Origin of the Stark Name
There is not a definitive account of the origin of our family name.
One colorful tradition is related by C. R. Stark in
The Aaron Stark Family
quoting Sir George Mackenzie:
Stark beareth azur a chevron argt. between three acorns in
chief or. and a bulls head erased of ye 2nd. in base.
These of ye name are descended of one John Muirhead,
2nd. son of ye Laird of lachop, who at hunting one day in
ye forest of Cumbernauld seeing King James ye 4 in hazard
of his life by a bull hottly w'th ye hounds, stept in
betwixt ye King and ye bull and griping ye bull by ye
horns, and by his strenth almost wrung ye head from him,
for which he was called Stark and his posteritie after him,
and bears ye rugged Bull's Head in theire armes.
Ye old sword of ye family has on it Stark alias Muirhead.
A slightly modified version of this same account appears in the
Stark Family Association Yearbook for 1943 (p. 27),
where it is attributed
to "Sir John MacKinsies History of Scotland." C. R. Stark gives
another account (without being clear as to the source):
The family of Stark is derived from that of Muirhead of Lachop,
who are derived from Muirhead of that ilk of Bothwell and can
be authenticated to the 6th century. As now prepared and
authenticated, the pedigree begins in Muirhead of that ilk
of Bothwell 1100 descending by Primogeniture until in the
reign of Robert 2nd. of Scotland 1347 Muirhead etc. was
created Laird of Lachop. Following the same rule in 1480
John Muirhead 3rd. son of the then Laird of Lachop by
reason of his bravery was named John Stark, Stark in ancient
Gallic meaning strength, and was given the estate of
Killermont. The name then appears as John Stark of
Killermont. Following down by primigeniture [sic] we find
John Stark of Killermont in 1635 noted as a zealous
Covenanter. His grandson John Stark of Killermont was the
first one to depart from the custom by calling his eldest
son Archibald. Said Archibald married Eleanor Nichols of
Londonderry, Ireland, and moved to America in 1720.
Archibald Stark and Eleanor Nichols were the parents of General John Stark
of the American Revolution.
The Stark Family Association Yearbook
for 1943 (p. 25) shows a picture
of the Killermont estate on the banks of the River Kelvin just before
it enters the Clyde, near Dumbarton Castle. It is stated that the
last Stark to occupy the estate sold it in the 1700's.
The heraldic terminology in the first passage above refers to the
Stark family crest,
pertinent to which C. R. Stark
also includes the following quotation from "Burke's `General Armory':"
Starke, (Killermont, Scotland, 1642) Az. a chev. betw. three acorns in
Chief or. and a bull's head erased in base of the second. Crest.
A Dexter hand holding by the horns a bull's head erased or distilling
drops of blood. Motto --- Fortiorum fortia facta.
C. R. Stark liberally translates the motto as:
"Strong Deeds of Strong Men," although the word "strong" might
also be replaced by "brave."
Although the idea of one of our ancestors receiving his name through a
demonstration of strength in bull wrestling makes a good story,
and I suppose there is no harm in that, I personally find the following
alternative account more plausible:
Tradition accounts for the migration of the Stark name from
Germany to Scotland in 1495 when the Dutchess of Burgundy widow
of Charles the Bald, sent a large body of German soldiers
under General Martin Swart to join the invasion of England in
the support of the claim of one of the Pretenders to the throne
of Henry VII. The invaders were defeated on the Plain of Stoke,
and those who survived fled to Scotland and were protected by
the Scottish king. Among the German soldiers were men named
Stark, who remained in Scotland after this disastrous campaign,
and are supposed to be the ancestors of the family from which
General John Stark descended.
This passage is taken from the
Stark Family Association Yearbook
for 1941 (p. 39). I have also seen similar accounts in biographical works on
General John Stark, at least one of which identified the pretender to the
throne as Perkin Warbeck.
- Go on to
Stark Progenitors in America
- Go back to The Stark Family