Josiah Bartlett (November 21, 1729 May 19, 1795), was an American physician and statesman who, as a delegate to the Continental Congress for New Hampshire, signed the Declaration of Independence. He was later Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court of Judicature and Governor of the state.
Kingston at that time was a frontier settlement of only a few hundred families, and Bartlett was the only doctor in that part of the county at the time. He purchased land and a farm.
On January 15, 1754 he married Mary Bartlett (according to genealogy records stored in the Harvard College Library, he married Hannah Webster) of Newton, New Hampshire. She was his cousin, the daughter of his uncle, Joseph. They would remain married until her death on July 14, 1789. Over the years they would have twelve children: Mary (1754), Lois (1756), Miriam (1758), Rhoda (1760), Hannah (who died as an infant in 1762), Levi (1763), Josiah (1765, died that same year), Josiah (1768), Ezra (1770), Sarah (1773), Hannah (1776, also died as an infant), and a child that was never registered. All three of his sons and seven of his grandsons would follow him as physicians.
In 1774, Bartlett joined the Assembly's Committee of Correspondence and began his work with the revolutionary leaders of the other twelve colonies. Later that year, when Wentworth dismissed, or prorogued, the Assembly, Josiah was elected to its revolutionary (and illegal) successor, the Provincial Assembly. He also suffered the loss of his home by fire, alleged to have been set by opposition Tories. He moved his family out to the farmhouse and began rebuilding immediately. When the assembly appointed Bartlett and John Pickering as delegates to the Continental Congress, he declined because he wished to attend to his family, but remained active in New Hampshire's affairs. In one of Governor Wentworth's last acts before being expelled from New Hampshire in 1775, he revoked Bartlett's commissions as Justice, Militia Colonel, and Assemblyman.
Eventually, after his continued letters home to the Assembly and Committee of Safety in New Hampshire, William Whipple and Matthew Thornton were added to the delegation in Philadelphia. When the question of declaring independence from Great Britain was officially brought up in 1776, as a representative of the northernmost colony Bartlett was the first to be asked, and answered in the affirmative. On August 2, 1776 when delegates signed the formal copy of the Declaration of Independence, his position made him the second to sign, just after John Hancock, the president of the Congress.
In 1777, he declined a return to the congress, citing fatigue due to earlier efforts. But when trouble threatened, he used his medical skills and accompanied John Stark's forces to the Battle of Bennington in August.
He was re-elected to Congress in 1778, and served on the committee that drafted the Articles of Confederation. But, after the articles were adopted, he returned to New Hampshire to attend to personal business. This was the last of his federal service. While he was at the Congress in 1776, his wife Mary had managed the farm, seen to the completion of rebuilding their house, cared for nine children, and given birth to Hannah.
In 1788, Bartlett was made the Chief Justice of the state's supreme court. That same year he was a delegate to the New Hampshire convention for adoption of the Constitution, serving part of the time as its Chairman. He argued for ratification, which finally took place on June 21, 1788. The legislature of the new State of New Hampshire, selected him to be a U. S. Senator, but he declined the office.
During his tenure, he oversaw the installation of a new state constitution, compilation of the laws and statutes in force, and provision for the early payment of the State's debt. He actively promoted agriculture and manufacturing, the improvement of roads, and saw the start of projects to build canals.
The area around Kingston had an epidemic of a fever and canker called throat distemper around 1735. For adults it was a serious illness, but for children it was frequently fatal, especially among the very young. When the illness struck again in 1754, Dr. Bartlett simply tried doses of several available drugs, and discovered that Peruvian Bark would relieve symptoms long enough to allow recovery.
Bartlett lived during a time when medical practice was progressing rapidly. He founded and was the first president of the New Hampshire Medical Society. In 1790 he delivered the commencement address at Dartmouth College when his son Ezra graduated. In part, the honor was due to his signing of the Declaration of Independence, and his new selection as President of New Hampshire. But, in part, it was a recognition of his medical career. He was awarded an honorary MD (Doctor of Medicine) the same day his son earned that degree.