The Universe of Discourse

Fri, 20 Jan 2006

Franklin is indeed 300 years old
I can now happily report that my determination that Benjamin Franklin is only 299 years old this year was mistaken. To my relief, Franklin is really 300 years old after all.

After hearing an alternative analysis from Corprew Reed, I double-checked with Daniel K. Richter, a Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, and director of the new McNeil Center for Early American Studies.

Richter confirms Reed's analysis: By the 18th century, nearly everyone was reckoning years to start on 1 January except certain official legal documents. The official change of New Year's day was only to bring the legal documents into conformance with what everyone was already doing. So when Franklin's birthdate is reported as 6 January 1706, it means 1706 according to modern reckoning (that is, January 300 years ago) and not 1706 in the "official" reckoning (which would have been only 299 years ago).

Deke Kassabian also wrote in with a helpful reference, referring me to an article that appeared Wednesday in Slate. The relevant part says:

. . . according to documents from Boston's city registrar, he actually came into the world on the old-style Jan. 6, 1705. So, this year's tricentennial is right on time.

So the matter is cleared up, and in the best possible way. Many thanks to Deke, Corprew, and Professor Richter.

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