Founding Fathers - Josiah Bartlett

Josiah Bartlett

Born: December 2, 1729 (Amesbury, MA)

Died: May 19, 1795 (Kingston, NH)

Welcome back from Spring Break!  This week we will look at yet another Founding Father from one of the northern colonies, Josiah Bartlett.  In fact, as a representative of New Hampshire he served the farthest north of all colonies and was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence after John Hancock.  The family of Josiah had lived near Amesbury, MA, since 1635 when his great-great-grandfather sold off his inherited land in southern England (which had been granted to his earliest documented relative, Adam Barttelot, by William the Conqueror after the Battle of Hastings in 1066) and ventured to the New World alongside his brother.  As a child, Josiah received not only the standard education from the local schoolmaster, but also learned Latin and Greek from a relative who acted as both a doctor and reverend.  While still a teenager, the boy began learning about medicine from the Amesbury town physician, Dr. James Ordway, who did not have a great deal of scientific education himself but was rich in experience.  Josiah learned to rely heavily on his own experiments and observations in the absence of books, which would serve him well during his long medical career.  By the time Josiah turned 21 he had moved 8 miles across the border to Kingston, NH, and set up his own practice in the town that was little more than a frontier outpost at the time.

As the only doctor available to the residents, Josiah Bartlett quickly gained a reputation of being knowledgeable and dependable.  In 1752 he suffered from a fever and, opposed to the advice of his teacher Dr. Ordway and the common treatments of the day that called for hot liquids and blankets, he treated himself with cold liquids until he recovered.  Some years later, during a diphtheria outbreak that killed over 100 in the small town, Bartlett became a pioneering user of quinine which provided much better results than the standard care of bleedings and starvation.  As his professional life began to grow, so did his family - in 1754 he married his first cousin, Mary Bartlett, with whom he would eventually have 12 children.  Respected for his intelligence and character, Bartlett was soon ready to begin his life of political service, and in 1757 he was elected to his first position as town selectman.  After eight years he was chosen to join the New Hampshire Provincial Assembly, and became a staunch supporter of colonial rights even when it put him at odds with the Royal Governor John Wentworth.  He was still initially respected, however, as evidenced by the fact that Wentworth appointed him as justice of the peace in 1767, which was the same year Bartlett became a colonel of his local militia.

Things began to change, however, when it became obvious that Josiah Bartlett would not support the royalist cause.  He was elected as one of two delegates to the First Continental Congress, but had to instead remain in New Hampshire to rebuild his home that was destroyed by a fire.  Loyalists were quickly blamed for the destruction, but Bartlett was undaunted.  He publicly opposed the Crown and Governor Wentworth stripped him of his commissions as assemblyman, colonel, and justice shortly before fleeing to the safety of a British warship after hostilities broke out in neighboring Massachusetts.  Bartlett was soon on his way to Philadelphia, having been chosen again as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress.  Initially he was the lone representative but he eventually coaxed two additional delegates to join him in time to support the vote for independence.  As the roll was called in geographic order from north to south, Bartlett was the first member of Congress to vote to separate from Britain.  After a brief time at home in 1777, he also became the first to vote for and sign the Articles of Confederation at the end of the same year.

In 1778 Josiah Bartlett concluded his federal service and returned home to New Hampshire to spend the remainder of his life serving his state.  Although he had no legal education he once again found himself as a judge, and after four years on the bench he was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 1782.  Six years later he was named Chief Justice and also began serving as a delegate to the state convention to determine whether to ratify the new US Constitution.  After helping reassure and convince many smaller communities of its merits, Bartlett led the state vote to become the ninth to ratify the document, assuring the new government's birth.  The state legislature attempted to appoint Bartlett as a US Senator in 1789 but he declined.  He did, however, accept the results of the election the following year that made him the President of New Hampshire - an office whose name changed to become Governor when the new state constitution came into effect during his term.  He continued to champion the medical profession while in office, and in 1791 he signed legislation recognizing the New Hampshire Medical  Society.  After four years Bartlett retired from public life and returned home, where he died in 1795.

The signature of Josiah Bartlett can be found as the first name on the sixth (farthest right) column beneath the Declaration of Independence.


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