The Universe of Discourse

Thu, 19 Jan 2006

Franklin is probably 300 years old after all
In a recent post, I surmised that Benjamin Franklin is only 299 years old this year, not 300, because of rejiggering of the start of the calendar year in England and its colonies in 1751/1752.

However, Corprew Reed writes to suggest that I am mistaken. Reed points out that although the legal start of the year prior to 1752 was 25 March, the common usage was to cite 1 January as the start of the year. The the British Calendar Act of 1751 even says as much:

WHEREAS the legal Supputation of the Year . . . according to which the Year beginneth on the 25th Day of March, hath been found by Experience to be attended with divers Inconveniencies, . . . as it differs . . . from the common Usage throughout the whole Kingdom. . .

So Reed suggests that when Franklin (and others) report his birthdate as being 6 January 1706, they are referring to "common usage", the winter of the official, legal year 1705, and thus that Franklin really was born exactly 300 years ago as of Tuesday.

If so, this would be a great relief to me. It was really bothering me that everyone might be celebrating Franklin's 300th birthday a year early without realizing it.

I'm going to try to see who here at Penn I can bother about it to find out for sure one way or the other. Thanks for the suggestion, Corprew!

[ Addendum: Yes. ]

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