On Robert MacFarlane’s twitter feed I found this. He was dealing with the word “almanac” as part of his wonderful study of words. As usual, I went off at a tangent and focussed on the ages of the earth presented there ;
This gives six estimates of the age of the earth with considerable variance. The nearest to Archbishop Ussher’s iconic 4004BC is WW who gives 4009BC. That WW is William Whiston who wrote “A new theory of the earth” in 1696.
William Whiston James Ussher
Whiston is typical of the the 17th century theories of the earth, of which there are legion. Readability and brevity is not their strong point. However as I have pointed out earlier, they did not quite follow Ussher with a 6 24 hour day creation but extended the time a little. Whiston reckoned that the days were a year long and hence 4004BC is extended to 4009BC. As Stephen Gould said this “was a big step in the right direction”.( S Gould Bully for Brontosaurus, 1991, p372) . Five years may not seem much compared to the earth’s actual FIVE billion years, but along with so many others of his day along with Burnet, Ray and Hobbes, slowly paved the way for understanding deep time.
To many, this would simply show that in 1739 most blithely accepted a 4004BC date for creation, but this shows that something more flexible was being put in a popular publication. Yes Whiston’s extra 5 years was a tiny step but it was part of the beginning of many steps
Genesis 1 & geological time from 1600-1850
Now this is very significant for the mid-18th century attitude to the age of the earth, especially considering the author. From the frontispiece it appears Richard Saunders is the author and Benjamin Franklin only the publisher, but in fact, Richard Saunders was a pseudonym Franklin used. (see wikipedia on Franklin, if nowt else available) . Granted this is from across the pond but many there were bang up to date on science and not only Franklin. This can be seen with the Boston preacher Thomas Prince in 1755 after the Boston earthquake (probably Mag 6 – 6.5) on November 18th. Prince was criticised for saying the quake was due to lightning rods, drawing the power of thunderstorms to earth thus causing earthquakes. These were erected because of Franklins’s view expresed in 1737 “that the material cause of thunder, lightning and earthquakes are one and the same.”
However , that is one idea Franklin got wrong, but he was a great practitioner and advocate of science – and the rebellion of the 1770s.
I suggest by giving a wide variety of dates for creation, he was gently encouraging his readers to think beyond a strict Ussher chronology.
It would take a few more years before the great age of the earth in millions and not thousands became clear, but this is another example a some diversity of views on the earth’s age.
I am quite sure MacFarlane was not thinking about geological time when he “did” almanacs, but he gave me a little detail to follow up and find another leak in the ark.
For some details
“Poor Richard, 1739. An Almanack for the Year of Christ 1739.,” The News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865, accessed February 19, 2019, http://americanantiquarian.org/earlyamericannewsmedia/items/show/111.