Was Josiah Bartlett, Founding Father, our ancestor?

By Steve Dark

Uh...no. Sorry grandma.

A little explanation. When I was growing up, I was told by my grandma Cadagan (Marcel McMullen's 2nd wife)  that I was descended from Josiah Bartlett, the distinguished 2nd signer of the Declaration of Independence. Check out the document; that's his John Hancock, right after John Hancock's.

This made me feel rather special. So much so that I'd work it into casual conversations, like "How about those Tigers? Five games in a row! Hey, did you know I'm descended from a signer of the Declaration?" Or more cleverly: "What's great about America is we don't have kings or queens, which is funny because if we did, I'd be descended from one."

Unfortunately, grandma Cadagan was wrong. How she erred is impossible to say, but I suspect a combination of two common sins: 1) incomplete research, and 2) wishful thinking. Sleuthing with the tools available at that time, she followed her husband Marcel McMullen to his mother Effie Cole to her mother Mary Bartlett to HER father, R.C. Bartlett, my great great great grandfather.

Then, probably based on the surname and a family story coming from an aunt, somebody made a 100-year leap back to the famous rebel Josiah Bartlett. She might have lucked out anyway but unfortunately, Bartletts are as common in New England as Schultzes in Michigan or Minnesota.

The good news is that I am RELATED to Josiah Bartlett. Distantly. I am his 2nd cousin 9 times removed. That makes me a collateral descendant which, in genealogy circles, is very much kissing your sister.

Our common link to Josiah comes through his great grandfather Richard Bartlett, Jr. who was born in England in 1621 and was 14 years old when he came to America in the ship Mary and John with his father Richard.  The trans-Atlantic passage aboard this 400-ton, three-decker was perilous and took more than two months. Although no passenger list survives, here is a reconstruction. Note that John Bartlett is listed but brother Richard (our ancestor) is not.

Copyright 1987 by Burton W. Spear
Click here to see larger image.

There is great research on the Bartlett line and much more at the Descendants of Signers web site. It has hundreds of pages of well-researched, exhaustively linked information on America's original political figures.

Josiah Bartlett was the 2nd signer of the Declaration of Independence and a former governor of New Hampshire. He was a fiery patriot. When he voted for independence on July 2, 1776, the story goes that “He made the rafters shake with the loudness of his approval.” He matched words with actions, putting his life on the line as a rebel by defying royalists and conspiring with Samuel Adams and others. Had the British won, Dr. Bartlett would certainly have been hung as a traitor. 

Our common ancestor Richard Jr., Josiah's great grandfather, "was said by Tristram Coffin to have been a facetious and intelligent man, residing first near Oldtown Hill but afterward moving up to a place since, and now, called Bartlett’s Corner, just above the chain bridge. Richard, Jr. married Abigail (—-) who died March 1, 1687.

Like his more famous great grandson Josiah, Richard, Jr. was a representative in the colonial legislature from 1679-81 and again in 1684. He died at Newbury in 1698 when he was 77 years old. We have no information about his wife Abaigail Belknap, except a possible birth date of 1621 and death in 1687.

The famous connections don't end there. In 1876, Levi Bartlett published "Genealogical and biographical sketches of the Bartlett family in England and America," a comprehensive family history. He connects the Bartlett line to some of the biggest events in English history, including the Norman invasion of England in 1066, the battles of Crecy (1348), Poitiers (1356), and Agincourt (1415), and possibly to the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1591).

(Steve Dark is the grandson of Marcel & Marian and a proud non-descendant of Josiah Bartlett.)



Check out these links:

Lots of maps! geology.com

A non-dogmatic encyclopedia: Infogalactic

Visit Learn Out Loud and get free history audio and video.

Words have history too: Online Etymology Dictionary

OK, I'm a sucker for dictionaries: Merriam-Webster

Will Rogers quotes (just because): Goodreads

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