George Washington's True Birthday

Nearly everyone believes they know when George Washington's Birthday was. I can virtually guarantee that essentially 100% of them are wrong, even about what year he was born in!
Quiz: What is the correct answer? If they had Official Birth Certificates then, what date was written on it? I will even allow you to cheat on this question, as sll textbooks and encyclopedias are wrong as well! If the calendar on your wall identifies Washington's Birthday, IT is certainly wrong, too! So are all calendars! I am sure you would find immense difficulty in finding snyone who knows the right answer!

OK. You think that Washington was born on February 22, 1732.

I will now tell you the correct calendar date on the wall of Washington's family house on the day he was born:

February 11, 1731.

How could this be?

Well, in ancient times, the Roman Empire had created a Calendar called the AUC (Ab Urbe Condita) calendar. It was not a very accurate calendar, which forced the Emperor Julius Caesar to make the year which we now call 46 BC to have been 445 days long, the longest year ever! That massive adjustment got the Spring Equinox to again be in the Spring, where it has slowly gotten wrong by nearly three months!

This AUC Calendar was then modified to partially correct its problems into the Julian Calendar (in honor of Julius Caesar). This was done mostly by introducing Leap Years every four years.

It still had some major problems and about every hundred years, it still lost track of the actual seasons (which are established by the apparent motion of the Sun in the sky) and by the time of Saint Gregory XIII in 1582 AD, the Calendar had gotten wrong by ten days, where Religious Days and Seasons had now become inconveniently wrong. So Gregory made new corrections and he also officially skipped ten days! He declared that the day after October 4, 1582 was to be October 15, 1582! You will see that nothing important occurred on October 9, 1582, because that date never even existed! (Except that some countries did not accept the new Gregorian Calendar, so some things did occur on that date as identified in the Old Julian Calendar!)

There was another quirk of the Julian Calendar, where each New Year was celebrated near the First Day of Spring, that is, March 21. This is the day when the exact location of the Sun in the sky was easiest to measure, which we call the Spring Equinox. In Great Britain and its Colonies, they slightly changed this for their official years to begin on March 25.

England did not accept the Gregorian Calendar until late in 1752, almost 200 years later. And so when England changed over to Gregorian Calendar, so did its colonies and possessions, including what we now call the United States. And as of 1753, every year in America began on January 1.

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The actual history regarding George Washington is sort of weird!

George Washington was born near the very end of the year 1731 (O.S. or Old Style), in the last full month of the year, February, and on the 11th day of that month. Any Calendar of the time would have shown that. Including any calendar hanging on the wall of the Washington house!

Therefore, George Washington became 20 years old (near the very end of the year 1751), on February 11, 1751 (O.S.). He must have celebrated his 20st birthday on that day. The year 1752 (O.S.) then began on March 25, about a month later. Later in that year, when the New Style calendar came into effect, as of September 2, the year was then only a little over five months long.

Late in 1752, the British Government announced that the British Empire would convert to the new Gregorian Calendar (and September 2 was immediately followed by September 14, 1752, legally deleting 11 days).

This now ended the year 1752 on December 31, making it the shortest year ever, 271 days long! By the way, the Julian Calendar had still continued to be wrong, and there was another day that needed to be corrected by 1752, so there was an adjustment of 11 days and not just the 10 days which had been done in 1582.

George Washington did not have any birthday during the year 1752! Actually, Since the year 1752 officially began on March 25 (O.S.) and then ended on December 31, 1752 (N.S.), the legal year 1752 never even had any months of January or February. The previous months had been considered to be the very end of the previous year 1751 in the Old Style calendar (which applied at that time) and by the time January and February came around again, the New Style calendar considered them to be part of the start of 1753 and not the end of 1752!

George had been alive from 1731 to 1751 (O.S.) for his 20th birthday (in 1751). He had been alive from 1732 to 1753 (N.S.) for his 21st birthday (in 1753). no birthday during 1752!

But now, the Colonies were using the NEW Gregorian Calendar. So Washington's new official birth date had become February 22, 1732 (N.S.). So now that Washington was approaching February 22, 1753 (N.S.), he certainly celebrated his 21st birthday!

It is a bizarre quirk of bureaucratic history that anyone could have not celebrated his birthday during a calendar year, but it seems especially weird that so important a person as George Washington did it!

I don't know whether it is only a Theoretical Physicist who might be so careful regarding accuracy of precise details to notice or care, but I have never in my life encountered anyone else who was aware of the facts described above!

I suppose that it is solid evidence that Theoretical Physicists are somewhat nerdy!

By the way, along the same lines, you certainly know that a guy named Paul Revere became famous for a 'midnight ride' to alert the Colonists in late 1775. That is not actually true! There were three riders involved in that effort, and Paul Revere happened to get stopped and arrested by British soldiers that night! One of the other two (William Dawes) got thrown off his horse and did not complete the chore, but a man whom you have never even heard of (Samuel Prescott) actually completed the 'Midnight Ride'! Paul Revere must have had a great Press Agent to have become a 'famous patriot' for something that he did not even complete! Actually Longfellow wrote a poem about the Midnight Ride that was extremely inaccurate, which did it! I can see how the guy who was thrown from his horse might never have been displayed on a horse in our Parks today, but what about the guy (Prescott) who actually accomplished the deed that we admire so greatly?

This presentation was first placed on the Internet in January 2014.

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago