To begin my study of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, I chose to start with Josiah Bartlett for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that Bartlett was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776. He had this honor because he represented New Hampshire, the first state to sign because it was the furthest northern state. The second reason I chose Bartlett is because he is an ancestor of one of my sons-in-law.
Josiah Bartlett was born in November 1729 in Amesbury in Massachusetts. His ancestors were originally from Normandy but immigrated to England. A branch of the family immigrated to America late in the seventeenth century and settled in the town of Beverley in Massachusetts. His mother’s maiden name was Webster, and she was a relative of Daniel Webster.
Josiah did not have the advantage of a college education, but he was taught Greek and Latin by Dr. Webster. Josiah chose a profession in medicine and started studying science at age sixteen. Even though he did not have many opportunities to learn from books or teachers, he was able to pass an examination with honor. He started his practice of medicine in Kingston, New Hampshire, where he became a skillful and successful doctor.
Bartlett was stern and unbending in his republican principles, but he was highly esteemed by the royal Governor Wentworth. Wentworth bestowed on Bartlett a magistrate’s commission and the command of a regiment of militia. He was elected in 1765to be a member of the provincial legislature in New Hampshire. About that same time, he became a prominent leader of a party that opposed the Stamp Act and various other oppressive laws made in England. He was bribed through Wentworth, but he remained patriotic.
Josiah became a member of the Committee of Safety for his state in 1776. Governor Wentworth was so alarmed at the appointment of this committee that he dissolved the Assembly. The rebellious members re-assembled with Dr. Bartlett at the head of the movement. When he was elected a member of the Continental Congress, Wentworth withdrew both the commission of magistrate and the military commission. When Wentworth realized that there would be no reconciliation, he fled from the province for his own safety. The provincial Congress – forerunner to state legislature – re-appointed Dr. Bartlett to be a colonel in the militia.
Bartlett was chosen as a delegate to the Continental Congress in August 1775 and again in 1776. He was part of the committee that planned for the confederation of the states as suggested by Benjamin Franklin. He strongly supported the proposed independence.
Bartlett took a leave from Congress in 1778 to visit his family and to take care of his private affairs and did not return. He was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas of New Hampshire in 1779 as well as the muster master of its troops. He was later promoted to the Supreme Court.
Josiah took an active role in his state’s convention to ratify the Constitution in 1787. After the Constitution was adopted, he was elected to represent New Hampshire as a member of the first Senate, which was to be held in New York. He declined the honor and was not seated there. He had previously been elected President of New Hampshire and continued to hold that office until 1793. At that time he was elected to be the first governor of New Hampshire. After being governor for one year, he resigned the office to retire to private life after serving his state and nation well for many years.
Bartlett passed away on May 19, 1795, at the age of 66. He did not live long enough to spend much time with his family, to see his country entirely free from the perils that threatened its existence, nor to see that the new experiment in government worked.