Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The West Wing: Pseudo-Fact or Fiction?

On NBC's The West Wing, President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet claims that his "great-grandfather's great-grandfather was Dr. Josiah Bartlett, who was the New Hampshire delegate to the second Continental Congress, the one that sat in session in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776. . ." Setting aside the fictional status of Jed Bartlet, could this claim be true?

First question: Does Dr. Josiah Bartlett have any male descendants bearing the name "Bartlett" or "Bartlet"?

The seven volume Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, by Frederick Wallace Pyne (Camden, Me.: Picton Press, 1997-) is now the standard source for dealing with such questions. Volume One shows that Josiah and Mary (Bartlett) Bartlett of Kingston, N. H., had thirteen children, four of whom were sons, two of whom died without issue. Succeeding generations contained few male Bartletts who married and had children. Six male Bartletts had issue in the third generation, but only two in the fourth generation. According to Pyne, only one great-great-great-grandson of Josiah Bartlett bore the name "Bartlett." He was John Wilkinson Bartlett of Illinois, who died Oct. 5, 2001, in Aurora, Illinois, at age 85 years. His obituary from the Beacon News in Aurora reveals that he had two sons at the time of his death—Hugh and John, Jr.—who are apparently the only Bartletts who can claim that their "great-grandfather's great-grandfather was Dr. Josiah Bartlett."

Second question: Why does The West Wing's Jed Bartlet spell his name with one "t", while his famous ancestor spelled it with two?

The one "t" spelling may have been common once, before the masses became literate and spellings standardized, but it is rarely found today. The Social Security Death Index lists 14,489 individuals named "Bartlett," but only 25 named "Bartlet." According to the U. S. Census Bureau, "Bartlett" was the 693rd most common surname in 1990; "Bartlet" ranked 58,594th. None of the known descendants of Dr. Josiah Bartlett used the latter spelling.


I am the great, great ,great, great, great, great, great grandson of Josiah Bartlett.

My paternal grandmother, Bertha True, daughter of Charles True, married Walter Thayer Whiton.
My grandmother gave birth to two children, Murriel and Walter Jr., my father.

My father married Beverly June Morrison, my mother, and produced eight children with her - five boys: Richard Thayer, William Keith, Bradford True, Bruce Douglas and Edward Philip and three girls: Wendy Diane, Valerie June and Pamela Gay.

All family members have died except for myself and youngest sister Pamela.

I now live in Montpelier, Vermont and Pamela resides in Florida.

My mother and siblings are buried in my maternal family's Morrison plot in Littleton, New Hampshire.

Bertha died in 1973 after my grandfather. She, her husband and daughter Murriel are buried in Westborough's Pine Grove cemetery in Massachusetts.

Richard Thayer Whiton

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