American Medical Biographies/Bartlett, Josiah (1759–1820)

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Bartlett, Josiah (1759–1820)

Josiah Bartlett, soldier of the Revolution, promoter of good medical literature and prominent physician, was the son of a sea captain, George Bartlett, who came from Slocum Regis in Devonshire. Josiah was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, August 11, 1759, and during his childhood and early youth attended the local schools and when about fourteen was placed under Dr. Isaac Foster, a local physician. During the period immediately preceding the war of the Revolution young Bartlett studied under Dr. Foster and when Foster was appointed to the medical department of the American Army at Cambridge, on April 20, 1775. Later on the tutor was appointed chief surgeon to the General Hospital at Cambridge, and procured the office of surgeon's mate for his pupil, then sixteen, who served until 1780, when he resigned from his pupilage and gave up his commission. During this year Dr. Bartlett attended one course of lectures on anatomy by Dr. John Warren, at Cambridge, and soon afterwards was engaged for two voyages as surgeon to the ships of war. During these public services Dr. Bartlett manifested a degree of activity, attention and faithfulness which secured to him a high reputation and the approbation of his superiors in office.

In 1789 he became a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society and was its recording secretary from 1792 to 1796. In 1810 he delivered the annual oration before this society on the progress of medical science in Massachusetts. Dr. Bartlett attended a complete course of medical lectures at Cambridge in 1790, receiving the honorary M. D. in 1791 and a similar degree in 1809 from Harvard University.

James Thacher states that "perhaps no man contributed more time and active exertion to improve the state of the Massachusetts Medical Society, and through it, the interests of medical literature, than Dr. Bartlett." He delivered two public discourses of a medical nature, one before the Middlesex District Society and one before the Massachusetts Medical Society, the latter being well known as an interesting historical sketch of medical characters in the early days of the country.

He also published various papers on medical subjects in the communications of the Medical Society and in the New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery.

Although engaged in extensive practice Dr. Bartlett found time for activity in civil offices and was at various times elected representative, senator and councillor in the state government.

Bartlett was deeply interested in the early history of New England and especially in the development of its educational and literary institutions. Among his researches is the following information: "The Congregational Church was established in Charlestown in 1633, in which the Rev. John Harvard officiated for a short time before his death in 1638; his age is unknown. All that can be ascertained of this gentleman is that he had been a minister in England, and died soon after his arrival in this country, that he preached a short time in this town, and bequeathed about eight hundred pounds to the college. The writer has repeatedly searched for his grave, but can discover nothing to designate it."

He corrected the mistake of Dudley, Mather, Holmes and other colonial writers regarding the year of arrival of Gov. Winthrop at Charlestown with fifteen hundred persons, which had been given as 1630, to the true date, 1629, as shown by the original town records of Charlestown.

Dr. Bartlett's character was remarkable for industry, activity and intelligence. He never declined any duty which was assigned him, and always executed it speedily and thoroughly.

Perhaps no individual in this vicinity delivered so great a number of public orations on medical, political and literary topics. He possessed a physical constitution which promised a long as well as an active life, but he was stricken with apoplexy on March 3, 1820, and died two days later.

Hist. Har. Med. School, T. F. Harrington, vol. i.
Mass. Hist. Soc'y Proceedings, vol. i.
Memoir by Richard Frothingham.
Oration by Robert T. Davis.