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Biographical Sketches

New Hampshire
Josiah Bartlett
Josiah Bartlett

Thanks to the voting order in the Continental Congress, Josiah Bartlett of New Hampshire was probably the first Delegate to vote for independence, the second to sign the Declaration (after President John Hancock), and the first to ballot for and pen his name to the Articles of Confederation. He also has the distinction of being one of several physician signers. His State service, more extensive than the National, included the governorship.

Bartlett was born in 1729 at Amesbury, Mass. At the age of 16, equipped with a common school education and some knowledge of Latin and Greek, he began to study medicine in the office of a relative. Five years later, in 1750, he hung out his shingle at nearby Kingston, N.H. He quickly won a name not only as a general practitioner but also as an experimenter and innovator in diagnosis and treatment. Marrying in 1754, he fathered 12 children.

During the decade or so preceding the outbreak of the War for Independence, Bartlett held the offices of justice of the peace, militia colonel, and legislator. In 1774 he cast his lot with the Revolutionaries. He became a member of the New Hampshire committee of correspondence and the first provincial congress, which came into being when the Royal Governor disbanded the colonial assembly. Bartlett was elected that same year to the Continental Congress, but tragedy intervened and kept him at home. Arsonists, possibly Loyalists, burned his house to the ground. Discouraged but undeterred, he immediately constructed a new one on the very same site.

While in Congress (1775-76), Bartlett also served on the New Hampshire council of safety. Although he rarely participated in congressional debates, whose seeming futility vexed him, he sat on various committees. He was reelected in 1777, but was too exhausted to attend. He nevertheless managed in August to lend his medical skills to Gen. John Stark's force of New Hampshire militia and Continental troops. They defeated a predominantly German element of Gen. John Burgoyne's command in the Battle of Bennington, N.Y.—one of the reverses that helped force him to surrender 2 months later at Saratoga, N.Y. Bartlett's last tour in Congress was in 1778-79, after which he refused reelection because of fatigue.

Bartlett spent the remainder of his life on the State scene. Despite his lack of legal training, he sat first as chief justice of the court of common pleas (1779-82), then as associate (1782-88) and chief (1788-90) justice of the Superior Court. Meantime, in 1788, he had taken part in the State convention that ratified the Federal Constitution, which he strongly favored. The next year, probably on account of his age and the weight of his judicial duties, he declined election to the U.S. Senate. The following year, he became chief executive, or president, of the State. He held that title for 2 years, in 1793-94 being named the first Governor, as the newly amended constitution redesignated the position.

Despite all his political activities, Bartlett had never lost interest in the field of medicine. In 1790 Dartmouth College conferred on him an honorary degree of Doctor of Medicine. The next year, he founded the New Hampshire Medical Society and became its first president.

In 1794, the year before he died in Kingston at the age of 65, ill health forced his retirement from public life. His remains lie in the yard of the Universalist Church in Kingston.

Drawing: Oil, 1871, by Caroline Weeks, after John Trumbull, Independence National Historical Park.

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Last Updated: 04-Jul-2004