Declaration Signer Josiah Bartlett drafts his "last will & testament," ca. 1776Josiah Bartlett: Draft of His "Last Will and Testament," ca. 1776. One page, 8" x 13", Philadelphia, n.d. In July 1776, the gathered delegates of the Second Continental Congress at Philadelphia voted to "dissolve the political bands" between the colonies and the mother country. By signing the Declaration of Independence, those delegates knew that they were committing treason, which was all the more palpable to them since the king's army was just eighty miles away in New York's harbor. Around the time that he added his name to that declaration, Josiah Bartlett wrote this draft of his "last will & testament," certainly with those troops and his treasonous act in mind. (Interestingly, Bartlett is known as the first to cast his vote in favor of a declaration of independence.) The draft reads as written in part:
"In the Name of God amen I Josiah Bartlett of Kingstown in the County of Rockingham in the state of New hamphsire Esqr now residing in the City of Philadelphia in the state of Pensylvania being at this time by the goodness of God of a sound mind & memory Do make & ordain this my last will & testament That is to say principally & first of all I give and Recommend my Spirit into the hands of God who gave it. . . . As to my worldly Estate my will is that it shall be Disposed of in the manner following[:] firstly I give to Mary my Beloved wife & to her heirs & assigns one third part of my moveable Estate I also give the use & improvement of one third of my real Estate During her natural life. . . . in dividing my Estate among my Children each of my Sons have two parts [?] shares & Each of my Daughters one share or part. . . . my four oldest Daughters & each of them During the time that they remain unmarried shall have full power & right to live in my mansion House in Kingstown and that such priviledge shall not be considered as any part of their before mentioned part or share but as they have suffered considerable loss in the burning my former house that stood in the same place & fatigue while the present house was Building my Design is that that house be & remain their Home till they are otherwise provided for by marriage."
Josiah Bartlett (1729-1795) was a New Hampshire physician and lifelong public servant, serving variously as a delegate to the Continental Congress, a chief justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court, and finally governor of the state. He had married his cousin, Mary Bartlett, in 1754. Before her death in 1789, they had twelve children.
Along with John Pickering, Bartlett was chosen a New Hampshire delegate to the First Continental Congress in September 1774. Both men, however, declined. (Bartlett declined because his house in Kingston had recently burned, as referenced in this draft). The physician was again elected in 1775, and this time, he took his seat in the Second Continental Congress in September in Philadelphia. When the time came in 1776 to vote on a declaration of independence, the delegates chose the northernmost colony, New Hampshire, to cast the first vote, which gave Bartlett the opportunity to cast the first vote in favor of the treasonous declaration.
Along with the other delegates, Bartlett fled Philadelphia in September 1777 when the British invaded and occupied the city. Even though he was reelected a delegate in August 1778, family concerns forced him to return to New Hampshire, where he remained. This draft was written while he resided in Philadelphia, making its date somewhere between September 1775 and September 1777. It is reasonable to conclude that the monumental and life-threatening passage of the Declaration of independence in 1776 was the impetus for this last will and testament. One segment of the document is more darkly toned than the rest. Many of the fold separations have been repaired with tape on the verso.
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