Leap Years in American History: What Happened on February 29th?

Leap Years in American History: What Happened on February 29th?

Feb 29, 2024

Celebrating American History by taking a look at February 29th.

February 29th doesn't happen every year, so I thought it a perfect platform to jump off of for a "This Day in History" post!

I'm continually finding out fantastic tidbits that all add up to deeper dives into the early American history I love. Sometimes that means a more comprehensive post like my post about Patrick Henry's Scotchtown and sometimes it's about sharing an a-ha moment here and there, like today's post.

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Entry hall at Patrick Henry's Scotchtown

Entry hall at Patrick Henry's Scotchtown, 2023

Historical summary of February 29th.

  • 1692- Blame is laid on three women for afflicting several unnaturally ill young girls in Massachusetts. And boom: the Salem Witch Trials saga takes form. On March 1st, the witch hunt began.
  • 1705- Killing craze in Colonial America! The Deerfield settlement massacre took place in Massachusetts. In a way, it seems to be a pre-cursor to the French and Indian War- known in American history as the 7 Years War. This specific event, tells a story I didn't know anything about until researching February 29th. Read more here.
  • 1840- William Harvey Carney, a Civil War soldier who became the first African American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor was born. He died in Norfolk, Virginia in 1908, not far from my home of Williamsburg in the Tidewater region.

Sharing Carney's birthday: In 1944, Dennis Farina former Chicago police officer and Law and Order actor; in 1960 American serial killer Richard Ramirez, aka The Night Stalker. Crazy coincidence: serial killer Aileen Wuornos also has this birthday- born in 1956.

  • 1892- The British and Americans sign the Treaty of Arbitration of 1892. Topic: seal hunting on the Bering Sea. The dispute happened not long after the purchase of Alaska from Russia, with Canada being so close by. Don't worry, in 1911, restrictions started developing and being put into place. Read more here.
  • 1940- Gone with the Wind won Best Picture and in total: 8 (count 'em!) Oscars. One of my all-time favorites. Included was a win by Vivian Leigh for Best Actress. Who doesn't recall her role as Scarlet... the fiery ride through Atlanta, descending the Grand Staircase and her closing words about tomorrow were so perfect for a 1930's film. Right? Hattie McDaniel won a well-deserved Oscar too- becoming the first African American actress to do so. Read Margaret Mitchell's sweeping historical saga on Kindle here.
  • 1960- Former FBI agent Melvin Purvis, famous for leading manhunts on well-known criminals Babyface Nelson and John Dillinger, took his own life at home in South Carolina. What's not certain: suicide or accident. Another lawman who passed away young, in his 50s, on this day: Pat Garrett in 1908. He's remembered as the one who took the life of Billy the Kid.
  • 1960 again: the first Playboy Club opens in Chicago, my hometown.
  • 1976- Richard Petty - a NASCAR legend, gets the only Winston Cup win on a Leap Day.

Gone With the Wind staircase photo, The Jefferson Hotel

Grand Staircase at The Jefferson Hotel, relation to Gone With The Wind

Closing it out.

Be sure to use the links above to get more information on any of the events I listed and share your February 29th "leap year" events in the comments.

As always, words from history. Here, an excerpt of a February 29th letter written by Alexander Hamilton. I won't lie, this is the Hamilton I'm getting to know as I learn more about history from primary sources- maybe a bit arrogant, "woe is me," and self-important? You decide as you learn more and share any primary sources on Hamilton you love with us!

Read the letter in full, with citations, here.

From Alexander Hamilton to Gouverneur Morris, [29 February 1802]

To Gouverneur Morris

[New York, February 29, 1802]1

My Dr. Sir

Your letter of the 22d is the third favour for which I am indebted to you since you left N York.2

(letter continues)

As to the rest, I should be a very unhappy man, if I left my tranquillity at the mercy of the misinterpretations which friends as well as foes are fond of giving to my conduct.

Mine is an odd destiny. Perhaps no man in the UStates has sacrificed or done more for the present Constitution than myself—and contrary to all my anticipations of its fate, as you know from the very begginning I am still labouring to prop the frail and worthless fabric. Yet I have the murmurs of its friends no less than the curses of its foes for my rewards. What can I do better than withdraw from the Scene? Every day proves to me more and more that this American world was not made for me.

(letter continues)

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There is a huge practical disclaimer to the content on this blog, which is my way of sharing my excitement and basically journaling online.

1) I am not a historian nor an expert. I will let you know I’m relaying the information as I understand and interpret it. The employees of Colonial Williamsburg base their presentations, work, and responses on historical documents and mainly primary sources.

2) I will update for accuracy as history is constant learning. If you have a question about accuracy, please ask me! I will get the answer from the best source I can find.

3) Photo credit to me, Daphne Reznik, for all photos in this post, unless otherwise credited! All photos are personal photos taken in public access locations or with specific permission.