route John Stark took home from the Battle at Bennington; it is named the Molly Stark Trail.
I hope you enjoyed the history lesson and will be curious to learn more about American history and share it with other Americans. We must learn our history, the good and the bad, so we can repeat the good and defeat the evil.
Diana Erbio is a freelance writer and author of “Coming to America: A Girl Struggles to Find her Way in a New World.” Read more in her series Statues: The People They Salute by going to the Table of Contents for links to her posts about statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection and others. Visit & Like the Facebook Page.