Early Time Travel? Why Britain Lost 11 Days in 1752

For one year, more than two centuries ago, September 3-13 didn't exist in the British Empire. Overnight, citizens were transported from Wednesday, September 2, 1752 to Thursday, September 14.

The loss of 11 days was intentional. Britain implemented the Gregorian calendar in place of the pre-existing Julian calendar, the main timeline used worldwide after Julius Caesar introduced it in 45 BCE. And in order to properly transition, the empire needed to move ahead in the month.

The Julian calendar was designed around the assumption that each year is 365 days and six hours long. The result: every four years an extra day was added to February—much like the leap years we know now. However, this format resulted in an lag of approximately 18 hours each century. As time passed, the Julian calendar became increasingly inaccurate, and the Catholic Church was particularly uneasy with Easter gradually moving farther and farther away from the spring equinox.

The Gregorian calendar attempts to correct this lapse and more closely align the calendar year with the solar year, the length of time it takes the Earth to complete one orbit around the sun. In order to do this, the qualifications for a leap year became more complicated. The calendar system demanded that there can only be an extra day in years that are divisible by four. If the year could also be evenly divided by 100, it was not a leap year unless it could also be evenly divided by 400. For instance, 1900 would have previously been a leap year, but it no longer was since it didn’t meet the updated guidelines. Another notable change is that the New Year, which previously began on March 25 in Britain, moved to January 1.

Some accounts claim the changes didn't go over smoothly. Citizens reportedly took to the streets, rioting and demanding, “Give us our 11 days.” This legend is reinforced by interpretations of William Hogarth’s 1755 painting titled "An Election Entertainment” that depicts Whig candidates at a tavern dinner and a stolen banner that reads "Give us our Eleven Days.” However, Historic U.K. reports that historians now believe stories of the riots are exaggerated and the protests are simply an urban myth.

It is also believed that many Protestant countries pushed back on adopting the Gregorian calendar because it was strongly supported by the Catholic Church. The Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582 and Catholic countries like Spain, Italy, and Portugal put into place that same year. However, Protestant Germany held out until 1700 and England, of course, waited until 1752.

Whether or not the English citizens were unhappy with the loss of 11 days, one resident of the 13 Colonies, which was part of the British Empire at the time, reportedly didn’t mind. Benjamin Franklin praised the switch, writing, “It is pleasant for an old man to be able to go to bed on September 2, and not have to get up until September 14."

Why Was February Chosen for Black History Month?

Every February since 1976, the United States has celebrated the achievements of African-Americans during Black History Month. The month-long celebration puts those accomplishments and milestones in focus via the media and in classrooms.

But why February? Was that part of the calendar chosen for any specific purpose?

It was. Black History Month began as “Negro History Week,” a label applied by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926. Woodson was bothered by the fact that many textbooks and other historical reviews minimized or ignored the contributions of black figures. Along with his Association for the Study of Negro Life and History—later the Association for the Study of African American Life and History—Woodson earmarked the second week in February to raise awareness of these stories.

Woodson chose that week specifically because it covered the birthdays of Frederick Douglass (February 14) and Abraham Lincoln (February 12). The ensuing publicity led many mayors and college campuses to recognize the week; through the years, the groundswell of support allowed the occasion to stretch throughout the entire month.

In 1976, President Gerald Ford made Black History Month official, saying that he was urging everyone to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

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Philibert Louis Debucourt, Detail from "Calendrier républicain" // Public Domain
211 Years Ago Today, the French Abandoned Their Decimal Calendar
Philibert Louis Debucourt, Detail from "Calendrier républicain" // Public Domain
Philibert Louis Debucourt, Detail from "Calendrier républicain" // Public Domain

In 1793, the French switched to French Revolutionary Time, creating a decimal system of time. A day had 10 hours, 100 minutes per hour, and 100 seconds per minute. The system was elegant, doing away with the complex math required for time calculations under a 24 hour/60 minute/60 second system. But it also brought huge headaches.

French Revolutionary Time came alongside the French Republican Calendar, a further attempt to rationalize time. Months were divided into three 10-day weeks, and there were 12 months. The leftover days needed to add up to 365 or 366 for the year were tacked onto the end of the year as holidays. This was a bit inelegant (days and years being hard to divide cleanly by 10), but at least it was less confusing than trying to sort out what time "noon" was (it was 5 o'clock).

French Revolutionary Time only lasted 17 months. By April 7, 1795 (in the Gregorian calendar), the time system became optional. Decimal clocks and decimal/standard hybrid clocks continued to be used for years, but for practicality, France returned to the same system of time as its neighbors.

The French Republican Calendar lasted far longer. It began in late 1793 and ran all the way through the end of 1805 (again in the Gregorian reckoning). On December 31, 1805, the French government chucked the system—in the year XIV, by Republican reckoning. This was due, of course, to the reign of Napoléon Bonaparte as Emperor. (Incidentally, his coronation occurred on 11 Frimaire, Year XIII of the French Republican Calendar—also known as 2 December, 1804. It took him more than a year to roll back the revolutionary calendar.) In any case, January 1, 1806 rolled around using the Gregorian calendar and the rest is history.

Of course, all this calendar-nerd stuff leads to the fact that you could still choose to use the French Republican Calendar. Indeed, Wikipedia will tell you the current day and year using the system, although you'll want to read up on the exquisite problems related to leap years (also helpfully detailed on Wikipedia).

For a bit more on decimal time (including several modern variants), check out our article Decimal Time: How the French Made a 10-Hour Day.


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