Wednesday, March 1, 2017

When Was George Washington Born? A Lesson on Double Dating

Last week we remembered George Washington's birthday on February 22nd (which also happens to be my birthday). But was George Washington born on February 22nd? Extreme Genes, one of my favorite genealogy podcasts, discussed the uncertainty of Washington's birthday in this week's show.

Portrait of George Washington
Painted by Gilbert Stuart

After listening to the conversation, I decided to dig a little deeper and found his family Bible where he is listed as being born on the "11th Day of February 1731/2." [See "Washington Family Bible Page" at the Digital Collections site from The Washington Library.] If he was born on February 11th, why do we celebrate his birthday on February 22nd? And why is his birth recorded as 1731/2?

Actually, both the strange way of waiting Washington's birth year and his two birth days, February 11th and 22nd, have to do with the switch from the old Gregorian calendar to the new Julian calendar. Though this switch happened at different times around the world, in the colonies the switch happened in 1752 when Washington was a young man. Since different parts of the world made the switch at different times, in the colonies during the approximately 100 years before 1752, dates between January 1st and March 24th were given "double dates" like Washington's birth year of 1731/2. This is because the old calendar didn't start a new year until March 25th, while the new calendar started the new year on January 1st. So the two dates were indicating the years using both the old calendar, 1731, and new calendar, 1732.


As far as the day of his birth, Washington's family Bible shows he was born on the 11th of February. However, when we officially switched to the new calendar in 1752, our calendar "skipped" from September 2nd to September 14th. On February 11th, 1753, which should have been Washington's 21st birthday, he was actually 11 days short of being 21 years old. So, his birthday celebration was generally switched to February 22nd, though some celebrations still occurred on the 11th.

Land Warrant Application, David Beiler & Michael Cline, record number 463, 15 February 1748/9; digital images, "Pennsylvania, Land Warrants & Applications, 1733-1952," Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com : accessed 13 February 2017).

I recently came across an example of double dating in my own research on a Land Warrant application of my ancestor, Michael Kline/Cline, and his neighbor, David Beiler. The document was dated February 15th of 1748/9. When I first saw the date, I didn't understand what it meant, which led me to researching double dating. Along with the research I did for Washington's birth date, I now feel I understand double dating fairly well.

The following is my transcription of this document:

By the Proprietaries
Pennsylvania SS
Whereas by consent and direction of then Commissioners of Property, a Survey was mad  in the year 1729, on a certain Tract of two hundred and thirty seven Acres of Land, Situate in
Warwick Township in the County of Lancaster, which is now in the Possession of David Beiler
[symbol] and Michael Cline of the said County who have requested that we would grant them
the said Land, and agreed to pay to our use for the said Tract the full Sum of Thirty six –
Pounds fourteen Shillings & seven pence Money of Pennsylvania with lawful Interest for the
Same, and the yearly Quit Rent of one half penny Sterling for every Acre thereof, both to
commence from the 1st day of March 1732; These are therefore to authorize & require you to
accept and receive into your Office the Survey of the said Tract, and make Return thereof into our
Secretary’s Office for the use and behoof of the said David Beiler and Michael Cline in
order for further Confirmation, and in so doing this shall be your sufficient Warrant, which Survey
in case the said David Beiler and Michael Cline fulfil the above agreement within
One Month after the Date hereof shall be valid, otherwise the same is to be void. Given
under my Hand and the Seal of the Land Office by virtue of certain Powers from the
said Proprietaries at Philadelphia this Fifteenth day of February 1748/9-

To Nicholas Scull Surveyor General
James Hamilton [signature]

poor original [Stamped]

4 comments:

  1. So people who share GW's birthdate might consider celebrating on the 11th and the 22nd. LOL. Thanks for the explanation, which I didn't know!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I learned a lot about double dating AND George Washington while doing this post. I'm glad you learned something new, too!

      Delete
  2. So many beginning, and sometimes intermediate, researchers, don't understand double dating and the time period it encompasses. Using Washington's birthday makes for a great example.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! And I consider myself an early advanced researcher, yet I didn't really understand it until I did this research. It's just not something I'd run across before!

      Delete

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