September 3, 1752  The Lost days

Tragically, the number of historians’ and geneologists’ heads to have since exploded, remains unknown.

If you were living in England or one of the American colonies 265 years ago, this day did not exist. When you went to bed last night, it was September 2.  This morning when you got up, it was September 14.

The “Julian” calendar adopted in 46BC, miscalculated the solar year by 11 minutes per year, resulting in a built-in error of 1 day for every 128 years.   By the late 16th century, the seasonal equinoxes were ten days out of sync, and that was causing a problem with the holiest days of the Catholic church.October 1582 missing days

In 1579, Pope Gregory XIII commissioned the Jesuit mathematician and astronomer Christopher Clavius, to devise a new calendar and correct this “drift”.  The “Gregorian” calendar was adopted in 1582, omitting ten days from that October, and changing the manner in which “leap” years were calculated.

The Catholic countries of Europe were quick to adopt the Gregorian calendar.  England and its overseas colonies continued to use the Julian calendar well into the 18th century, resulting in immense confusion.  Legal contracts, civic calendars, and the payments of rents and taxes were all complicated by the two calendar system. Military campaigns were won or lost, due to confusion over dates.

Between 1582 and 1752, some English and colonial records included both the “Old Style” and “New Style” year.  The system was known as “double dating”, and resulted in date notations such as March 19, 1602/3.  Others merely changed dates. Google “George Washington’s birthday”, for instance, and you’ll be informed that the father of our country was born on February 22, 1732.  The man was actually born on February 11, 1731, under the Julian Calendar.  It was only after 1752 that Washington himself recognized the date of his birth as February 22, 1732, reflecting the Gregorian Calendar.

virginia-almanack-1752
Virginia almanack of 1752

Tragically, the number of historians’ and geneologists’ heads to have since exploded, remains unknown.

The “Calendar Act of 1750” set out a two-step process for adoption of the Gregorian calendar.  Since the Roman calendar began on March 25, the year 1751 was to have only 282 days so that January 1 could be synchronized with that date.  That left 11 days to deal with.

So it was decreed that Wednesday, September 2, 1782, would be followed by Thursday, September 14.

You can read about “calendar riots” around this time, though they may be little more than a late Georgian-era urban myth.

Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, was a prime sponsor of the calendar measure.  His use of the word “Mobs” was probably a description of the bill’s opponents in Parliament.   Even so, there were those who believed their lives were being shortened by those 11 days, and others who considered the Gregorian calendar to be a “Popish Plot”.  The subject would become a very real campaign issue between Tories and Whigs, in 1754.

There’s a story concerning one William Willett, who lived in Endon. Willett wagered that he could dance non-stop for 12 days and 12 nights, starting his jig about town the evening of September 2nd 1752. He stopped the next morning, and went out to collect his bets. I was unable to determine, how many actually paid up.

The official start of the British tax year was changed in 1753, so as not to “lose” those 11 days of tax revenue.  Revolution was still 23 years away in the American colonies, but the reaction “across the pond” could not have been one of unbridled joy.

Turkey was the last country to formally adopt the Gregorian calendar, doing so in 1927.

ben franklinBenjamin Franklin seems to have liked the idea, writing that, “It is pleasant for an old man to be able to go to bed on September 2, and not have to get up until September 14.”

The Gregorian calendar gets ahead of the solar cycle by 26 seconds every year, despite some very clever methods of synchronizing the two cycles.  Several hours have already been added, and it will be a full day ahead by the year 4909.

I wonder how Mr. Franklin would feel, to wake up and find that it’s still yesterday.

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Author: capecodcurmudgeon

I'm not a "Historian". I'm a husband, a father, a son and a grandfather. A history geek and sometimes curmudgeon, who still likes to learn new things. Five years ago, I began writing a daily "Today in History" story, as sort of a self-guided history course.  At some point, I committed to myself to write 365.  The leap year changed that to 366. At this point, I’ve written about 450. I make every effort to get my facts straight, but I'm as good at being wrong as the next guy. I offer these "Today in History" stories, in hopes that you'll enjoy reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share. Rick Long

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