November 2, 2009

Happy Birthday, Daniel Boone! The intrepid trailblazer and pioneer Daniel Boone was born on Oct. 22, 1734. So...why are we celebrating his birthday on Nov. 2? During Boone's lifetime, Britain and its colonies switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. This is because the Julian calendar year had gotten out of sync with the seasons. The Gregorian calendar had leap years in order to solve the problem and keep the human-calendar year in line with the Earth-orbiting-the-sun year. The American colonies and other British lands were quite late to make the change to the better calendar! The Gregorian calendar was first suggested by a man named Lilius in the 1560s, and it was adopted by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. Four Catholic countries made the switch then, 152 years before America. This century and a half must have been an odd time for record-keepers, because:
  • Pope Gregory mandated that the last day of the Julian calendar be Thursday, October 4, 1582, and that the next day, on the new calendar, be Friday, October 15, 1582. The elimination of ten days was to bring the new calendar back in line with the seasons. Spain, most of Italy, and two other Catholic countries made the switch then, as decreed, but...
  • Most Catholic countries did not make the switchover that soon. France, for example, converted to the new calendar in December of 1582. That means that France had October 10 that year, but next-door neighbor Spain did not! Other Catholic countries and Spanish and Portuguese colonies changed on various other dates as they heard about or decided to implement the reform.
  • Several Protestant countries, such as Denmark and Germany, waited until 1700 to adopt parts of the Gregorian reform but only later converted fully to the same calendar as Catholic Europe.
  • Sweden, like most of Scandinavia, began to adopt the Gregorian calendar in 1700. However, the Swedish government decided to only gradually make the 11-day “jump.” (Note that, because Scandinavia was converting more than a century after the Italy and Spain converted, those countries had to eliminate 11, not 10, days!). The upshot was, Sweden's calendar was out of sync from EVERYBODY else's for forty years! Sweden is alone in the world in having a February 30th—for one year only, 1712! Still, even Sweden finally adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1753.
  • The British Empire finally converted to the new calendar in 1752. Alaska converted in 1867, Russia in 1918, and Greece finally-finally-finally in 1923.
  • Japan converted in 1873, Korea in 1896, and China in 1929.
Nowadays, the world is so small and so interconnected, it's hard to imagine different countries having different calendars.
Try to imagine...or find out...or write about:
How have historians handled the problem that a particular day had different dates in different countries?
Imagine being born on February 30, 1912—then never to have that date repeat again, the rest of one's life! (What, no birthdays?!)
What if you were Daniel Boone, and you had an October birthday that then got switched, willy-nilly, into November?
By the way, Boone used October 22 as his birthday all his life.




Speaking of which: Daniel Boone's Life


Daniel Boone was part of a large Quaker family (he was #6 of 11 kids) living in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. He grew up to be a good hunter and an adventurous sort, and he would go on long hunts alone or with small groups of men. He had little formal education, but he loved to read and would sometimes read aloud to others around the campfire. (Gulliver's Travels was one of his favorite books.) He would collect hundreds of buckskins all through the fall, then trap beaver and otters in the winter. By spring, he would bring it all to commercial fur traders for cash or goods. Boone took a turn being a soldier and a businessman, a politician and a surveyor, a merchant and a husband and father of ten. He is most remembered, however, as an explorer and trailblazer in Kentucky. He became a folk hero—a legend—even in his own life. The most famous of his adventures was when he and other men followed a group of Shawnee Indians who had captured several pioneer girls (including one of Boone's daughters); Boone and the others ambushed and drove off the Indians, rescuing the girls and inspiring an episode in James Fenimore Cooper's fiction book The Last of the Mohicans. Boone has been the subject of comic strips, books, radio shows, movies, and a popular television show that ran for six years. Of course, all of these stories are a mix of truth and fiction, with plenty of exaggeration and tall tales lying around alongside the history.
Things to do:

Some other American folk heroes are Johnny Appleseed, Betsy Ross, Davy Crockett, and Paul Bunyan. Which of these was NOT a real person? (ALL of them are the subject of exaggerated or fictionalized stories!)

Play trailblazer or explorer in your neck of the woods. Even modern-day activities like geocaching or nature-scavenger hunts relate to Boone's adventurous spirit.
Learn about pioneer games and toys from http://www.saskschools.ca/~gregory/fun.html ...

There are some computer coloring pages available at http://www.apples4theteacher.com/socialstudies/american-history/daniel-boone/ ...
(Note that Daniel Boone is widely associated with a coonskin cap because of Fess Parker's portrayal of Boone in the 1964-1970 TV show. But Boone didn't wear a coonskin cap!)

Eat Daniel Boone Tavern spoon bread; recipe available at http://www.yumyum.com/recipe.htm?ID=10657 … (Almost assuredly nothing to do with Boone himself!)

How about a Daniel Boone word-search puzzle? There's one at http://www.surfnetkids.com/games/daniel_boone-ws.htm ...

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