Evacuation Day (New York)

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Evacuation Day
Evacuation Day and Washington's Triumphal Entry.jpg
"Evacuation Day and Washington's Triumphal Entry"
Observed by New York City
Significance British forces leave New York Town
Gen. George Washington triumphantly returns
Date November 25th
Frequency annual
First time November 25, 1783 (1783-11-25)

Following the American Revolutionary War, Evacuation Day on November 25, marks the day in 1783 when the last vestige of British authority in the United States — its troops in the new free and independent State of New York — departed from New York Town on Manhattan Island. After this British Army evacuation, General George Washington triumphantly led the Continental Army from his former headquarters, north of the city, across the Harlem River south down Manhattan through the town to The Battery at the foot of Broadway.[1] The last shot of the war was reported to be fired on this day, as a British gunner fired a cannon at jeering crowds gathered on the shore of Staten Island, as his ship passed through The Narrows at the mouth of New York Harbor. (The shot fell well short of the shore.)[2]

Background[edit]

Following the devastating losses at the second and largest major engagement (first was the Battle of Bunker and Breeds' Hills across the Charles River, in Charlestown, north of Boston, in Massachusetts in June 1775) of the Continental Army and British troops in the American Revolutionary War, at the Battle of Long Island (also known as the "Battle of Brooklyn" or the "Battle of Brooklyn Heights") on August 27, 1776, General George Washington and the Continental Army retreated across the East River by benefit of a retreat and holding action of sacrifice by stalwart, crack, well-trained "Maryland Line" troops at Gowanus Creek and Canal and a night fog which obscured their barges, boats and troops being desperately evacuated to Manhattan Island. Having saved his precious organized army, during the subsequent and grueling campaign through New York and New Jersey, Washington's Continentals withdrew north and west out of the town and, following the Battle of Harlem Heights and the following action at the river forts of Fort Washington and Fort Lee on the northwest corner of the island along the Hudson River on November 16, 1776, evacuated Manhattan Island, heading north for Westchester County and another delaying action at White Plains. Later Washington was forced west into northern New Jersey and down south into Pennsylvania, taking shelter behind the banks of the interceding Upper Delaware River for the rest of the winter. For the remainder of the War for American Independence, much of what is now Greater New York and its surroundings into Lower New York State, southwestern Connecticut, and northern New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania were under British control as a result of the power of the Royal Navy and British Army. New York City (occupying then only the southern tip of Manhattan, just a little beyond present-day Wall Street area) became, under Admiral of the Fleet Richard Howe, Lord Howe and his brother Sir William Howe, General of the British Army, the British political and military center of operations in British North America. David Mathews was then the Mayor of New York Town during the British occupation and many of the civilians then continuing to be residing in town were "loyal to the Crown", later known as "Loyalists".

Correspondingly, the region became central to the development of a "Patriot" intelligence network, including the spy Nathan Hale.

The city suffered a devastating fire of uncertain origin after the evacuation of Washington's Continental Army at the beginning of the British Army occupation. This resulted in the Royal forces and prominent Loyalists occupying the remaining undamaged structures, relegating the fire-scarred ruins for the rest of the city's residents (either poor or quietly "patriot") to live in squalor and under harsh conditions. In addition, over 10,000 Patriot soldiers and sailors died through deliberate neglect on prison ships in New York waters (Wallabout Bay) during the British occupation — more Patriots died on these ships than died in every single battle of the war, combined.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11] These men are memorialized, and many of their remains are interred, at the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn, overlooking the nearby site of their torment and deaths.

Event history[edit]

British evacuation from New York[edit]

In mid-August 1783, Sir Guy Carleton, then the last British Army and Royal Navy commander in formerly British North America received orders from his superiors in London for the evacuation of New York Town. He informed the President of the Confederation Congress, that he was proceeding with the subsequent withdrawal of refugees, liberated slaves and military personnel as fast as possible, but it was not possible to give an exact date because the number of refugees entering the city recently had increased dramatically. More than 29,000 "Loyalists" refugees were eventually evacuated from the city. The British also evacuated former slaves they had liberated from the Americans and refused to return them to their American enslavers and overseers as the provisions of the Treaty of Paris had required them to do.

Carleton gave a final evacuation date of 12 noon on November 25, 1783. Entry into the city by General George Washington was delayed until after a British flag which had been spotted still flying had been removed. A British "Union Jack" flag was nailed on a flagpole in the Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan as a final act of defiance and the pole was allegedly greased. After a number of men attempted to tear down the British colors - now a symbol of tyranny for contemporary American Patriots - wooden cleats were cut and nailed to the pole and with the help of a ladder, an army veteran, John Van Arsdale, was able to ascend the pole, remove the flag, and replace it with the "Stars and Stripes" before the British fleet had completely sailed out of sight.[12][13]

Washington's entry into New York[edit]

"Washington's Entry into New York" by Currier & Ives

Seven years after the retreat from Manhattan, General George Washington and Governor of New York George Clinton reclaimed Fort Washington on the northwest corner of Manhattan Island and then led the Continental Army in a triumphal precision march down the road through the center of the island onto Broadway in the Town to The Battery.[14]

Aftermath[edit]

Even after "Evacuation Day", some British troops still remained stationed in far northwestern frontier forts in areas which had clearly been defined by the Treaty of Paris (1783) to be within the borders and part of the United States. Britain would continue to hold a presence in some of these old Northwest forts in the Great Lakes area until 1794, with the signing of Jay's Treaty (negotiated by diplomat and then Chief Justice John Jay) for further deciding various issues still then remaining between Great Britain and the United States and in the case of some others, not until 1815, at the end of the War of 1812, fought again between the two nations and a subsequent Treaty of Ghent, then signed.

A week later, on December 4, at Fraunces Tavern, at Pearl and Broad Streets, after a "turtle feast" banquet, General Washington formally said farewell to his officers with a short statement and taking each one of his officers and "official family" by the hand. He later left the city and headed 250 miles to the south, through the newly free and independent states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, enduring a long procession of official civil and military ceremonies, escorts, salutes, luncheons, dinners and banquets, flag-raisings, parades, fireworks and the thanks and wishes of goodwill bestowed on him by the grateful citizenry. By December 23, he arrived on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay where the Confederation Congress was then meeting at the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Maryland, later to consider the terms of the "Treaty of Paris". At their session in the Old State Senate Chamber, he made a short statement and offered his sword and the papers of his commission, appointed to him nine years before to the President and the delegates assembled with great withheld emotion, thereby resigning his commission as commander-in-chief. He then quickly mounted his horse, accompanied by only a few companions, and rode forty miles southwest to his long-time beloved home and plantation of Mount Vernon on the shores of the Potomac River, near Alexandria, Virginia, to greet and bide his time with his long-suffering wife Martha.

Commemoration[edit]

Early popularity[edit]

For over a century this event was commemorated annually with boys competing to tear down a Union Flag from a greased pole in Battery Park, as well as the anniversary in general being celebrated with much adult revelry and corresponding beverages.

Decline[edit]

The importance of the commemoration was waning in 1844, with the approach of the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.[15]

The observance of the date was also diminished by the Thanksgiving Day Proclamation by 16th President Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863, that called on Americans "in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving."[16] That year, Thursday fell on November 26. In later years, Thanksgiving was celebrated on or near the 25th, making Evacuation Day redundant.[17]

1883 - Centennial Celebration[edit]

Raising the Stars and Stripes, 1883 print

In the 1890s, the anniversary was celebrated in New York at Battery Park with the raising of the "Stars and Stripes" by Christopher R. Forbes, the great grandson of John Van Arsdale, with the assistance of a Civil War veterans' association from Manhattan — the Anderson Zouaves.[18] John Lafayette Riker, the original commander of the Anderson Zouaves, was also a grandson of John Van Arsdale. Riker's older brother was the New York genealogist James Riker, who authored "Evacuation Day, 1783"[19] for the spectacular 100th anniversary celebrations of 1883, which were ranked as “one of the great civic events of the nineteenth century in New York City.”[20]

In 1900, Christopher R. Forbes was denied the honor of raising the flag at the Battery on Independence Day and on "Evacuation Day"[21] and it appears that neither he nor any Veterans' organization associated with the Van Arsdale-Riker family or the Anderson Zouaves took part in the ceremony after this time. Following the warming of relations with Britain immediately preceding World War I, the observance all but disappeared.

2008 - 225th Anniversary Celebration[edit]

Though little celebrated in the previous century, "Evacuation Day" was commemorated on November 25, 2008, with searchlight displays in New Jersey and New York at key high points.[22][23][24] The searchlights are modern commemorations of the bonfires that served as a beacon signal system at many of these same locations during the revolution. The seven New Jersey Revolutionary War sites: Beacon Hill in Summit,[25] South Mountain Reservation in South Orange, Fort Nonsense in Morristown, Washington Rock in Green Brook, the Navesink Twin Lights, Princeton, and Ramapo Mountain State Forest near Oakland. Five New York locations contributed to the celebration: Bear Mountain State Park, Storm King State Park, Scenic Hudson's Spy Rock (Snake Hill) in New Windsor, Washington's Headquarters State Historic Site in Newburgh, Scenic Hudson's Mount Beacon.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ A Toast To Freedom: New York Celebrates Evacuation Day. Fraunces Tavern Museum. 1984. p. 7. 
  2. ^ Staten Island on the Web: History
  3. ^ Stiles, Henry Reed. "Letters from the prisons and prison-ships of the revolution." Thomson Gale, December 31, 1969. ISBN 978-1-4328-1222-5
  4. ^ Dring, Thomas and Greene, Albert. "Recollections of the Jersey Prison Ship" (American Experience Series, No 8). Applewood Books. November 1, 1986. ISBN 978-0-918222-92-3
  5. ^ Taylor, George. "Martyrs To The Revolution In The British Prison-Ships In The Wallabout Bay." (originally printed 1855) Kessinger Publishing, LLC. October 2, 2007. ISBN 978-0-548-59217-5.
  6. ^ Banks, James Lenox. "Prison ships in the Revolution: New facts in regard to their management." 1903.
  7. ^ Hawkins, Christopher. "The life and adventures of Christopher Hawkins, a prisoner on board the 'Old Jersey' prison ship during the War of the Revolution." Holland Club. 1858.
  8. ^ Andros, Thomas. "The old Jersey captive: Or, A narrative of the captivity of Thomas Andros...on board the old Jersey prison ship at New York, 1781. In a series of letters to a friend." W. Peirce. 1833.
  9. ^ Lang, Patrick J.. "The horrors of the English prison ships, 1776 to 1783, and the barbarous treatment of the American patriots imprisoned on them." Society of the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick, 1939.
  10. ^ Onderdonk. Henry. "Revolutionary Incidents of Suffolk and Kings Counties; With an Account of the Battle of Long Island and the British Prisons and Prison-Ships at New York." Associated Faculty Press, Inc. June, 1970. ISBN 978-0-8046-8075-2.
  11. ^ West, Charles E.. "Horrors of the prison ships: Dr. West's description of the wallabout floating dungeons, how captive patriots fared." Eagle Book Printing Department, 1895.
  12. ^ Riker, J. 1883, p. 3.
  13. ^ Hood, C. 2004, p. 6. Clifton Hood in his essay on New York's Evacuation Day makes the following citation for John Van Arsdale's role in removing the Union Flag and replacing it with the Stars and Stripes: Rivington’s New York Gazette, November 26, 1783; The Independent New-York Gazette, November 29, 1783; Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York to 1898 (New York, 1999): 259–61; Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington: A Biography, v. 5, Victory with the Help of France (New York, 1952): 461; James Thomas Flexner, George Washington, v. 3, In the American Revolution (1775–1783) (Boston, 1967): 522–8. Van Arsdale has sometimes been identified as an Army enlisted man or an Army officer. The flag later joined the historic collection at Scudder's American Museum but unfortunately was destroyed in a fire in 1865.
  14. ^ Renner, James (March 1997). "Evacuation Day". Washington Heights & Inwood Online. 
  15. ^ "Evacuation Day was once a glorious holiday here". The New York Times. October 19, 1924. 
  16. ^ Lincoln, Abraham (October 3, 1863). "Proclamation of Thanksgiving". Abraham Lincoln Online. Retrieved September 11, 2011. 
  17. ^ Rodwan, Jr., John G. (November 20, 2010). "No Thanks". Humanist Network News. Retrieved September 11, 2011. 
  18. ^ "The Sunday Advocate (Newark, Ohio)" November 26, 1893,

    NEW YORK, Nov. As the sun rise guns pealed forth at Fort William. "Old Glory" was run up to the truce of the city flagstaff at Battery Park on the site where stood the staff to which the British nailed their flag before sailing down the harbor. The British flag was torn down and replaced by the American colors by Van Arsdale, the sailor boy, and the "flag run up by one of his lineal descendants, Christopher R. Forbes, who was assisted by officers of the "Anderson Zouaves". The flag was saluted by the guns at Fort William.

    New York Times, November 26, 1896,

    The day was also celebrated by raising the flag at sunrise at the Battery by Christopher R. Forbes, great-grandson of John Van Arsdale, assisted by the Anderson Zouaves. Sixty-second Regiment, New-York Volunteers. Capt. Charles E. Morse, and Anderson and Williams Post, No. 394, Grand Army of the Republic.

  19. ^ Riker, J. 1883
  20. ^ Goler, 'Evacuation Day', "The Encyclopedia of New York City", p. 385.
  21. ^ New York Times, July 3, 1900,

    Christopher R. Forbes, who for many years has had the privilege of raising and lowering the flag at the Battery on "Evacuation Day" and the Fourth of July, and claims that he inherited the right from his great-grandfather, John Van Arsdale, who tore down the British’colors on the spot and hoisted the American flag instead, he feels very sore over the way in which he has been treated by the Park Department. Van Arsdale family members from New York to San Francisco remain aghast. He said last evening:

    “Early in June I made an application for permission to raise the flag on the Fourth, and I received a reply from President Clausen, on June 5 giving me permission to participate in the raising of the flag by the employes of the Park Department. Now any tramp can participate in the raising of the flag if he stands by and looks on, and that was the kind of permission that was given to me. If this was not a snub and an insult, I’d like to know what is. When my great-grandfather hauled down the British flag and hoisted the American colors I’d like to know where Mr. Clausen’s great-grandfather was and what he was doing.

    Later even this tramp permission was revoked. To-day I received another letter from Mr. Clausen informing, me that instead of my participating with the Park Department employees in hoisting the flag, that ceremony would be performed by the Veteran Corps of Artillery, Military Society of the War of 1812.

    “I saw the hand of Asa Bird Gardiner behind all this. He tried to do me out of I my privileges before, and he has succeeded now. The Veteran Corps was really wiped out in 1872 and in 1892 Mr. Gardiner was instrumental in organizing the present one. He wanted me and C. B. Riker to join, but we refused.

    In former years the Anderson Post, the Anderson Zouaves, the Anderson Girls, and the Camp Sons of Veterans used to go with me and assist me in the ceremony of raising the flag and now even the tramp permission of participating with employees has been revoked.

    I am going to consult with Mr. Riker about this matter and I shall probably be somewhere near the flag raising Wednesday morning. I think they will hear from me before then.”

  22. ^ NJ.com
  23. ^ RevolutionaryNJ.org
  24. ^ HVpress.net
  25. ^ "Beacon Hill Club". Retrieved September 11, 2011. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]