Wednesday, August 31, 2016

On the "Probable" Origins of Robert Bartlett

At this time, what we think we know of the origins of Robert Bartlett who sailed on the ship “Anne” in 1623 and settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts is found in guesses based on coincidences in name and an estimated age. Many people still cite – and some accept as fact – research on a particular Bartlett family published in 1979 and prior, without fully reading the research or the caveats included by the authors upon the presentation of their findings. This information has been perpetuated in such a way, that it appears many family historians take it as fact, rather than mere possibility.

Since I am the editor of the newsletter for the Society of Descendants of Robert Bartlett (and about to step into the role of webmaster), I believe as a society honoring a particular ancestor and his history, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard. Therefore, I would like to address the life of Robert Bartlett of the “Anne” as we know it and then discuss what we do not know of it.

First and foremost, Robert Bartlett’s life in Plymouth is well-documented in two places. The most recent publication which offers a glimpse into the life of this man is Robert Bartlett of the “Anne” and his Descendants of Four Generations compiled by Robert S. Wakefield, FASG (General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 2000). Of course, the GSMD’s “Silver Book” volumes on Richard Warren also treat this family in the same manner.

The second place in which Robert’s life is well-detailed is the “Mayflower Descendant” 3:105-117. These pages lay out a timeline of Robert’s life from the 1627 division of cattle, until October 29, 1676, when his will was probated.

The first record of Robert Bartlett in Plymouth, Massachusetts is in the 1623 Division of Land, in which he received one acre. Robert was party to many deeds, land and court transactions, and civil responsibilities onward from that date, until his death sometime between 19 September 1676 – the date of his will – and 29 October 1676 – the date his will was proven.

The first indication of Robert Bartlett’s marriage to Mary Warren in Plymouth Colony records comes on 1 July 1633, when it was recorded that “Mrs. Warren and Robt. Bartlet were to mow where they did last year.” Robert Bartlett is next referred to as the son-in-law of Mrs. Warren in a court order dated 7 or 17 March 1636/7.

The record that cements a year of marriage is that of Robert and Mary (Warren) Bartlett’s son, Benjamin Bartlett, who was a Freeman as of 6 June 1654. In order to be a Freeman, one had to be an adult, probably about 21 years old. Thus, Benjamin would have to have been born by or before 6 June 1633.

Knowing for certain that the life of Robert Bartlett of Plymouth, Massachusetts spanned a range of time from 1623 (named in Division of Land) until between 19 September 1676 and 29 October of 1676 (date of will and probate of will), as well as knowing he had to have been married by or before 1633 (when his first son would have to be born if he was made a Freeman by 1654; also treated as Mrs. Warren’s son-in-law from 1633 onward, implied by the shared mowing responsibility), can also help us determine his age.

Question 1: When was Robert Bartlett born?

In trying to determine when Robert Bartlett was born, we need to estimate his age based upon the known facts. If he received land in the 1623 Division of Land after his arrival in Plymouth Colony, then he was at least considered an adult by that time.

The only actual indicator of age is the List of Men Able to Bear Arms (men between 16 and 60), and that gives us an incredibly wide age range to work with! Robert Bartlett was named on that list in August 1643. We know he certainly was older than 16, since he received land in 1623. It’s reasonable to assume he was at least 20 or 21 when he received that land in 1623 – certainly not any younger – so he was at least 39 or 40 on the 1643 list.

The first indication of him as a cooper comes in 1654 in a deed from Samuel Hicks. However, long before that, on 1 or 11 December 1635, Richard Stinnings bound himself to Robert Bartlett as an apprentice for 9 years. If Robert took an apprentice in 1635, then how long had he been practicing his craft as a cooper?

Other questions to ask include how did he learn his craft? Probably by apprenticeship as well, as that was how young men learned a trade. Was he a cooper when he joined the voyage on the “Anne” in 1623? Was he the ship’s cooper? Most children apprenticed as adolescents, around the age of 14. If Robert was actually born in 1603 and apprenticed by the age of 14, in 1617, the term of his apprenticeship would have lasted roughly 5 to 7 years. That helps us make a reasonable guess that he was around 20 or so when he sailed to Plymouth. That idea that Robert was born in or about 1603 certainly makes sense.

However, because the passenger manifest has not survived, we simply do not know his age. We know the “Anne’s” master was William Peirce, so it would be a matter of finding proof that Robert Bartlett signed on to the voyage, not just as a passenger, but possibly as a worker as well. If this were the case, Robert’s estimated age of at least 20 might even seem a little young at first glance. We also do not know how old his apprentice, Richard Stinnings was, in 1635. Sadly, we may never know, as Richard was one of three men hanged in 1638 for participating in the murder of a man of the Nipmuc tribe. Odds are Richard was an adolescent – quite young and impulsive, given his rash actions. The man who encouraged his behavior, Arthur Peach, was described by William Bradford as “a young, lusty and desperate man.”

Suffice it to say, Robert Bartlett had certainly practiced his craft for a substantial amount of time by 1635, if he was able to take on an apprentice.

Finally, some websites or family trees indicate that Robert Bartlett “died at the age of 73” when he died in 1676. This information is not factual, nor is it stated anywhere at any time by Robert Bartlett or his contemporaries that he was 73-years-old at the time of his death. Even in his own will, Robert does not give his age. He merely states that he is “very weake in body but of sound memory and understanding” when he dictates his will (“Did by word of Mout Declare this to be his last will and Testament”) in the presence of John Cotton and Mordicay (Mordecai) Ellis on 19 September 1676.

So the question of his age remains unanswered, but a reasonable guess is that he was about 20 or 21-years-old when he sailed to Plymouth; perhaps even a little younger or older. A safe date range in which to place his birth may be roughly 1599 to 1605, which means he could have been somewhere between 18 and 25 when he sailed. However, closer to 1600-1605 seems reasonable, since he did not marry until at least 1632. It’s possible he was even younger and sailing on the ship as a servant to another family, as is mentioned in the timeline at the end of this article.

Question 2: What makes the Puddletown, Dorset Bartletts the “probable” ancestry of Robert Bartlett?


And this is the problem, as probability is a very different state than possibility. Probability means how likely something is to be, whereas possibility is a matter of either yes or no. Is it possible that the Puddletown Bartletts are Robert’s family? Yes. Is it probable? Not at this time. Why not?

The assertion that Robert Bartlett and Alice Barker of Puddletown, Dorset, England are the parents of Robert Bartlett of Plymouth, Massachusetts (not to mention the additional assertion that they are also the parents of Richard Bartlett of Newbury, Massachusetts!) is merely based upon coincidences of name and potential year of birth.

Robert Bartlett and Alice Barker of Puddletown did, indeed, marry in St. Mary’s Church, Puddletown, Dorset, England on 16 October 1589 and have at least seven children, all baptized at St. Mary’s:

Liddia, baptized 2 August 1590, died 8 November 1612, buried at St. Mary’s Church
Ruth, baptized 22 February 1591
Mary, baptized 4 February 1592/93
Edith, baptized 23 January 1596/97
Martha, baptized 5 November 1598
Richard, baptized 7 February 1600/01
Robert, baptized 27 March 1603

The June 2002 issue of The Bartlett Line states that Alice Barker died shortly after the birth of her daughter, Elizabeth (1607/8), and that Robert Bartlett remarried and had three more children – Izobell in 1608, Benjamin in 1611 and Robert in 1614.

This is absolutely incorrect. We know Alice (Barker) Bartlett was still living, because her father Richard Barker’s will, proved 6 November 1621, names her as executrix. Also, it seems unlikely that Izobell, Benjamin and Robert are theirs, as they are not named in the Will of Richard Barker. The baptisms, however, of Elizabeth Bartlett in 1607/08 and John Bartlett in 1609 specified that they were the children of Robert and Alice Bartlett, and are set apart from the baptisms of Izobell, Benjamin and Robert. The further baptisms of Izobell, Benjamin and Robert were probably of another couple in Puddletown – a Robert Bartlett and Agnes Gould, who were married at Fordington on 6 October 1605. Unfortunately, any arguments regarding naming conventions – that Robert Bartlett of Plymouth had a half-brother named Benjamin and thus named his first son after him – simply holds no water.

In addition to the baptismal records of St. Mary’s, the children of Robert Bartlett and Alice Barker are further named in the will of Richard Barker. The only three not named are Liddia, Elizabeth and John, all three of whom probably died before their grandfather. Each of Alice (Barker) Bartlett’s living children – some already married per the language of Richard’s will – was left money, a silver spoon and various other legacies.

So where does the assertion that Robert Bartlett of Plymouth, Massachusetts is the son of Robert and Alice (Barker) Bartlett of Puddletown originate? For this, we go back to an article by Paul W. Prindle, F.A.S.G. entitled “The Probable Ancestry of Robert Bartlett of Plymouth,” published in The American Genealogist, volume 55, page 164 in 1979.

Prindle expands on a previous article published by John G. Hunt, entitled “Possible Origin of Robert Bartlett of Plymouth,” published in The American Genealogist, volume 35, page 214 in 1959. However, all Prindle does is add new facts and research regarding the Puddletown Bartletts to that which was found by Hunt. He does not provide proof of a connection to Robert of Plymouth.

Both these works tell us of the Puddletown Bartletts and draw conclusions based upon possibilities – specifically that Robert and Alice Bartlett had a son named Robert baptized in 1603 – but these coincidences do not support any probable conclusions. In fact, Prindle himself states, “What records I found do not give additional proof of the identification (of Robert Bartlett of Plymouth).”

Unfortunately, Prindle’s title for his article is misleading, as he did not assert anything that justified a conclusion of “probability” in the ancestry of Robert Bartlett.

Question 3: How many Robert Bartletts were baptized in England between 1599 and 1605?

Say, given the arrival of Robert Bartlett in Plymouth and the land distributed to him in 1623, he was at least 20-years-old upon his arrival. Perhaps even 19 or 21. This does, indeed, give him a possible birth year of 1603. Let’s expand that range, to be safe, and go as far as 1599-1605. How many baptisms can we find for a person by the name of Robert Bartlett in England in that time frame?

First, we must understand that not every parish’s records are digitized, transcribed or extracted into a text/digital format readily and easily available online. Second, we must see that those we can locate are just the tip of the iceberg.

If I look at for baptisms of a Robert Bartlett born in 1600 +/- 5 years, I get four baptisms for a Robert Bartlett. If I run the same search at, I get eight results within that date range.

As you can see, there is a rather wide range of baptisms for males by the name of Robert Bartlett between 1599 and 1605. Even if we narrow our range to just 1602 and 1603, we still find two baptisms online, and neither of these databases includes the St. Mary’s/Puddletown Bartletts baptisms. How many more baptismal records are out there for an infant or toddler by the name of Robert Bartlett during that time range? Remember, this does not account for every single digitized source available – just two of the most popular ones. It certainly doesn’t give us those sources which have not been scanned or transcribed, and made available online.

So why have we explored only the Puddletown Bartletts? What leads us to this conclusion? Have these other Bartletts been eliminated? Have these other families been further researched in the first place?

At this point, any attempt to match Robert Bartlett of Plymouth up with a Robert Bartlett baptized in England somewhere between 1599 and 1605 will be as inconclusive as the Puddletown “evidence” without something much more substantial.

Question 4: Can DNA help us here?

DNA can absolutely help us with this matter.

First, Y-DNA has disproven one very erroneous theory, and that is a paternal sibling relationship between Robert Bartlett of Plymouth, Massachusetts and Richard Bartlett of Newbury, Massachusetts.

They were never thought to originate from the same family anyway. Even if we look back at genealogical books published 100 years ago, they indicate that Richard Bartlett of Newbury came from “Ernly, Sussex, England” (Earnley, West Sussex, England). The origins of Richard Bartlett of Newbury remain as unproven as those of Robert Bartlett of Plymouth, Massachusetts, but certainly do not include Robert.

Y-DNA has disproven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the words of Rev.  R. Grosvenor Bartelot of the Vale House, Timsbury, Bath, England, who published Our Family Surname in 1944. Rev. Bartelot states:

It is virtually certain that Richard Bartlett, who with his wife Joane and their family migrated to Newbury in New England in the year 1634, was of the same line. He was shoemaker, and his family Bible proves he must have been the man of that name baptized as son of Robert Bartlett of Fordington, Dorset, on May 17, 1592, and whose son Richard, who according to the family Bible, was born on October 31, 1621, must be identified with the child of that name baptized at Tincleton adjoining Fordington on January 4, 1622.

He further asserts:

Robert Bartlett who emigrated to Massachusetts in 1623, a cooper by trade, was baptized at Puddleton, Dorset, on May 1603, a son of Robert, the lessee of Fordington Prebendal manor, whose pedigree goes back to John Bartlett alias Hancock, who bought Muston manor in Puddleton in 1542.

It is most definitely NOT “virtually certain” that these two men are related OR connected with Robert Bartlett who emigrated to Plymouth, MA and Richard Bartlett who emigrated to Newbury, MA. 

First of all, Richard Bartlett, son of Robert and Alice of Puddletown, was baptized on 7 February 1600/01, not in 1592. 

Second, Y-DNA disproves any paternal relationship between the men. A group of 9 men who descend from Robert Bartlett were tested. Their results are vastly different than those of the 5 men who descend from Richard Bartlett. Both groups also fall into different haplogroups, Robert’s into haplgroup R-M269, which is predominantly western Europe, and Richard’s into I-M253, which is the Scandinavian area.

This leaves only a maternal relationship as a possibility, but this seems unlikely, unless the possible mother of the two Bartletts was having an extramarital affair or brought a child from a previous marriage into her marriage to a Bartlett, who then adopted the older son (Richard) as his own. If the family of Robert Bartlett and Alice Barker at Puddletown were the parents of both Richard of Newbury and Robert of Plymouth, that means Alice was engaging in extramarital relations. Considering that Alice had five daughters before she had her sons, it is highly doubtful she was the mother of Robert of Plymouth and Richard of Newbury, unless she was suffering one heck of a seven year itch.


As Wakefield states in his MFIP book:

*TAG 55:164-8 suggests Robert may be the Robert Bartlett bp. 27 May 1603 at Puddletown, Co. Dorset, England. However, note the comments in NEHGR 153:407-12.

While those publications referenced in this article and dated 1944, 1959 and 1979 put forth a guess, recent publications from the Mayflower Society remind us that at this time, this guess it not a certainty, let alone probable. It is, as Wakefield appropriately presents it, merely a suggestion.

In conclusion, we must cast a wider net, as well as endeavor to add Puddletown and other Dorset Bartletts to the existing DNA surname project before we can settle on just one family as the "probable" family of Robert Bartlett of Plymouth.

We must stop treating the possibility that Robert Bartlett of Plymouth, Massachusetts is the Robert Bartlett baptized at St. Mary’s Church, Puddletown, Dorset, England in 1603 as fact. It’s not that the Puddletown Robert is the wrong Robert Bartlett. It’s simply that we just do not know if he is the right one.

Timeline of Known Facts

I am only listing the dates included in this article. A complete timeline of Robert’s life in Plymouth and all transactions to which he was a party can be found in the “Mayflower Descendant,” vol. 3, pages 105-117. This timeline is meant to provide a more visual overview of Robert’s life as we know it.

1623 – Robert Bartlett arrives at Plymouth, Massachusetts on the ship “Anne”

1623 – Robert Bartlett receives 1 acre in the 1623 Division of Land

1626 – Robert is not listed in the 1626 Purchasers List (obviously compiled sometime in or after 1630, as Elizabeth Warren is listed instead of her husband, Richard, who died in 1628, and John Billington was hanged in 1630 and thus only his surname is listed). Eugene Aubrey Stratton writes in Plymouth Colony: Its History & People, 1620-1621 (1986), “The fact that he was not one of the 1626 Purchasers might indicate that he arrived as a servant and was still in the status in 1626.”

1627 – Robert Bartlett receives 1 yearling heifer and 2 she goats in the 1627 Division of Cattle as part of Francis Eaton’s company. As in the 1623 Division of Land, Robert Bartlett also is grouped with Stephen Tracy. Coincidence?

1633 – Mrs. Warren and Robert Bartlett “were to mow where they did last year”

7 or 17 March 1636/7 – Mrs. Warren refers to Robert Bartlett as her son-in-law in a court order

19 September 1676 – Robert Bartlett writes his will

29 October 1676 – Robert Bartlett’s will is proved/probated

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan

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