October 15, 1582 Double Dating

Confusion reigned well into the 18th century. Legal contracts, civic calendars, and the payment of rents and taxes were all complicated by the two calendar system. Military campaigns were won or lost, due to confusion over dates.

From the 7th century BC, the Roman calendar attempted to follow the cycles of the moon. The method often fell out of phase with the change of seasons, requiring the random addition of days. The Pontifices, the Roman body charged with overseeing the calendar, made matters worse. Days were added to extend political terms, and to interfere with elections. Military campaigns were won or lost due to confusion over dates. By the time of Julius Caesar, things needed to change.

When Caesar went to Egypt in 48BC, he was impressed with the way the Egyptians handled the calendar. The Roman statesman hired the Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes to help straighten things out. The astronomer calculated a proper year to be 365¼ days, more accurately tracking the solar and not the lunar year. “Do like the Egyptians”, he might have said. The new “Julian” calendar went into effect in 46BC. Caesar decreed that 67 days be added that year, moving the New Year’s start from March to January 1.

October 1582 missing days

This “Julian” calendar miscalculated the solar year by 11 minutes every 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, causing a problem with the holiest days of the Roman church.

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

The Catholic countries of Europe were quick to adopt the Gregorian calendar, Portugal, Spain, pontifical states, but England and her overseas colonies continued to use the Julian calendar. Confusion reigned well into the 18th century.  Legal contracts, civic calendars, and the payment of rents and taxes were all complicated by the two calendar system. Military campaigns were won or lost, due to confusion over dates. Sound familiar?

Between 1582 and 1752, many 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. Keyword search on “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 but, no matter.  Washington himself recognized the date of his birth to be February 22, 1732, following adoption of the Gregorian Calendar.

virginia-almanack-1752
Virginia almanack of 1752

Tragically, the exploding heads of historians and genealogists alike are lost, to history..

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 such stories may be little more than 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, some believed their lives were being shortened by those 11 days, while others considered the new calendar to be a “Popish Plot”.  The subject was very real campaign issue between Tories and Whigs in the elections of 1754.

There’s a story of one William Willett, who lived in Endon. Willett bet that he could dance non-stop for 12 days and 12 nights, starting his jig about town the evening of September 2, 1752. He stopped the next morning, and went out to collect his bets.

I am unable to determine how many actually paid up.

Ever mindful of priorities, the British tax year was officially 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.

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

ben franklin

Back in the American colonies, Ben Franklin seems to have liked the idea of those “lost days”. “It is pleasant for an old man to be able to go to bed on September 2″ he wrote, “and not have to get up until September 14.”

Much to the chagrin of Mr. Clavius, the Gregorian calendar still gets out of whack with the solar cycle, by about 26 seconds every year.  Clever methods were devised to deal with the discrepancy and several hours have already been added, but we’ll 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.

February 29, 1504 Leap Year

According to mathematicians, the method of losing three leap days out of every 400 ought to hold us for about 10,000 years. By that time we’ll have to add a day, somewhere.

Let me know how that works out, would you?

From its earliest inception, the Roman calendar tracked the cycles of the moon.  At least it tried to. The method fell out of phase with the change of seasons and days were randomly added or subtracted in order to compensate. Political campaigns and military conflicts were won or lost, based on the confusion. Things had to change.

In 46BC, Julius Caesar hired Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes to help straighten things out. The astronomer calculated that a proper year was 365¼ days, more accurately tracking the solar and not the lunar year.  Ol’ Sosigenes was pretty close.  The actual time the earth takes to revolve around the sun is 365.242199 days.1024px-Museo_del_Teatro_Romano_de_Caesaraugusta.43The second month had 30 days back then, when Caesar renamed his birth month from Quintilis to “Julius”, in honor of himself.  Rank hath its privileges.  To this day, it’s why we have “July”.  Not to be outdone, Caesar’s successor Caesar Augustus changed Sextilis to Augustus and, you got it, today we have August. The only thing was, that Augustus had only 29 days to Julius’ 31, and we can’t have that.

You see this coming, right?

Augustus swiped two days from the month of the Roman festival of purification.  Februarius mensis wouldn’t even miss them.

Adding a day to every fourth February solved the calendar problem, sort of, but not quite. Pope Gregory XIII and his astronomers attempted to fine tune the situation in 1582. No year divisible by 100 would be a leap year, unless that year is also divisible by 400. Ergo, 1600 and 2000 were leap years, but 1700, 1800 and 1900, were not. According to mathematicians, this method of losing three leap days out of every 400 ought to hold us for about 10,000 years. By that time we’ll have to add a day, somewhere.

Let me know how that works out, would you?Leap Year1There is an old legend that St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick back in the 5th century, that women had to wait too long for beaus to “pop the question”. Other versions of the story date back before English Law recognized the Gregorian calendar, meaning that the extra day had no legal status.  Be that as it may, it is customary in many places for a woman to propose marriage on the 29th of February.  According to legend, one old Scottish law of 1288 would fine the man who turned down such a proposal.

In June 1503, Christopher Columbus was on his fourth voyage to the west when his two caravels became stranded, in Jamaica.  Relations with the natives were cordial at first but, after six months, the newcomers had worn out their welcome.  Desperately needing food and provisions, Columbus consulted the Ephemeris of the German astronomer Regiomontanus, where he learned that a lunar eclipse was expected on February 29.

Gathering the native chiefs that evening, Columbus explained that God was about to punish the indigenous people by painting the moon red. The eclipse occurred on schedule to the dismay of the natives, who were eager to promise anything to get the moon back.5a83a64e-9525-4d8c-acab-e92e6a35ba8d-columus_eclipse“With great howling and lamentation” wrote Columbus’ son Ferdinand, “they came running from every direction to the ships, laden with provisions, praying the Admiral to intercede by all means with God on their behalf; that he might not visit his wrath upon them”.

The explorer retired to his cabin, to “pray”.  Timing the eclipse with his hourglass, Columbus emerged after 48 minutes to announce.  All was forgiven.  God had pardoned the People.

188 years later, to the day.  February 29, 1692.  The first witchcraft warrants went out from a place called Salem Village, calling for the arrest of two social outcasts named Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne, and the West Indian slave woman, Tituba.

December 31, 1903 Happy New Year

In 1907, Times owner Adolph Ochs wanted a bigger spectacle to draw attention to the newly renamed Times Square. He asked the newspaper’s chief electrician, Walter F. Painer for an idea. Painer suggested a time ball.

From the 7th century BC, the Roman calendar attempted to follow the cycles of the moon. The method frequently fell out of phase with the change of seasons, requiring the random addition of days. The Pontifices, the Roman body charged with overseeing the calendar, made matters worse. They were known to add days to extend political terms, and to interfere with elections. Military campaigns were won or lost due to confusion over dates. By the time of Julius Caesar, things needed to change.

julius-caesar-11-638

Caesar hired the Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes to help straighten things out. The astronomer calculated that a proper year was 365¼ days, which more accurately tracked the solar, and not the lunar year. “Do like the Egyptians”, he might have said, the new “Julian” calendar went into effect in 46BC. Caesar decreed that 67 days be added that year, moving the New Year’s start from March to January 1. The first new year of the new calendar was January 1, 45BC.

Caesar synchronized his calendar with the sun by adding a day to every February, and changed the name of the seventh month from Quintilis to Julius, to honor himself. Rank hath its privileges.

Not to be outdone, Caesar’s successor changed the 8th month from Sextilis to Augustus. 2,062 years later, we still have July and August.

Julian_to_Gregorian_Date_ChangeSosigenes was close with his 365¼ day long year, but not quite there. The correct value of a solar year is 365.242199 days.  By the year 1000, that 11-minute error had added seven days. To fix the problem, Pope Gregory XIII commissioned Jesuit astronomer Christopher Clavius to come up with yet another calendar. The Gregorian calendar was implemented in 1582, omitting ten days and adding a day on every fourth February.

Most of the non-Catholic world took 170 years to adopt the Gregorian calendar. Britain and its American colonies “lost” 11 days synchronizing with it in 1752.  The last holdout, Greece, would formally adopt the Gregorian calendar in 1923. Since then, we’ve all gathered to celebrate New Year’s Day on the 1st of January.

For years, New Years’ eve celebrations were held at Trinity Church, where revelers would gather to “ring in the new”. The New York Times newspaper moved into “Longacre Square” just after the turn of the 20th century.   Times owner Adolph Ochs held his first fireworks celebration on December 31, 1903, with almost 200,000 people attending the event.  Four years later, Ochs wanted a bigger spectacle to draw attention to the newly renamed Times Square. He asked the newspaper’s chief electrician, Walter Painer, for an idea. Painer suggested a time ball.

Time Ball
Flamsteed house royal observatory time ball, Greenwich, England

A time ball is a marine time signaling device, a large painted ball which is dropped at a predetermined rate, enabling mariners to synchronize shipboard marine chronometers for purposes of navigation. The first one was built in 1829 in Portsmouth, England, by Robert Wauchope, a Captain in the Royal Navy.

Time balls were obsolete technology by the 20th century, but it fit the Times’ purposes, nicely.  A young immigrant metalworker named Jacob Starr designed a 5′ wide, 700-lb iron and wooden ball, decorated with 100 25-watt incandescent bulbs.  For most of the twentieth century the company he founded, sign maker Artkraft Strauss, was responsible for lowering the ball.

download (1)That first ball was hoist up a flagpole by five men on December 31, 1907. Once it hit the roof of the building, the ball completed an electric circuit, lighting up a sign and touching off a fireworks display.

The newspaper no longer occupies the building at 1 Times Square, but the tradition continues.  One of seven versions of the Times Square ball has marked the coming of the new year ever since, with the exceptions of 1942 and ’43, due to the wartime need to dim out the lights.

The version used the last few years is 12′ wide, weighing in at 11,875lbs; a great sphere of 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles, illuminated by 32,256 Philips LED bulbs and producing more than 16 million colors.  It used to be that the ball only came out for New Year.  The last few years, you can see the thing, any time you like.

only-sailors-truly-understand-the-strange-tradition-of-the-new-years-eve-ball-drop

In most English-speaking countries, the singing of “Auld Lang Syne”, is the traditional end to the New Year’s celebration.  Written by the Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788, the tune comes from an old pentatonic Scots folk melody. The original verse, phonetically spelled as a Scots-speaker would pronounce it, sounds like this:

“Shid ald akwentans bee firgot, an nivir brocht ti mynd?

Shid ald akwentans bee firgot, an ald lang syn?”

CHORUS

“Fir ald lang syn, ma jo, fir ald lang syn,

wil tak a cup o kyndnes yet, fir ald lang syn.

An sheerly yil bee yur pynt-staup! an sheerly al bee myn!

An will tak a cup o kyndnes yet, fir ald lang syn”.

CHORUS

“We twa hay rin aboot the braes, an pood the gowans fyn;

Bit weev wandert monae a weery fet, sin ald lang syn”.

CHORUS

“We twa hay pedilt in the burn, fray mornin sun til dyn;

But seas between us bred hay roard sin ald lang syn”.

CHORUS

“An thers a han, my trustee feer! an gees a han o thyn!

And we’ll tak a richt gude-willie-waucht, fir ald lang syn”.

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.