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16th Governor of
California, January 8 - September 12, 1887

Born:  February 29, 1824, in Savannah, Georgia

Died:  September 12, 1887, in Oakland, California

Marriage: (never married)


Washington Bartlett was the first California governor to die in office. He had served as governor for just eight months. Though this would not appear to be a common name, there were two Washington Bartlett’s in California’s history. The other, Washington Allon Bartlett, was the first American mayor of San Francisco, credited with changing the city’s name from Yerba Buena.


Early Life

Bartlett was born in Georgia but moved with his family to Tallahassee, Florida, when he was 13 years old. He was an apprentice in his father’s printing business there. In 1849 Bartlett sailed around Cape Horn and on to California.



Rather than mining, Washington set up a print shop. In 1849 he issued the first book to be printed in English in California -- California As It Is and As It May Be or A Guide to the Gold Country, by Wierzbicki. Over the next years he started several newspapers including the Daily Evening News (later the True Californian).

Bartlett’s political career began when he joined the Vigilance Committee in 1856, which led to his being county clerk for San Francisco County. In 1863 he began practicing as a lawyer. In 1873 he was elected for a term as state senator. After being on the board which drew up the San Francisco city charter, Bartlett served two terms (1882-86) as mayor there.



Bartlett was almost 63 years old when he became governor. He had a reputation for honesty (his campaign slogan was “Honesty in Politics”) and a concern that government serve everyone and not just a few individuals. In his inaugural speech he outlined many issues, including the need for vocational training for young people who would not be going on to college. By the close of the first legislative session, however, Bartlett had become gravely ill with Bright’s disease and was unable to carry out any of his plans.


Later Years

Hoping that rest would help him, he went to Highland Springs and then to the Santa Cruz Mountains. His last days were spent at his sister’s home in Oakland, where he became paralyzed on August 22, 1887.  He died 21 days later, and was buried in Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland.


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