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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Evacuation Day - Boston

Yesterday, March 17th, was St. Patrick’s Day just about everywhere, but in Boston it is also Evacuation Day, a rather bland name for a pinnacle event.

On March 17, 1776, the British forces under General Howe were forced to evacuate Boston after Americans under General George Washington occupied Dorchester Heights overlooking the city. With them overlooking the city were a whole lot of cannon dragged overland all the way from Ft. Ticonderoga in New York under the direction of General Henry Knox.

The British fleet headed for Halifax, Nova Scotia, with some 9,000 officers and men, and some 1,000 civilian loyalists. From the “Military Journal of the Revolutionary War” by a Dr. Thatcher, who was on staff as a surgeon with Washington’s army, we have the eyewitness account of the amazing day:

“Sunday morning, March 17th, when at an early hour it was perceived that the royal army commenced their embarkation on board of transports. In the course of the forenoon we enjoyed the unspeakable satisfaction of beholding their whole fleet under sail, wafting from our shores the dreadful scourge of war…By this event we are happily relieved of a force consisting of seven thousand five hundred and seventy-five regulars, exclusive of the staff, which, with the marines and sailors, may be estimated at about ten thousand in the whole…A considerable number of tories, who had joined the royal standard, took passage with their families on board of the transports with the army, and bade adieu to their native country, without knowing what part of the world is to be their destiny.”

We may wonder about the “Tories” and the new lives they lived up in Nova Scotia. Perhaps their descendents are the same people who send Boston an evergreen every year at Christmas to commemorate Boston’s aid to the people of Halifax in the tragic explosion there in 1917 that destroyed the city. That may be a topic for another day.

So would be the story of Henry Knox and his intrepid band of cannon-draggers, who left their mark across the length of the Bay State, where the Knox Trail is still marked out.

But Evacuation Day, despite it’s importance to Boston and to the eventual success for the Americans in the Revolutionary War was not officially celebrated by Boston until 1901, and was not declared a holiday in Suffolk County until 1938. We were busy at another party.

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