Friday, January 1, 2016

The British American Colonies begin to celebrate the New Year in January of 1752



King Henry 8th (1491-1547)

In England, Henry VIII had broken with Rome, creating the Church of England, only about 50 years before Pope Gregory XIII's 1582 introduction of the new calendar. So the English weren't inclined to follow the Roman Pope's lead in the transition to the Gregorian calendar. By the mid-18C, however, it became apparent, that England & her colonies could avoid the transition no longer.


On August 16, 1751, The Virginia Gazette contained an announcement from London for the colonists in America, about The Calendar (New Style) Act 1750 (c.23) (also known as Chesterfield's Act after Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield) was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain. It reformed the calendar of England and British Dominions so that the new legal year began on 1 January rather than 25 March (Lady Day); & it adopted the Gregorian calendar, as already used in most of western Europe.  



Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773) by English artist Allan Ramsay.  Chesterfield, who was behind the Act, wrote to his son, "Every numerous assembly is a mob, let the individuals who compose it be what they will. Mere sense is never to be talked to a mob; their passions, their sentiments, their senses and their seeming interests alone are to be applied to. Understanding have they collectively none." Here, he was boasting of his skill in having the complicated & potentially unpopular Bill passed through the Lords; the "mob" in question was his fellow peers.

There was some dissatisfaction with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in Great Britain.  This is William Hogarth's painting from around 1755, which is one of the main visual sources depicting some disaffection with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752.

The South Carolina Gazette reprinted the bill, which had passed, with its justifications on January 1, 1752.

As this Day commences the Year of our Lord 1752. before the Conclusion of which we are, by a late Act of Parliament of Great Britain, required to use the New or Gregorian Stile, instead of the Old or Julian ; we believe it will not be thought improper at this Time, to give our Readers the said Act at length: It is therefore herewith presented them, with the Compliments of the Season.——In our next, we shall give some Account of the Changes the Year hath heretofore undergone, and the Reason of them.


An Act for regulating the Commencement of the YEAR; and for correcting the CALENDAR now in USE.


WHEREAS the legal supputation of the year of our Lord is that part of Great Britain called England, according to which the year beginneth on the 25th of March, hath been found by experience to be attended with divers inconveniences, not only as it differs from the usage of neighbouring nations, but also from the legal method of computation in that part of Great Britain called Scotland, and from the common usage throughout the whole kingdom, whereby frequent mistakes are occasioned in the dates of deeds, and other writings, and disputes arise therefrom:


And whereas the calendar now in use throughout all his majesty's British dominions, commonly called The Julian Calendar, hath been discovered to be erroneous, by means whereof the vernal or spring equinox, which at the time of the general council of Nice, in the year of our Lord 325, happened on or about the 21st day of March, now happens on the ninth or tenth day of the same month; and the said error is still encreasing, and if not remedied, would, in pros of time, occasion the several equinoxes and solstices to fall at very different times in the civil year from what they formerly did, which might tend to mislead persons ignorant of the said alteration.


And whereas a method of correcting the calendar in such manner, as the equinoxes and solces may for the future fall nearly on the same nominal days, on which the same happened at the time of the said general council, hath been received and established, and is now is generally practised by almost all other nations of Europe :


And whereas it will be of general convenience to merchants, and other persons corresponding with their nations, and countries, and tend to prevent mistakes and disputes in or concerning the dates of letters, and accounts, if the like correction be received and established in is majesty's dominions;


May it therefore please year MAJESTY,


That it may be Enacted; And be it Enacted ; by the KING'S most excellent majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons, in this present parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, that in throughout all his majesty's dominions and countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, belonging or subject to the crown of Great Britain, the said supputation, according to which the year of our Lord beginneth on the 25th day of March, shall not be made use of from and after the last day of December, 1751; and that the first day of January, next following the said last day of December, shall be reckoned, taken deemed, and accounted, to be the first day of the year of our Lord 1752; and the first day of January, which shall happen next after the said first day of January, 1752, shall be reckoned, taken, deemed, and accounted, to be the first day of the year of our Lord, 1753; and so on from time to time; the first day of January in every year, which shall happen in time to come, shall be reckoned, taken, deemed, and accounted, to be the first day of the year; and that each new year shall accordingly commence, and begin to be reckoned, from the first-day of every such month of January next preceding the 25th day of March, on which such year would, according to the present, supputation, have begun or commenced. And that from and after the said first day of January, 1752...


Celebrating the January New Year, The Virginia Gazette printed on December 29, 1752, nearly a year after the act was adopted, published the following poem.


An ODE, for the fist of January.

THIS Earth, the Sun, and yonder Stars of Light,
That rose from Chaos and eternal Night,
Obsequious to their great Creator's Will
Revolve, and all their various Ends fulfil:
But Men, tho' bless'd with Reason's brighter Ray,
Eccentrick wander, and like Comets stray.
This sad'ning Truth the circling Years declare,
Sees Mankind unreform'd, sees Mercy spare,
With the revolving Year reform thy Plan,
And, tho' the older, be the better Man.
Lost are those Years which Vanity and Vice
Have murdered: Late, Oh late, correct thy Choice.
Accept, Kind Heav'n, my Prayer; behold my Tears,
These, these, the bitter Fruits my Folly bears.
Hence 'mongst thy faithful Sons I'll rank my Name,
And with this New-Year' s Morn thy Love proclaim:
Thy Love! a Theme too big for Time and Earth;
Eternity's the Day must give it Birth.

Thus onward lead me, 'til my latest Breath

Shall gently fold me in thy Arms, O Death!
Then bear me, bear me to the Realms above,
Where reigns my Saviour, reigns eternal Love:
Then roll, ye sluggish Years; speed, no Delay;
Fly Time, and hasten on that glorious Day.


George Washington (1732-1799) in 1772

As the calendars changed in the British American colonies, there was some overlap.  George Washington, for example, was born on February 11, 1731 under the Julian Calendar, but afterwards recognized the date February 22, 1732 to reflect the Gregorian Calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian Calendar to determine George Washington’s birthday, which took place in Westmoreland County, Virginia on February 22, 1732. But at the time of his birth the Julian Calendar was in effect, and the 1st day of the year was March 25th, not January 1st, so he was born February 22, 1731. 


His mother, Mary Ball Washington, lived her entire life convinced that her son was born on February 22, 1731. She did live to see her son’s inauguration as President of the United States in April 1789, but she died later that year. Mary Ball Washington was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1787, but after 2 years Dr. Benjamin Rush assessed that there was no hope whatsoever. "It is not in my power to suggest a cure for the disorder you have found in her breast," he told her family. Her daughter Betty wrote to George Washington before her death in 1789, “I am sorry to inform you my mother’s breast still continues bad. God only knows how it will end ... she is sensible of it and perfectly resigned — wishes for nothing more than to keep it easy.” 


Mary Ball Washington (1708-1789) painted from life, by Robert Edge Pine in 1786

Certain religious groups in early America apparently adopted the Gregorian Calendar before 1752, even in British controlled territory, these include Reformed, Palatine, or Lutheran Church records in German settlements in early America. For example, the Protestant Palatine Germans had adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1700, well before their migration to America.


Dutch settlers along the Hudson River in New York & northern New Jersey were already using the Gregorian Calendar, when they first came to America in the 1620s. After 1660, when the English took over the Dutch colonies, the Dutch people were allowed to stay & keep their way of life. Civil & church recorders of the Dutch towns continued the use of the Gregorian Calendar, even though the British governed their settlements & had not adopted the Gregorian Calendar yet. Since most of Holland had been using the new Calendar since 1583, it had become their standard for calendar dating long before they came to America.



The English Quakers who migrated to the Delaware Valley from about 1675 to 1725, left good indications of the Julian Calendar in their meeting records. In keeping with the Quaker’s desire to divest themselves of any practice of the Church of England, they did not like to use the names of the months (of which some were named after pagan gods by the Romans). So the Quakers standardized their own way of expressing a month, as the 1st month, 2nd month, 3rd month, & so on.

Great Britain (& her colonies) was one of the later European countries to adopt the Gregorian calendar change, which had been in place in parts of Europe for 170 years. The last 2 European countries to adopt the Gregorian Calendar were Russia in 1918 & Greece in 1923.



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