Evacuation Day (New York)
Evacuation Day and Washington's Triumphal Entry
|Observed by||New York City|
|Significance||British forces leave New York City
George Washington triumphantly returns
|First time||November 25, 1783|
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 New York — departed from Manhattan. After this British evacuation, General George Washington triumphantly led the Continental Army through the city. The last shot of the war was reported to be fired on this day, as a British gunner on one of the departing ships fired a cannon at jeering crowds gathered on the shore of Staten Island, at the mouth of New York Harbor (the shot fell well short of the shore).
Following the first and largest major engagement 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) on August 27, 1776, General George Washington and the Continental Army retreated to Manhattan Island. The Continentals withdrew north and west and, following the Battle of Fort Washington on November 16, 1776, evacuated the island. For the remainder of the Revolutionary War much of what is now Greater New York and its surroundings were under British control. New York City (then occupying only the southern tip of Manhattan) became, under Lord Howe and his brother Sir William, the British political and military center of operations in North America. David Mathews was the Mayor of New York City during the British occupation.
Correspondingly, the region became central to the development of a Patriot intelligence network, headed by Washington himself. The famous Nathan Hale was but one of Washington's operatives working in New York, though the others were generally more successful.
The city suffered a devastating fire of uncertain origin during the British occupation. This resulted in the British forces and prominent Loyalists occupying the remaining undamaged structures, relegating the fire-scarred ruins for the rest of the city's residents to live in squalor. 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. 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.
British evacuation from New York
In mid-August 1783, Sir Guy Carleton received orders from London for the evacuation of New York City. He told the President of the Continental Congress that he was proceeding with the 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 had increased dramatically. More than 29,000 Loyalist refugees were evacuated from the city. The British also evacuated former slaves they had liberated from the Americans and refused to return them to their US enslavers as the Treaty of Paris had required them to do.
Carleton gave a final evacuation date of noon on November 25, 1783. Entry into the city by George Washington was delayed until after a British flag had been removed. A Union Flag was nailed on a flagpole in the Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. The pole was allegedly greased. After a number of men attempted to tear down the British color - a symbol of tyranny for contemporary American Patriots - wooden cleats were cut and nailed to the pole and with the help of a ladder, a 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 sailed out of sight.
Washington's entry into New York
Seven years after the retreat from Manhattan, General George Washington and Governor George Clinton reclaimed Fort Washington and then led the Continental Army in a triumphal march down Broadway to the Battery.
Even after Evacuation Day, British troops still remained in frontier forts in areas which had clearly been defined by the Treaty of Paris (1783) to be part of the United States. Britain would continue to hold a presence in the old Northwest until 1815, at the end of the War of 1812.
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.
The observance of the date was also diminished by the Thanksgiving Day Proclamation by 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." That year, Thursday fell on November 26. In later years, Thanksgiving was celebrated on or near the 25th, making Evacuation Day redundant.
1883 centennial celebration
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. 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 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.”
In 1900 Christopher R. Forbes was denied the honor of raising the flag at the Battery on Independence Day and on Evacuation Day 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
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. 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, 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.
- A Toast To Freedom: New York Celebrates Evacuation Day. Fraunces Tavern Museum. 1984. p. 7.
- Staten Island on the Web: History
- Stiles, Henry Reed. "Letters from the prisons and prison-ships of the revolution." Thomson Gale, December 31, 1969. ISBN 978-1-4328-1222-5
- 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
- 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.
- Banks, James Lenox. "Prison ships in the Revolution: New facts in regard to their management." 1903.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Riker, J. 1883, p. 3.
- 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 collection at Scudder's American Museum but was destroyed in a fire in 1865.
- Renner, James (March 1997). "Evacuation Day". Washington Heights & Inwood Online.
- Schecter, pg. 379
- "Evacuation Day was once a glorious holiday here". The New York Times. October 19, 1924.
- Lincoln, Abraham (October 3, 1863). "Proclamation of Thanksgiving". Abraham Lincoln Online. Retrieved September 11, 2011.
- Rodwan, Jr., John G. (November 20, 2010). "No Thanks". Humanist Network News. Retrieved September 11, 2011.
- 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.
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.
- Riker, J. 1883
- Goler, 'Evacuation Day', The Encyclopedia of New York City, p. 385.
- 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.”
- "Beacon Hill Club". Retrieved September 11, 2011.
- Hood, Clifton. An Unusable Past: Urban Elites, New York City’s Evacuation Day, and the Transformations of Memory Culture, Journal of Social History, Summer 2004.
- Riker, James (1883). Evacuation Day, 1783; Its many stirring events; with recollections of Capt. John Van Arsdale of the Veteran Corps of Artillery, by whose efforts on that day the enemy were circumvented and the American flag successfully raised on the Battery. New York.
- Schecter, Barnet (2002). The Battle for New York: The City at the Heart of the American Revolution. New York: Walker&Co. ISBN 0-8027-1374-2.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The evacuation of New York by the British.|
- The Battle for New York, a book by Barnet Schecter
- The Founding Fathers of American Intelligence
- Steenshorne, Jennifer E. (Fall 2010). Evacuation Day 10. New York State Archives.
- "Evacuation Day - November 25, 1783". Teaching American History.
- Happy Evacuation Day - Sarah Vowell on The Daily Show, November 17, 2011