The Curwen Family Papers represents one of the earliest collections in the manuscript department. This collection, which includes material from 1637 through 1808, provides an insightful look into pre-revolutionary America. Samuel Curwen, the main player in this collection, was a Harvard graduate, class of 1735, a trader in Salem, Massachusetts, and a Tory. When his stance on the war became public, Curwen had to flee the colonies for England for the duration of the war. This collection highlights religious and political developments in colonial New England, and includes letters written by the Mather family, Jonathan Edwards, and William Bradford to name a few.
Within the Curwen Papers are letters with dates such as March 4th, 169 1/2, and February 15th, 174 3/4. Take a look at some examples below.
These letters showcase the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, which happened officially in the colonies in 1752, as decreed by Great Britain with the Calendar (New Style) Act of 1750. Before this act, according to the Old Style calendar, the year officially began on March 25th. Only after the switch to the Gregorian calendar in 1752 did the year begin on January 1st. So during January, February and March, many people were probably very confused as to how to date their letters, especially when considering to whom and where they were writing, as countries were switching calendars at different times (Italy, France, Spain and Portugal adopted the New Style in 1582, and Greece was last to the party in Europe, adopting the New Style in 1923.)
It’s interesting to see how early these dates appear, and makes me wonder how the news of the switch was spreading, and how it was being received. There is a historically unproven, but still telling, myth that Londoners rioted during the passage of the act in 1750 because they wanted their 11 days back that they lost during the change over.
If you’d like to see how the colonists were told of the change, almanacs are one way to go. An Almanack of almanacks, collected from Poor Job, and others. For the year of our Lord 1752. … : With a small allowance fitted for the province of Massachusetts-Bay, New-Hampshire, Rhode-Island, and Connecticut. : With an abstract of the act of the Parliament of Great-Britain, for regulating the commencement of the year, and for correcting the calender [sic] now in use featured a three page explanation of the switch, which you can read here.
And stay tuned next week for more history behind, and reaction to, the switch.