There is no doubt about it: Quaker dating in letters and meeting minutes is confusing! When you begin researching Quaker records, you may be tempted to “correct” the dates that you find. You would not be alone in thinking this way. Let’s take a look at the reasoning behind the Quaker calendar and dating practices and how to interpret them.
Early Friends objected to the names of the days and months in the English language because they were of a non-Christian origin. Sunday was called as such by the Saxons because it was the day they sacrificed to the sun. Monday was the day they sacrificed to the moon; Thursday was the day they sacrificed to the god Thor; and so on. Quakers thought it inconsistent for Christians to continue using the names of heathen idols. In an effort to distance themselves from these references, they created their own calendar terms using numbers, which seemed to them to be the most rational approach. Days of the week were known as “First Day” for Sunday, “Second Day” for Monday, and so forth. They used no other names but these, either in their spoken conversations or in their letters. Similarly, the months of the year were known as “First Month” for January, “Second Month” for February, and so forth. If you were a Quaker, you were expected to adopt these practices in your daily life.
|Quakers||1st Day||2nd Day||3rd Day||4th Day||5th Day||6th Day||7th Day|
To familiarize you with how this appears in written form, let’s look at an example from the records. The births for the children of Thomas and Elizabeth Woolman Deacon are listed in Quaker vernacular.
Here is a translation into modern form:
It starts getting interesting when you are looking at records prior to the calendar change which took place in 1752. The Julian calendar started in March and ended in February. Here is a handy chart for reference:
|Rest of the World Wrote||Quaker Terms Were Written||Rest of the World Wrote||Quaker Terms Were Written|
|Julian (pre-1752)||Julian (pre-1752)||Gregorian (post-1752)||Gregorian (post-1752)|
|March (first day of the year was March 25)||1st month, March||i or 1 mo.||3rd month, March||iii or 3rd mo.|
|April||2nd month, April||ii or 2 mo.||4th month, April||iv or 4th mo.|
|May||3rd month, May||iii or 3 mo.||5th month, May||v or 5th mo.|
|June||4th month, June||iv or 4 mo.||6th month, June||vi or6th mo.|
|July||5th month, July||v or 5 mo.||7th month, July||vii or 7th mo.|
|August||6th month, August||vi or 6 mo.||8th month, August||viii or 8th mo.|
|September||7th month, September||vii or 7 mo.||9th month, September||ix or 9th mo.|
|October||8th month, October||viii or 8 mo.||10th month, October||x or 10th mo.|
|November||9th month, November||ix or 9 mo.||11th month, November||xi or 11th mo.|
|December||10th month, December||x or 10 mo.||12th month, December||xii or 12th mo.|
|January||11th month, January||xi or 11 mo.||1st month, January||i or 1st mo.|
|February||12th month, February||xii or 12 mo.||2nd month, February||ii or 2nd mo.|
The best policy when researching original records is to write the dates the way that you see them. Some Quaker researchers have transposed the dates into what they thought were the “correct” dates. As you can imagine, these types of erroneous conversions could seriously affect the family stories. Misdating may lead you to erroneously conclude, for example, that a woman was pregnant prior to marriage or that the children were born after the family moved to a new meeting.
To learn more about Quaker dates and calendars, order my new book: Thee & Me: A Beginner’s Guide to Early Quaker Records. Available on Amazon.com, available as an eBook or in printed format. The printed book has dozens of illustrations and images, including a bonus chapter with a case study demonstrating step-by-step how to perform a successful search using the Quaker Collections on Ancestry.com.
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