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Mayflower, Day by Day - Thursday, 15 October 1620

15 Oct 2020 3:51 AM | Soule (Administrator)

Dating and Calendars

Confusion about the dates is caused by the fact that the Pilgrims used the Julian calendar, while we use the Gregorian calendar. The principal, but not the only, difference between the two is when they have leap days.  Technically, the two calendars do “agree” for 1 March AD 200 through 28 February AD 300, but those dates really do not occur in Mayflower history.

The Julian calendar has one leap day every four years.  Thus, the average length of a Julian year is 365¼ days.  The difference with the actual length of a tropical year is small and not immediately noticeable, but it does add up over the centuries, making the Julian calendar slowly drift relative to the seasons.  The Gregorian calendar fixes the drift issue, through a more complex leap day rule, to better match the actual length of a year. The leap year rule is this: years that are multiples of four are leap years, except that years that are multiples of 100 are not, and years that are multiples of 400 are leap years.  The Julian calendar is named after Julius Caesar, who introduced it as a reform of the Roman calendar. The Gregorian calendar was instituted by the papal bull Inter gravissimas (24 February 1582) of Pope Gregory XIII, after whom the calendar is named, because he noticed Easter shifting relative to the seasons.  At that time, the accumulated error of the Julian calendar was ten leap days. To correct for this drift, it was decided to simply skip ten calendar days; Thursday 4 October 1582 on the Julian calendar was followed by Friday 15 October 1582 on the Gregorian calendar.  Parts of the Low Countries (Brabant, Zeeland, the County of Holland, and the States General of the Netherlands) adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582, while other parts of the Low Countries (Frisia, Overjissel, Utrecht) switched in 1700; Great Britain and its colonies kept using the Julian calendar till 1751.  While living in Leiden, the Pilgrims must have used the Gregorian calendar, because others around them did so, but they certainly did not approve of what was seen as papal usurpation of a civil prerogative, namely, the determination of a calendar. William Bradford's journal, Of Plimoth Plantation uses the Julian calendar throughout.

One year is 365.24219 days, so 400 years is 146,096.876 days. If you want to commemorate something 400 years after it happened, you should do so 146,097 days later. That number happens to be a multiple of seven, so you’ll actually end up on the same day of the week [!!], which is a nice bonus.  It does not matter in which calendar you add the 146,097 days; if you start with the same day in one calendar, you end up with the same day in that same calendar. Four hundred years after 5 October 1620 on the Julian calendar is 2 October 2020 on the Julian calendar (5 October 2020 minus three days: see below). Four hundred years after 15 October 1620 on the Gregorian calendar is 15 October 2020 on the Gregorian calendar. Back in 1620, the difference between the two calendars was ten days; it has since grown to thirteen days. The date 2 October 2020 [Julian calendar] and 15 October 2020 [Gregorian calendar] are the same day. But Thursday, 15 October 2020 is exactly 400 years since Thursday, 15 October1620.

To make this slightly more confusing, the first date of the new year was 25 March each year, since this was the anniversary of the Incarnation of Christ.  Thus, although we start the new year on 1 January, for the Pilgrims, the new year did not begin for almost three months.  William Mullins died on 3 March 1621 (Gregorian calendar), but 21 February 1620 in the Julian calendar.  The Calendar (New Style) Act 1750 (24 Geo II c.23; also known as Chesterfield's Act after Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield), an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain, had two parts: first, it reformed the calendar of England and the British Dominions so that the new legal year began on 1 January, rather than 25 March (Lady Day); and, second, Great Britain and its Dominions adopted (in effect) the Gregorian calendar, as already used in most of western Europe.

Comments

  • 15 Oct 2020 3:54 AM | Soule (Administrator)
    The opening line of the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750 must be close to a record for the longest sentence in an English official document, at 716 words: “In and 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 twenty-fifth day of March, shall not be made use of from and after the last day of December one thousand seven hundred and fifty-one; 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 of the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and fifty-two; and the first day of January which shall happen next after the said first day of January one thousand seven hundred and fifty-two shall be reckoned, taken, deemed, and accounted to be the first day of the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and fifty-three; 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 twenty-fifth 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 one thousand seven hundred and fifty-two the several days of each month shall go on, and be reckoned and numbered in the same order, and the feast of Easter and other moveable feasts thereon depending shall be ascertained according to the same method, as they now are, until the second day of September in the said year one thousand seven hundred and fifty-two inclusive; and that the natural day next immediately following the said second day of September shall be called, reckoned, and accounted to be the fourteenth day of September, omitting for that time only the eleven intermediate nominal days of the common calendar; and that the several natural days which shall follow and succeed next after the said fourteenth day of September shall be respectively called, reckoned, and numbered forwards in numerical order from the said fourteenth day of September, according to the order and succession of days now used in the present calendar; and that all acts, deeds, writings, notes, and other instruments, of what nature or kind soever, whether ecclesiastical or civil, publick or private, which shall be made, executed, or signed upon or after the said first day of January one thousand seven hundred and fifty-two, shall bear date according to the said new method of supputation; and that the two fixed terms of Saint Hilary and Saint Michael, in England, and the courts of great sessions in the counties palatine and in Wales, and also the courts of general quarter sessions and general sessions of the peace, and all other courts, of what nature or kind soever, whether civil, criminal, or ecclesiastical, and all meetings and assemblies of any bodies politick or corporate, either for the election of any officers or members thereof, or for any such officers entering upon the execution of their respective offices, or for any other purpose whatsoever, which by any law, statute, charter, custom, or usage within this kingdom, or within any other the dominions or countries subject or belonging to the crown of Great Britain, are to be holden and kept on any fixed or certain day of any month, or on any day depending upon the beginning or any certain day of any month (except such courts as are usually holden or kept with any fairs or marts), shall from time to time, from and after the said second day of September, be holden and kept upon or according to the same respective nominal days and times whereon or according to which the same are now to be holden, but which shall be computed according to the said new method of numbering and reckoning the days of the calendar as aforesaid, that is to say, eleven days sooner than the respective days whereon the same are now holden and kept, any law, statute, charter, custom, or usage to the contrary thereof in anywise notwithstanding.”
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