Daily Archives: July 20, 2011

Quaker dating

They say you learn something new everyday. I’m almost certain that’s true. And my new thing I learned today was a little something about Quaker dating.

No, I’m not talking about how two young Society of Friends lovebirds might spend time together before marriage… I’m talking about a method of formatting written dates from the calendar.

I was working my way through some materials from the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection today (prepare to hear more about that in the future – it’s huge, and I’ve just started it), and I began to notice letters with dates such as “8th Mo. 9th 1833.”

What the…? I wondered. I mean, I could sort of logically figure out that the “8th month” is August, meaning the date was August 9th, 1833. But why would the date be written that way? As I continued, I found a few more letters dated in the same manner. Every instance I found was in correspondence among the family of Horton Howard, who, I had found out when researching the various families in this collection including him, was apparently rather important in the Quaker movement in eastern Ohio. So that made me wonder, Maybe it’s a Quaker dating thing?

Sure enough, thanks to “Quaker Dating before 1752” (don’t let the title fool you – they talk about post-1752 also) from the Swarthmore College’s Friends Historical Library, I found that my hunch was correct. Apparently, it was common practice for Quakers to refer to months by their numbers rather than their names. This practice originated because the Quakers objected to the month names given for pagans and pagan gods (e.g., January for Janus the Roman god of doorways; July for Julius Caesar, etc.). If you are interested in the specifics of the practice and the changes they made in 1752, please check out that Swarthmore College page linked above. Interesting stuff, and I thank them for posting the info, because as an archivist, I was really just trying to give my folder the proper date and wanted to be sure what the proper date actually was!

(Update 8/2015: The original links in this post had gone bad; thanks to Chris Dilworth for alerting me and providing the updated URL for the Quaker Calendar at Swarthmore!)


Sort of as an aside… In addition to the unusual dating method, the contents of the actual letter were quite interesting as well. Its subject matter pertained to the first cholera epidemic in Columbus, Ohio, which occurred from July-October 1833.

The letter was from one Ebenezer Thomas to John Howard (son of Horton Howard) at “College Gambier, Knox County, Ohio, ” (I assume that was an early way of referring to Kenyon College, which was founded in 1824 – how many other colleges could there have possibly been in Knox County, Ohio, in 1833?).

The letter reads as follows:

John Howard
College Gambier, Knox County, Ohio

Columbus, 8th mo 9th 1833

 Eternal Friend,

By request of thy Father I write to inform thee of the Death of thy dear sister Ann of Cholera, also the two eldest children of Harvey D Little [husband of John’s sister Mary] same complaint[.] Thy Father, Harvey and his wife and the other child have all been very ill, but are now much better. Thy mother in usual health.

May our Heavenly Father who giveth and taketh away endow thee with Fortitude for this great trial,

Ebenezer Thomas

Unfortunately, Mr. Thomas spoke too soon, because half the people he listed as “much better” would be dead before the epidemic was over: Horton Howard, his wife Hannah, and their son-in-law Harvey Little all died of cholera. So did Ebenezer Thomas himself, in fact. (See History of Franklin County, Ohio, 1858, p. 306.)

So I guess I learned something about Quaker dates, the 1833 cholera epidemic (which swept Dayton, Ohio, as well, just FYI), and of course, the members of the Howard family. (In case you are wondering how the Howards fit into a collection called Forrer-Peirce-Wood: Horton Howard’s daughter Sarah was the wife of Samuel Forrer.)

The material discussed here can be found in the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018), which is currently being processed (by yours truly) and will soon be ready for research at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.