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George Washington's Birth Date
I asked my students to bring in a piece of evidence that showed when Washington was born, and to cite its source using a format sheet I provided. Here is the evidence I found. Each source is cited using the format I asked for.
Title: The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 1998
Publisher: World Almanac Books
Publication date: 1997
Title: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition
Publisher: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated
Publication date: 1993
Title: Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2000
Publisher: Microsoft Corporation
Publication date: 1999
Topic found: Washington, George (after which I selected "Early life")
(note: the above page was not included when the site was redesigned, but it can still be seen at http://web.archive.org/web/20000407101955/http://www.mountvernon.org/education/biography/born.html)
Viewing date: January 8, 2000
search engine URL: http://www.google.com
search criterion specified: George Washington birthdate (birth date – birthday)
total number of hits returned: 2,730 (103,000 – 32,200)
search date: January 8, 2000
Viewing date: January 8, 2000
This is the Electric Library’s online version of The Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Third Edition. To find the information quoted above, I clicked on the W volume on the home page, then selected Washington, George on the W page.
To understand why one can say that Washington was born on both February 11, 1731 and February 22, 1732, you need to know the difference between the Julian calendar (used by Britain and its colonies through September 2, 1752) and the Gregorian calendar (the one we use today). The definitions below are from the Microsoft Bookshelf Computer and Internet Dictionary1.
Julian calendar (j¡`lê-en kal’en-der) noun
The calendar introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. to replace the lunar calendar. The Julian calendar provided for a year of 365 days with a leap year every 4 years, or an average year length of 365.25 days. Because the solar year is slightly shorter, the Julian calendar gradually moved out of phase with the seasons and was superseded by the Gregorian calendar introduced by Pope Gregory XIII.
Gregorian calendar (gre-gor`ê-en kal’en-der) noun
The calendar used today in the Western world, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 to replace the Julian calendar. To approximate better the length of the astronomical year (365.2422 days), years divisible by 100 are leap years only if they are also divisible by 400 (thus, 2000 will be a leap year, but 1900 was not). To correct the error accumulated since A.D. 1, 10 days were dropped from October 1582; however, Britain and the American colonies did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752 and had to remove 11 days then.
An additional part of the Gregorian calendar reform was to move New Year’s Day from March 25 to January 1. Thus, since Washington was born in February, his birth year was 1731 under the old system, but 1732 under the new one.
Imagine how strange it must have been for George Washington (and all other British subjects) to wake up on the morning of September 14, 1752, after going to sleep the night before when it was the evening of September 2, 1752.
As I type this, I am working on a book, Building History Labs: U.S. History Lessons That Teach Critical Thinking and Other Citizenship Skills. One principle that underlies these labs is Truth is not Binary. To help illustrate this principle, I examine the question of Washington's birth date. Here is the link to a PDF of that examination as I've currently written it.
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original web posting: Tuesday, February 22, 2000
last modified: Sunday, June 30, 2013