Evacuation Day

Evacuation of New York City, or just simply Evacuation Day is a celebratory time for New Yorkers, even in the present day. The date is November 25, 1783 and on this day, the city was finally freed of British rule by General George Washington and the Continental Army, ending the Revolutionary War. Eight hundred soldiers were said to have been marching with Washington marching through Manhattan down Broadway. The city was occupied by the British around September of 1776 and shortly after, New York City suffered from a large fire that destroyed 10-25% of the city’s buildings. The first was believed to have started in the Fighting Cocks Tavern, but there were very few details about who started it or why it was started. After many buildings were destroyed, the British occupied the remainder of them, sometimes forcing the residents who didn’t flee to live on the streets and in unbearable conditions.

So just imagine the people in Manhattan, suffering and starving and then one day you see an army of ratty, war-torn soldiers coming down the street, would you have any hope? After seven years of British occupation? Fortunately, this time, things worked out.

One comedic aspect of this situation was that Washington was adamant about removing the British flag from a nearby flagpole and replacing it with an American one, but the British had greased the flagpole, so the soldiers had difficulty doing this. This small detail was very minor, but was probably one of the last efforts for the British before they fled the city. The night of the take-back, it was said that General Washington and New York Governor George Clinton held a celebratory dinner at the local Fraunces Tavern which included exactly 13 toasts, which are still recited today at the annual Evacuation Day dinner.

I found a lot of useful information in my search for Evacuation Day by searching around the date of November 25, 1783. I use articles starting on 11/17 until 11/29 but there is probably more information before and after the dates I selected. One article[1] from Boston talked about the horrors that “will seize you when the final evacuation takes place.” It is interesting how final is italicized, implying that evacuations have been happening, but the British are not completely out and people are waiting for that time. An article[2] from Philadelphia dated on 11/19 mentioned the “final evacuation of the city of New York to take place on Thursday next.” The day following the evacuation, a newspaper[3] from New Haven mentioned the evacuation and a treaty that was being discussed.  The newspaper[4] from South Carolina ran from Nov. 25 to Nov. 29 and in it stated “that Thursday fe’nnight was the day fixed on by Sir Guy Carleton for the evacuation of New York, and next day Governor George Clinton was to resume the reins of government.” Guy Carleton was a name mentioned in most of the articles I read, who was the commander-in-chief of the British forces and arrived in New York in 1782 until the evacuation the following year.

I did find one article that was repeated in the South Carolina Gazette and General Advertiser from the dates 11/25-11/29 and 12/2-12/6. It was interesting to see that they copied the exact same thing from one week to the next, but as we talked about, this wasn’t uncommon.

Although there were the few examples I found, media coverage on this topic I’m sure was endless. Even to this day, Evacutation Day is still celebrated in New York, with the dinner held by the Son of the Revolution of the State of New York. There are parades and fireworks on this day and pole climbing competitions in remembrance of the greased pole. This seems to be a big deal for New Yorkers and it is amazing how the media continues to keep this event alive.

[1] (Boston) The Boston Gazette, November 17, 1783

[2] (Philadelphia) The Freeman’s Journal, November 19, 1783

[3] (New Haven) The Connecticut Journal, November 26, 1783

[4] (Charleston) The South-Carolina Gazette and General Advertiser, November 25, 1783-November 29, 1783


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