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Which Bartlett is Bartlett Street?

Josiah Bartlett? on


Remembering a reader email that sent us into a tailspin. Sometimes the simplest request can lead to bottomless research. Something as simple as a street name may not be simple at all.




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It looked, at first glance, just like another email, but it was a rabbit hole. So like Alice, I innocently poked in my head -- and fell and fell and fell.

The email came a few years back from Rich Collins, who reads my history web site. Seems he recently bought an 1820-era house on Bartlett Street in Portsmouth and wanted to know something about the Bartlett for whom the street is named.

No-brainer. I guessed the origin was Josiah Bartlett. That name is familiar to many who watched the former TV blockbuster "West Wing" in which actor Martin Sheen played fictional President Josiah Bartlett, a former New Hampshire governor. Unfortunately Sheen could never pronounce Concord, NH (he called it con-CORD, like the jet). The show was the greatest boost to that family name since the Bartlett pear. The fictional TV Bartlett was reportedly descended from the real Josiah Bartlett of Kingston, NH. Bartlett was a doctor and one of three NH signers of the Declaration of Independence with Matthew Thornton and William Whipple. There are also Whipple and Thornton streets in Portsmouth, further indicating the likely origin of the street name.

But there are other contenders for the street name. There have been Bartletts in Portsmouth since at least 1693 when John and Abraham Bartlett show up on the seating plan of the first Portsmouth Meeting House. They must have been important because they sat in the front pew area not far from the minister, and not in the men's gallery at the back. If they were influential enough, the street might be named after an ancient Bartlett family farm. Ick, more research! Anyone who has done a history term paper knows it can take longer to track down one footnote than to write half the report.

Street naming is political. There were street naming committees back in the olden days that continue into the present. A few years back there was political flap over whether a road near Pic N' Pay would be called Brewery Street or be named after former mayor Eileen Foley. The mayor lost that round to the beer lobby.


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Wednesday, February 21, 2018 
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