Bartlett Surname Meaning, History & Origin

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Bartlett is the current standard name, although the past reveals a number of variants (Barttelot, Bertalot, Bartlet, Bartleet, and Barlett). These names are of Norman origin and came to England originally with the Norman Conquest. Their derivation in Normandy is uncertain. Possibly the name is a diminutive of Bartholomew; or of Bertha; and there have been other suggestions as well.
As an implant, its spread in England was limited. The name is even now only really to be found in the south of England and concentrated in certain localities there.

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England. The line is said to have begun with an Adam Barttelot who arrived in England with William the Conqueror. Early records show the name associated with the Stopham estates in Sussex near Petworth. Sussex to the east and Somerset to the west appeared to mark the outer limits to where Bartletts were to be found.

But the largest number of these Bartletts were to be found in Dorset. There were Bartletts ars well in neighboring counties such as Devon, Wiltshire, Hampshire, and later in Gloucestershire. Many of these Bartletts were seafarers.

America. Dorset was an early point of departure to America. Emigration was organized by Puritan merchants who took over the Massachusetts Bay Company with the idea of setting up a new colony. There were many Bartletts amongst this Mayflower generation. Robert Bartlett arrived in 1623. One of the llustrious Bartlett descendants was Dr. Josiah Bartlett, a signer of the American Declaration of Independence.

Other Bartlett immigration into America is less clear-cut, a mix of wealthy gentlemen, religious dissenters, enterprising settlers,
indentured servants, and transported convicts. We find them first in Virginia and Maryland, and then spreading across the country.

There were prominent Bartletts in public life in California by the second half of the 19th century; and it was a Bartlett, Bob Bartlett, who led Alaska into statehood in the 20th century.

Canada. Several Bartletts left Dorset for Newfoundland in the 1780’s, settling in Brigus on Conception Bay. Captain Bob Bartlett was a sea captain from Newfoundland best remembered for his Arctic expeditions with Captain Peary in the 1920’s.

Australia. The first Bartletts in Australia, it must be said, were convicts, such as William Bartlett convicted at the Old Bailey in 1786. Many of them are buried in unmarked graves. But a few survived and left records. And, by the mid-19th century, they were joined by other Bartletts drawn by the promise of gold riches.


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Bartletts in Dorset.  A branch of the Sussex Bartletts settled in Dorset. A Robert Bartelot is recorded as mayor of Dorchester in 1450. The family leased Muston Manor in Puddletown, four miles northeast of Dorchester. From these roots came Robert and Richard Bartlett, brothers who sailed for America on different ships in 1623 and 1632.

These Bartletts were augmented in Dorset by a wave of Norman immigration. In 1525, according to a tax-payer census undertaken, Weymouth’s population was one third immigrant, Dorchester’s one fifth. Some were seafarers who stayed in or close to the ports through which they entered. Others settled in the dairy farming country which lay immediately behind the coastal hills, on a line roughly from Wareham in the east to Bridport in the west.

Legend has it that these Bartletts may have gotten a little Spanish blood in them, possibly that of Basque sailors who came ashore here at the time of the Spanish Armada.

Bartletts in Devon.  A Bartlett family can be traced to the Devon village of Marldon from the early 1600’s.  This family later settled along the coast at Teignmouth.  Other Bartletts could be found nearby, in Paignton
and Brixham. Many, like their Dorset namesakes, were seafarers.

From a humble family of Brixham trawlermen came Captain and later Commodore Charles Bartlett  He rose through the ranks to be the captain of the great sea liners of his day.  He might have captained the Titanic on its tragic maiden voyage in 1912.  He did captain the Britannic when it was sunk by a mine in the Aegean Sea in 1916.

Robert Bartlett in Plymouth Colony.  The following were the Plymouth colony records for Robert Bartlett from his arrival in 1623 to his death in 1676:

  • 1623. “About fourteen days after came in this ship, called the Anne, whereof Mr. William Peirce was master; and about a week or ten days after came in the pinnace which, in foul weather, they lost at sea, a fine, new vessel of about 44 tons, which the company had built to stay in the country. They brought about 60 persons, some of them being very useful persons and became good members to the body; and some were the wives and children of such as were here already. And some were so bad as they were fain to be at charge to send them home again the next year.” Robert Bartlett was a passenger on the Anne.
  • 1635. “Richard Stinnings put himself as apprentice to Robert Bartlett for nine years, as appears by a covenant drawn up in writing; at the end of which time he is to have two suits of apparel and three pounds in money or other merchandable commodity.”
  • 1651. “William Harlow and Benjamin Bartlett have killed two wolves for which the town is indebted to them. Robert Bartlett also killed a wolf in the same month. Robert Bartlett has since killed another wolf.”
  • 1660. “Robert Bartlett appeared at court, being summoned to answer for speaking contemptuously of the ordinance of the singing of psalms, and was convicted of the fact.”
  • 1676. “The last will and testament of Robert Bartlett.”

Robert Bartlett’s home in Newbury was called the Lion’s South. He was by trade a shoemaker.

A Letter of Josiah Bartlett.  Josiah Bartlett wrote the following latter, dated June 28, 1778, to his wife Mary.

“Yesterday Congress adjourned from this place to meet in
Philadelphia on Thursday the 2nd of July next. The President and many of the members are gone, and by tomorrow noon scarcely any English person will be left in this town as the original settlers here are German and talk that language. I expect to set out in a few days so that the next letter you receive from me will likely be dated from Philadelphia.

I have not had any letter from you since yours dated the 28th of May. I hope you have read mine regularly as I have written you almost every week. My last was on the 21st enclosed to Major Philbrick and sent by express. I am in health and have been as well since I have been here. I hope the air of Philadelphia will suit me as well, though I had rather not have moved there quite so soon, till the city had been more thoroughly cleansed. Charles Chace is well. Mr. Wentworth is not well which will hinder me from going to Philadelphia for some days, otherwise I should set off tomorrow morning.

The enemy left the city on the 18th and the last account we have of them, they were not half the way to Amboy and our army very near them, so that it seems probable a battle will soon take place between the two armies. God grant it may prove decisive in favor of America. As the armies are about 100 miles nearer you than I am, it is probable, before you receive this, you will have later accounts from them than I can send you. Many of the German troops have deserted from the enemy since they left Philadelphia.

We happened to have sight of the eclipse of the sun last Wednesday. It was so cloudy all Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday till about 8 o’clock in the morning that the sun did not once appear. Afterwards the clouds broke so that we had a pretty good sight of it. It was much the largest eclipse I ever saw. It was all covered except a very small rim at the northwest, smaller than the bright part of the moon when she first appears after the change. The weather here now is very hot and has been so for three days past.

I am sorry to inform you Mr. Wentworth is very sick with a fever and a bilious vomiting and purging and has been confined for above a week. He is not willing his friends should be informed of his sickness which is, I fear, attended with great danger.”

Josiah and his wife Mary were inveterate letter-writers because of his frequent lengthy absences from their farm in New Hampshire.

William Bartlett’s Conviction at the Old Bailey.  The following are excerpts from the court proceedings in 1786 at
the Old Bailey concerning William Bartlett:

“William Bartlett was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 6th day of January, one silver watch value 20s, a steel chain value 6d, and a steel seal value 4d, the property of John Williamson.

  • “I lost a silver watch last Friday night in the evening out of my pocket, I was going up Cornhill, and turning round the corner by the pastry cook’s, I was jostled about, and the prisoner took my watch, I felt it going, and I saw it in his hand.”
  • “By whom were you jostled?”
  • “By that prisoner.”
  • “Did you see any other?”
  • “I saw him give the watch to another man, and I collared him directly, and took him into a shop and charged a constable with him, he denied it, but I saw it.”
  • “My Lord, this is a witness that can neither speak nor hear.”
  • “Ask him if he knows any thing of the offence which is charged against him; what he saw the prisoner do? “
  • “He shows me that he saw the prisoner get the watch behind him.”
  • “Ask him if he knows how the prisoner came by the watch?”
  • “He showed me he did not see it taken out of the pocket, only given behind.”

The prisoner’s defense: ‘I had hold of my brother’s arm looking past the pastry cook’s shop, the corner of Cornhill, and this gentleman came up, there were fifty or sixty people round me, up came this gentleman and told me I had his watch, I said it was false, I never saw him before he took me into the pastry cook’s, he charged a constable, he searched me and my brother, and found nothing upon us.’

The testament of the deaf and dumb witness was accepted despite the prisoner’s protestations. The verdict was guilty, the sentence seven years transportation.”

Memories of Captain Bob Bartlett.  The following reminscences of Captain Bob Bartlett came from a family website:

“Uncle Harry had been north with Peary on the Falcon. In 1894 he brought to Philadelphia Commander Peary, Mrs. Peary, and little Marie Ahnighito. Uncle Harry started back home with a cargo of anthracite coal. The vessel was carrying a very heavy load and many think the coal shifted,
and the Falcon sank taking all her crew with her. The mystery of this tragedy was never solved. Uncle Harry was lost with the rest of them, and so far as I know, though so many Bartletts followed the sea, he was the only one to meet death by drowning.

Bob’s mother, a Wesleyan Methodist, dreamed that he would become a minister. At fifteen, he was sent to St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland, where he enrolled at the Methodist College. After two years he left and went back to sealing off the Labrador coast with his father. From that time on, Bob Bartlett had a life on the sea. He would captain many vessels in his lifetime.

Captain Bob is most remembered for his work with Commodore Peary in Arctic exploration. Bartlett served as captain on the Roosevelt, Boethic, Karluk, and first served as Captain of the Effie M. Morrissey in 1925. Several of the expeditions that Bartlett took part in was in the service of the United States military. Bartlett voyaged with scientists, photographers, and students to Greenland, Ellsmere Island, Baffin Island, the Siberian Arctic, and other northern localities during his storied career of exploration.”


Select Bartlett Names

  • Adam Barttelot is reputed to have arrived with William the Conqueror in 1066 and started the Bartlett line in England.
  • Dr. Josiah Bartlett, a physician from Amesbury in Massachusetts, was one of the signers of the American Declaration of Independence.
  • Captain Bob Bartlett was a sea captain from Newfoundland best remembered for his Arctic expeditions with Captain Peary in the 1920’s.
  • Bob Bartlett grew up in Alaska and was the leading figure in its move to statehood in 1959. There is a statue in his honor at the state Capitol Rotunda.
  • Josiah Bartlet is the fictional US president of the TV drama series West Wing. Martin Sheen the actor claims descent from the original Josiah Bartlett.

Select Bartlett Numbers Today

  • 35,000 in the UK (most numerous in Gloucestershire)
  • 17,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 23,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).


Select Bartlett and Like Surnames.

The Norman Conquest brought new rulers to England and they brought their names and language, a form of French, with them.  Over time their names became less French and more English in character.  Thus Hamo became Hammond, Reinold Reynolds and Thierry Terry and so forth.  The names Allen, Brett, Everett, and Harvey were probably Breton in origin as Bretons also arrived, sometimes as mercenaries.

The new Norman lords often adopted new last names, sometimes from the lands they had acquired and sometimes from places back in Normandy.  Over time the name here also became more English.  Thus Saint Maur into Seymour, Saint Clair into Sinclair, Mohun into Moon, and Warenne into Warren.

Here are some of these Norman and Breton originating names that you can check out.






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