On this date in 1729, Josiah Bartlett was born. Bartlett signed the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He was also instrumental in securing New Hampshire’s ratification of the Constitution.
Bartlett was born on Nov. 21, 1729, in Amesbury, Massachusetts Bay Colony. He became interested in medicine at a young age and devoured every book he could find on the subject. He later apprenticed under an Amesbury doctor.
At the age of 20, Bartlett moved to the remote town of Kingston, New Hampshire, and set up his medical practice. He was a progressive physician and wasn’t afraid to use non-standard treatments. During an outbreak of diphtheria (known at the time as throat distemper) he successfully treated the disease using Peruvian bark, which contains quinine, along with cooling liquids to lower the patient’s body temperature. At the time, the standard treatment for fever was to make the patient hotter.
Bartlett dipped his toe into politics in 1757 and was elected town selectman. In 1765, he was elected to the colonial assembly, and two years later, New Hampshire colonial governor John Wentworth appointed Bartlett justice of the peace and a lieutenant commander in the militia.
As tensions between the colonies and Great Britain grew, Bartlett became an ardent supporter of the patriot cause. Even before Wentworth dissolved the Royal Assembly in New Hampshire, Bartlett was chosen to head the colony’s committee of correspondence, an illegal body that coordinated with patriots in the other colonies. In this role, Bartlett regularly communicated with Samuel Adams and other prominent colonial leaders in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Bartlett’s patriotism came at a cost. After warning him to stop his “pernicious activity,” loyalists burned his home to the ground. Bartlett promptly moved his family into the nearby farmhouse and rebuilt his home.
Bartlett declined an appointment to the First Continental Congress to attend to family matters but joined the Second Continental Congress in 1775.
Bartlett was an early advocate for independence. In November 1775, he wrote,” May the supreme disposer of all events in due time put an end to the troubles of America & settle her liberties on a solid foundation.” In February 1776, he wrote, “The time is now at hand when we shall see whether America has virtue enough to be free or not.” Bartlett was the first person to vote in favor of the Declaration of Independce 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 on a committee of one member from each colony to form a Confederation or Charter of firm & Everlasting Union of all the United Colonies. It is a matter of the greatest Consequence & requires the greatest Care in forming it. May God grant us wisdom to form a happy Constitution, as the happiness of America to all future Generations Depend on it.”
He was the first person to vote for the Articles on November 15, 1777, and he was also the first person to sign it.
During the war, Bartlett put his medical skills to use, treating American troops after the Battle of Bennington.
Bartlett was also influential in New Hampshire’s ratification of the Constitution. For a time, he served as the chairman of the state’s ratification convention. Bartlett used his influence to convince several other delegates from small towns who initially opposed ratification to throw their support behind the new Constitution. New Hampshire narrowly voted to ratify by a 47-37 margin. As the ninth state to ratify, New Hampshire officially put the Constitution into effect.
Bartlett remained active in New Hampshire politics after ratification. He served as the first governor of New Hampshire and also 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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