Today in History: Founding Father Josiah Bartlett Born

On this day in 1729 Josiah Bartlett was born. Bartlett signed the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He was also instrumental in ensuring the ratification of the New Hampshire Constitution.

Bartlett was born on November 21, 1729 in Amesbury, Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was interested in medicine from an early age and devoured every book he could find on the subject. Later he was apprenticed to an Amesbury doctor.

At the age of 20, Bartlett moved to the remote town of Kingston, New Hampshire, and opened his medical practice there. He was a progressive doctor and was not afraid to use non-standard treatments. During an outbreak of diphtheria (then known as canine distemper), he successfully treated the disease with Peruvian bark, which contains quinine, along with cooling fluids to lower the patient’s body temperature. At the time, the standard treatment for fever was to make the patient hotter.

Bartlett dipped into politics in 1757 and was elected town selectman. In 1765 he was elected to the Colonial Assembly, and two years later the colonial governor of New Hampshire, John Wentworth, appointed Bartlett justice of the peace and lieutenant commander of the militia.

As tensions between the colonies and Britain grew, Bartlett became an ardent supporter of the patriotic cause. Even before Wentworth dissolved the Royal Assembly in New Hampshire, Bartlett was appointed chairman of the colony’s Correspondence Committee, an illegal body that coordinated with patriots in the other colonies. In this capacity, Bartlett communicated regularly with Samuel Adams and other prominent colonial leaders in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Bartlett’s patriotism came at a price. After warning him to stop his “malicious activities,” loyalists burned his home to the ground. Bartlett immediately moved his family to the nearby farmhouse and rebuilt his home.

Bartlett declined appointment to the First Continental Congress to attend to family affairs, but joined the Second Continental Congress in 1775.

Bartlett was an early advocate of independence. In November 1775 he wrote: “May the supreme ruler of all events in due course put an end to the troubles of America and set her liberties on a solid foundation.” In February 1776 he wrote: “The time is now at hand when we shall see whether America has enough virtue to be free or not.” Bartlett was the first person to vote for the Declaration of Independence and the second person to sign his name on the document.

Bartlett was appointed to represent New Hampshire on the committee that drafted the Articles of Confederation. In June 1776 he wrote to his wife: “I have been for about a week in a committee composed of one member from each colony to establish a confederation or charter of a firm and perpetual union of all the united colonies. It is a matter of the utmost consequence & requires the greatest care in design. May God grant us wisdom to form a happy constitution as upon it depends the happiness of America for all generations to come.”

He was the first person to vote for the Articles on November 15, 1777, and he was also the first person to sign them.

During the war, Bartlett used his medical skills, treating American troops after the Battle of Bennington.

Bartlett was also influential in ratifying the New Hampshire Constitution. For a time he chaired the state’s ratification convention. Bartlett used his influence to persuade several other small-town delegates, who initially opposed ratification, to put their support behind the new constitution. New Hampshire narrowly voted 47 to 37 to ratify. As the ninth ratifying state, New Hampshire has officially enacted the Constitution.

Bartlett remained active in New Hampshire politics after ratification. He served as the first governor of New Hampshire and also as the chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court. He resigned from the governorship in 1794 and died the following year at the age of 65.

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