January 1: March 25th Is No Longer New Year’s Day

Today in 1752, Connecticans woke up to the realization that January first was, and henceforward always would be, New Year’s Day.  The year before, and for 597 years before that,  both in Old and New England,  New Year’s Day had  fallen on March 25th.

Facing a year that began in mid-winter wasn’t the only calendar innovation Connecticans would experience in 1752. When September rolled around, 11 days  would simply vanish from that month. September second was to be be followed by September 14th, and the missing 11 days would never be recovered.

Why were 1751 (which only lasted from March 25th to December 31st) and 1752 (with its missing 11 days in September) the shortest years in Connecticut history?

The answer lies in the English Parliamentary statute called the “British Calendar Act of 1751 for the Year 1752. ” It reported that “the Calendar now in Use throughout all his Majesty’s British Dominions, commonly called the Julian calendar, hath been discovered to be erroneous.” Importantly, it had also determined it was time to correct the problem, and that Britain would use the years 1751 and 1752 to do so.

For centuries, the British people had followed the Julian calendar system, initiated by the Roman ruler Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. Unfortunately,  the Julian calendar year differed from the actual astronomical year  by eleven minutes. This produced a cumulative error of 1 day every 128 years. Over the centuries, that error factor had steadily increased  until, by the mid-1500s the spring solstice and the calendar spring  had become seriously misaligned.

In 1588, Pope Gregory XIII  proposed a modification to the Julian calendar that would better align it with astronomical reality. While Europe’s Catholic countries readily went along with the new Gregorian calendar, Protestant nations resisted. Scotland adopted January 1 as the start of the year in 1600, but otherwise kept to the Julian system of dating. The rest of the British empire clung tenaciously to the Julian calendar without amendment.

For the century and a half after the Gregorian calendar was introduced,  European nations struggled to  get along with two calendar systems that  gave each passing day two different dates, depending on whether one used the Old (Julian) or New (Gregorian) style of dating.  Many correspondents sought to clarify the form they were using when writing letters by adding the initials O.S. (Old Style) or N.S. (New Style) after they wrote the day’s date, signifying which convention they were employing.

1752  would – despite its unsettling beginning and disruptive September– end the calender confusion permanently. To help distribute news of the impending change widely and assure a smooth transition was not disrupted by disagreements  over how to handle rents, contracts, etc., Connecticut’s general assembly paid New Haven printer Timothy Green 94 pounds to reprint the Calendar Act of 1751 — which addressed these issues — and to distribute numerous copies to the sheriffs of every Connecticut county well before the abbreviated month of September arrived.

After 1752, March 25 would never again be New Year’s Day, and  September three though 13 would return to the calendar forever.  Connecticut’s Old Style of dating things was replaced by the “True New Style” we still use, Today in Connecticut History.

Further Reading

The 1752 Calendar Change,” Connecticut State Library

In Colonial New England, the New Year Started on March 25th,New England Historical Society 

Bill Dollarhide, “The 1752 Calendar Change in British North America,” genealogy blog.com 

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