The Clue In The Letter


February 22, 1732
George Washington Was Born

Americans celebrate George Washington’s birthday on the Monday before his actual day of birth. Since Washington was born 20 years before the introduction of the calendar we use today it can be difficult to figure out the exact day of his birth. Fortunately, someone left a clue in a letter.

A clue to George Washington’s birth date is found in this 1790 letter by Tobias Lear, Washington’s secretary and close friend. Lear wrote that the president’s “birth day” was on the 11th February Old Style. By “Old Style,” Lear meant the Julian Calendar, the calendar in use when Washington was born. When the Julian Calendar was “corrected” to the Gregorian Calendar in 1752, Washington’s birth date and year moved from February 11, 1731, to February 22, 1732.

Letters such as Lear’s were an important form of communication in 18th century America. They were so important that people sometimes kept letter books, large bound volumes used to hold copies of the letters they both received and wrote. What clues and information about the 21st century might people find in your letters or e-mails?