John Russell Bartlett

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For the American naval officer, see John Russell Bartlett (naval officer).
John Russell Bartlett
John Russell Bartlett2.jpg
Born (1805-10-23)October 23, 1805
Providence, Rhode Island, US
Died 28 May 1886(1886-05-28) (aged 80)
Providence, Rhode Island, US
Nationality American
Fields History, linguistics

John Russell Bartlett (October 23, 1805 – May 28, 1886) was an American historian and linguist.[1]


Bartlett was born in Providence, Rhode Island on October 23, 1805. In 1819 he was a student at the Lowville Academy in Lowville, New York, which he attended for two years. From 1807 to 1824 he lived in Kingston, Canada; from 1824 to 1836 he lived in Providence where he worked successively as a clerk in a dry goods store (1824-1828)owned by his uncle, William Russell; a bookkeeper and acting teller at the Bank of North America (1828-1831), and the first cashier of the Globe Bank (1831-1836).

In 1831, he was one of the founders of the Providence Athenaeum, and was elected its first treasurer. That year he was also elected to membership in the Rhode Island Historical Society. The following year he was ordering books for the newly founded Providence Franklin Society an early version of a lyceum.

He moved to New York City in 1836, became a partner in the dry goods commission house of Jesup,Swift and Company, and was employed there until 1840.

From 1840-1849 he was a partner in the bookselling and publishing firm of Bartlett and Welford which was located in the Astor House hotel on the west side of Broadway between Vesey and Barclay streets. The firm issued five catalogs between 1840 and 1848.

He returned to Providence in 1850.[2] From 1850–1853 he was the United States Boundary Commissioner responsible for surveying the boundary between the United States and Mexico. During this time he traveled with Henry Cheever Pratt throughout the Southwest.[1] The autoethnonym of the Seri people of northwestern Mexico, Comcaac (which he wrote as "komkak"), was first recorded by Bartlett during a short visit to the area in early 1852. The word was included in the list of approximately 180 words that Bartlett archived in the Bureau of American Ethnology (now part of the National Anthropological Archives, housed at the Smithsonian).[2]

After being superseded by another commissioner upon the accession of President Franklin Pierce, he published A Personal Narrative of Explorations and Incidents in Texas, New Mexico, California, Sonora and Chihuahua[1] (2 vols, 1854), which, contains much valuable scientific and historical material concerning the south-west. In 1842, he joined ethnologist and public servant Albert Gallatin in founding the American Ethnological Society.[citation needed] As of 1848, he was serving as Foreign Corresponding Secretary of the organization.[3]

He is known in the field of lexicography for his Dictionary of Americanisms' (1848), a pioneering work that, although supplanted by later dialect studies, is still of value to students of language and remains a valuable contribution to the subject. Later editions were published in 1859,1860,and 1877. The first edition was translated into Dutch and published in 1854. The third edition of 1860 was translated into German and published in 1866. The work is referenced frequently by the Oxford English Dictionary in which it is given the abbreviation "BARTLETT Dict. Amer."[2]

From 1855 to 1872 Bartlett was Secretary of State of Rhode Island, and while serving in this capacity thoroughly re-arranged and classified the state records and prepared various bibliographies and compilations, relating chiefly to the history of the state. He was for several years librarian of the John Carter Brown Library and collated an exhaustive catalogue that was published in four volumes.[4] He died in Providence on May 28, 1886.[2]


The son of Smith and Nancy (Russell) Bartlett married Eliza Allen Rhodes of Pawtuxet, Rhode Island. They had seven children, They had four daughters: Elizabeth Dorrance (1833-1840), Anna Russell (1835-1885), Leila (1846-1850),and Fanny Osgood (1850-1882). The last daughter was named for the poet, Frances Sargent Osgood, a friend of the family. Their three sons were Marine Corps Major Henry Anthony (1838-1901), George Francis (1840-1842), Captain, and later Rear Admiral on the Retired List, John R. Bartlett, USN, who served in the Civil War and Spanish-American War and who was also a noted oceanographer.


Portrait of Bartlett by John Sullivan Lincoln

John Russell Bartlett should not be confused with John Bartlett, publisher of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "John Russell Bartlett papers, 1850–1853". Research Collections. Archives of American Art. 2011. Retrieved 29 Jun 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d Chisholm 1911.
  3. ^ Squier, E.G. (1848). Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. p. 48. 
  4. ^ Brown, John Howard (1900). Lamb's Biographical Dictionary of the United States (Vol. 1). Boston: James H. Lamb Co. p. 211. Retrieved May 20, 2009. 

 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bartlett, John Russell". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

External links[edit]

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.