George Washingtons Birthday
George Washington, the eldest child of Augustine and Mary Ball Washington, was born at Popes Creek Plantation in February 1732. (George Washingtons Birthday)
Along with three full brothers and two full sisters, he also had two half-brothers and a half-sister. The family maintained its wealth by cultivating tobacco and having a stake in an iron manufacturing company.
It is generally accepted that Mary, George’s mother, called her first son George after her guardian, a prominent local lawyer and statesman by the name of George Eskridge. Mary had been orphaned as a young kid.
After the passing of his father, George Washington returned to Popes Creek, where he had spent the first three years of his life, to see his older half-brother, Augustine, Junior. At the age of 14, George conducted his first survey here at Popes Creek.
11, or 22, of February 1732?
What day is the birthday of George Washington?
When asked when he was born, little George Washington would say February 11, 1731, if you could travel back in time and ask him. Almost three centuries later, on February 22, 1732, we commemorate his birthday. Why was the date changed?
The Julian calendar, which had different dates than the more widely used Gregorian calendar, was in use when George Washington was born in Great Britain and its colonies. Great Britain decided to transition to the Gregorian calendar in 1751, which resulted in some degree of misunderstanding. Two significant adjustments had to be made for the British to be in sync with the rest of Europe:
Every year on March 25, which was the Feast of the Incarnation of Christ, the Julian calendar began. The first of January would now be New Year’s Day under the Gregorian Calendar.
The second modification called for eleven days to be dropped from the middle of September in 1752.
Take a close look at the Poor Richard’s Almanac illustration up top. It is the September 1752 page. You’ll notice that it says, “SEPTEMBER has XIX Days” (or September has 19 days.) The calendar skips from September 2 to September 14, as may be seen by taking a closer look.
The dates of September 3–13 were erased, thus everyone went to bed on September 2, 1752, and woke up on September 14, 1752. Most birthdates were shifted by eleven days as a result of this one-time calendar alteration.
Washington’s birthday was changed from February 11 (Old Style) to February 22. (New Style).
Washington’s Birthday or “Presidents’ Day”
Many people choose to recognize and celebrate Washington’s birthday when he was still alive because of his contribution to his country and the respect he enjoys from his fellow citizens. Others choose to celebrate on the 22nd, while some continued to celebrate on the 11th.
Up until President Richard Nixon announced Presidents’ Day, which is celebrated on the third Monday in February to honor all former presidents, on February 22, February 22 was honored as a federal public holiday.
Presidents’ Day was never the official name of the holiday because of the legal maneuver that President Nixon used, and it is still correctly referred to as George Washington’s Birthday on all official Federal Government papers and calendars.
Ironically, the third Monday in February can never fall on the 22nd.
The first national holiday is established as Washington’s birthday
The first official commemoration of Washington’s birthday was held at Valley Forge in 1778, amid the American Revolution. General Washington was serenaded at his quarters by a group of fifers and drummers.
In honor of Washington, the French held a parade in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1781. To avoid having it on a Sunday, the French chose to commemorate it on February 23rd, a Monday. Washington stated in a letter to Count Rochambeau, “I dare not even try to convey my thanks for the flattering distinction given to the celebration of my birthday. I trust your senses to understand how I feel about this and the kind way you are happy to announce it.”
Ball celebrating George Washington’s birth
The Birthnight Ball tradition began in Britain as a way to remember and honor the king’s birthday. The Declaration of Independence inspired Americans to carry on this custom. Americans looked to George Washington as the next closest authority when there was no monarchy.
Williamsburg hosted the first known Washington Birthnight Ball in 1779.
On February 11, 1780, a ball was held in Alexandria in celebration of George Washington’s birthday, according to the press.
The Times and Alexandria Advertiser published an article on February 7, 1787, inviting all “Ladies of Alexandria and its surrounding” to Gadsby’s Tavern and letting gentlemen know where to get tickets for Washington’s Birthnight Ball, which would take place in three days.
Just ten months before George Washington passed away, in February 1799, the final Birthnight Ball was conducted. How many Birthnight Balls he went to is unknown.
The legacy of Washington’s birthday
Daniel Webster, a famous orator, said, “A hundred years hence, other disciples of Washington would celebrate his birth, with no less of real admiration than we now commemorate it,” in 1832, marking the 100th anniversary of Washington’s birth.
Massachusetts declared February 22 to be a state holiday in 1857.
George Washington’s Birthday became a federal holiday for the first time in 1880.
The George Washington Bicentennial Commission was established in 1932 to organize about five million events throughout 81 nations. One such occasion was the National Park Service receiving the deed to Washington’s Birthplace.
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