Harvard Square Library exists solely on the basis of donations. If you have benefitted from any of our materials, and/or if making Unitarian Universalist intellectual heritage materials widely available and free is a value to you, please donate whatever you can--every little bit helps: Donate
John Bartlett was born in Concord, Mass., on the 22nd of May, 1784, being the fourth of a family of twelve children. His parents, who were persons of great worth, survived to an advanced age. His early life was passed under the ministry of Dr. Ripley, whom he always continued to hold in reverent and grateful remembrance.
At an early age he was placed with a relative in Maine, with a view to his going into business. But, as his tastes were rather literary than commercial, he returned, after a short time, to his family, who had now removed to Cambridge. Professor Frisbie was at that time living with them, and under his instruction young Bartlett completed his preparation for Harvard College. He sustained himself honorably throughout his whole course, and graduated in 1805. He resolved on entering the ministry, and remained at Cambridge for two years after his graduation, engaged chiefly in the study of theology. The chaplaincy of the Boston Almshouse was offered to him, and he entered with great zeal on the discharge of its duties, and made it virtually the first ministry-at-large in Boston. He also at this period studied medicine, not with a view of ever engaging in practice, but that he might know better how to adapt his ministrations to the sick and suffering. At his suggestion a meeting of wealthy and benevolent citizens was called, to consider what measures should be taken to procure suitable treatment for the insane, which resulted in the establishment of the McLean Insane Hospital. Through his instrumentality, also, a society was formed for affording relief to destitute families during the trying period of the Embargo. Of this society he was the chief agent, and in connection with it he performed a great amount of highly effective labor.
Mr. Bartlett was engaged in the chaplaincy for about three years, and during at least a part of this time continued his theological studies under Dr. Channing. At the end of that period he offered himself as a candidate for settlement, and very soon received a unanimous call to become the pastor of the Second Congregational Church in Marblehead. Having accepted this call, he was ordained on the 22nd of May, 1811, the Rev. Dr. Holmes of Cambridge preaching the ordination sermon.
Here Mr. Bartlett spent the remainder of his life. Besides attending diligently to his duties, he identified himself with various benevolent projects. He assisted in the formation and management of the Humane Society of Marblehead. He was a member of the Masonic Fraternity, and for several years was charged with the inspection of the lodges in Essex County. He bestowed great attention upon the youth of his congregation, particularly in connection with the Sunday-school, the importance of which he thought it difficult to overrate.
Mr. Bartlett was at length suddenly arrested in his labors. Some two years previous to his death, when he had been for some time unusually taxed by the desolations which had occurred in many of the families of his church, by reason of terrible disasters at sea, he was suddenly brought to a stand in the midst of the services of the church. It was supposed that he experienced at that time a slight attack of paralysis. He died on the morning of February 3, 1849, in the sixty-fifth year of his age and the thirty-eighth of his ministry.
Mr. Bartlett was married in 1811 to Rebecca, daughter of George and Sarah Dublois, of Halifax, N.S., by whom he had six children. Mrs. Bartlett died on the 23rd of December, 1858, aged eighty-two.
A First Person Account of John Bartlett
The following characterization was written by the Rev. A. P. Peabody in 1861:
In temperament, and in the traits of his mental character and culture, he was the most complete representative of the “golden mean”—if it be golden—that I ever knew. He was always serene and happy, never elated or buoyant. He was kind and genial in his manner, but with no empressement even toward his dearest friends. In conversation he was neither sprightly nor dull. He contributed more than is often in the power of the most gifted to the entertainment and profit of a social gathering or of a clerical conference, yet, when the hour was over, you could recall nothing peculiarly striking or brilliant to which he had given utterance. In his manners he was modest and unobtrusive, yet self-possessed, easy, and dignified. As to his acquirements, he made no profession of scholarship, seemed to have only a few obsolete books, and one would have thought was too busy to read much; yet what it became him to know he always knew, and in discussions of our club on subjects of theology and exegesis he often supplemented the deficient learning of those of us who had much to do with many books. His sermons were always good, but never noteworthy—impressive, but not exciting. His style was singularly chaste, pure, and rhythmical, but with no strong points, with little ornament, and with little versatility. His treatment of a subject was methodical, with distinctly stated divisions and often subdivisions, and with just that development of each which satisfied the demands of the occasion and fell short of the point of weariness. His voice might remind one of the air of “Pleyel’s Hymn,” a rich melody corn-pressed within the range of three or four notes on the diatonic scale. His intonations were more agreeable to the ear than those of any preacher whom I now call to mind; but his delivery had so little compass of tone and the cadences fell with such an unvarying ictus upon the auditory nerve that from gratified and interested attention the passage to somnolence was by no means difficult. His acceptableness as a preacher corresponded very closely to the absence from all extremes that I have remarked in his professional endowments. Wherever he was wont to preach, the worshippers were glad to see him in the pulpit, and felt, when the day closed, that it had been a good day; yet he was very little asked for or talked about in the churches. One thing I ought to mention, though. I bring it in aphoristically—he was not a moderately good singer, but he had a voice of rare sweetness and power, and was wont to lead the singing at social religious meetings, when there was no chorister present.
I come now to speak of gifts which he possessed in no moderate or ordinary measure. As a pastor or minister, in his relations to his own flock and to the people of Marblehead in general, he manifested, with an evident desire to be faithful to the last degree, certain peculiar capacities and adaptations. He studied medicine to a considerable extent before he became a minister, and he practiced successfully among the poorer people of his parish and the town. He was skilled in all the arts that contribute to the comfort and refinement of home life; and by his example, influence, and generous aid he exerted a constantly elevating and refining agency for the less cultivated portion of the community around him. He was active and successful as a peacemaker, and suppressed a great deal of incipient litigation. He was an excellent business man, drew ordinary legal instruments with accuracy and took the very best care of property. His services in this line were often put in requisition for the care of the families of his seafaring parishioners, the writing of wills, the administration of estates, and the guardianship of minors. Wherever it was a charity to assume a charge of this class, he was always ready to undertake it, however onerous. He attended the Probate Court almost as regularly as the judge and registrar. At the same time his almsgiving went to the outside limits of his ability. I have been told by one who knew well that it was by no means an uncommon thing for him to meet some urgent case of need by sending the dinner from his own table. A brother minister, who was intimate with him for many years, summed up some of Mr. Bartlett’s various functions in this wise: “If one of his parishioners were very sick, he would first prescribe for him, then pray with him. If the case was likely to prove fatal, he wrote the sick man’s will, watched with him the last night of his life, comforted the mourners, made the post-mortem examination, officiated at the funeral, then presented the will for probate, gave bonds as executor, and was appointed guardian of the children.” With these multifarious occupations he never lost sight of the great purpose of his ministry, and the avenues of access to men’s hearts which he opened by offices of friendship and charity he made availing for the conveyance of religious counsel, rebuke, and instruction.