When Time Came To New Jersey

New Sweden was established in the Delaware River valley, in what is now southern New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania and the Twelve Mile Circle of Delaware, by exactly the nation you’d imagine, in 1638. It carried itself along for just under two decades. In 1655 the colony was conquered by, and absorbed into, the Dutch colony of the New Netherlands. But this expanded New Netherlands, with outposts along what they termed the North River (the Hudson) and the South River (the Delaware), would stay in Dutch control for barely a dozen years. In 1667 the whole colony was conquered by the English, New Amsterdam famously surrendering without firing a shot. History moves on: in 1673 the colony would be reconquered by the Dutch, New York less-famously surrendering without firing a shot. But they would be returned to England a year later, in the peace treaty which concluded the Third Anglo-Dutch War. The settlement would be exchanged for various East Indies spice islands, including Run, the legendary fount of nutmeg.

The many states of Europe adopted Pope Gregory’s reformed calendar — our modern calendar — at different times, mostly based on the religious politics of the state. Sweden held fast to the Julian calendar until 1700, when it made an attempt to switch over which went so wrong they had to create a February 30th to clean up the mess. (They would finally adopt the Gregorian Calendar successfully in 1753.) The states of the Netherlands switched to the Gregorian calendar or stuck, ten days behind, with the Julian calendar, depending on the religious preferences of the state. The colony of the New Netherlands was settled by the West Indies Company. The company was organized in the Catholic state of Holland, and so would be on the Gregorian calendar. England stuck it out on the Julian calendar through 1752 while telling itself it was so Protestant that the other Protestant nations couldn’t even see its Protestant-ness from where they were.

Presumably at least some part of the conquest of territories by new powers is to adjust the calendar for the residents. The courts, the tax assessors, all the business of government will naturally cling to the time which the regent keeps. North America may be far from Europe, and farther in the 17th century, but it would be intolerable to have European outposts not even agree what day the 21st of April is.

Therefore a resident of New Sweden should have seen her calendar switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar sometime after the Dutch conquest in 1655, losing ten days but getting a spring that actually starts in mid-March. And then she would have to see ten days stuffed back into the calendar somehow in 1667, with the English conquest. Possibly the Dutch would take the ten days back out again in 1673, if they didn’t have bigger problems to tend to what with being at war with both the English and the Anglos. If they did, then the resident had to stuff ten days back into her calendar as it switched back again a year later.

This surely annoyed and baffled the locals. It was confusing and frustrating enough in Europe where the calendar standards were fairly well-established and known for the whole 17th century. On what they regarded as the frontier these standards must have been even more whimsical and arbitrary. And yet I’ve never heard of any incidents involving the alternating calendars. I don’t even know when New Sweden’s calendars were changed, or New Netherland’s, or whether it changed for the Dutch interregnum. I know about the annoyances of 1752, since that’s renowned in calendar studies. It’s like hearing about the Beatles; if you haven’t, you just don’t know the subject at all. Of course, 1752 I know from the British perspective and people talking about William Hogarth paintings and whatnot. It’s just assumed that the North American colonies went along, things unfolding about the way they did in London. Or at least Sheffield.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on the history of New Jersey or the surrounding states. I doubt I own more than ten histories of New Jersey, and fewer than half of them are academic texts. But I don’t remember it ever getting a single line of mention ever. The dates must have changed, but when, and how was it done? And what did the people living with the change think of it all? How much of a hassle was it, and what were people saying about the trouble, especially when it kept coming up over and over again? They must have told at least some jokes about the absurdity of this all; what were they?

So with this to ponder, I think you’ll agree I was right not to do a lick of work today, and I appreciate your understanding, boss. I can’t make promises for tomorrow either. But if you do have any contacts with the New Jersey Historical Society we just might be able to come to some arrangement. Isn’t that everything you could ask for?


Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

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