November 25: Evacuation Day

Evacuation_DayThe American Revolution came to an end on September 3, 1783 when the Treaty of Paris was signed. However, the last British forces in American territory did not actually leave until November 25, 1783.

In 1776, General George Washington and the Continental Army were forced to flee the island of Manhattan after being overpowered by British forces. So, for the next seven years, British troops and Loyalists occupied the city. During this time, New York City suffered serious neglect. When a mysterious fire burned through the city in the early days of the occupation, destroying 10 to 25 percent, the British were quick to blame American Patriots. The British commanders took up residence in the undamaged parts of the city, forcing colonists to live in squalor. The city was placed under a state of martial law, and prison ships began floating in the New York harbor. Over 10,000 Patriot soldiers and sailors died on those ships. By comparison, only 8,000 Patriots died in battle during the Revolution.

So, at Noon on November 25, 1783, over  29,000 British soldiers and Loyalist refugees fled the city on ships. Hundreds of Americans gathered on the shores of Staten Island to bid the ships a fond farewell with jeers. As the ships departed, a British gunner fired the last shot of the war when he shot a cannon in the direction of the crowd. Conveniently, the shot landed in the bay. With the British gone, it was time for General Washington to lead the Continental Army in a triumphant march into the city. There was just one problem, the ceremonial entrance of the Continental Army could not occur until the large Union Jack nailed to the top of a flag pole in Battery Park was removed. Many men tried to climb the pole and remove the flag, but the pole had been greased by Loyalists. Eventually, wooden cleats were nailed into the pole and American veteran John Van Arsdale was able to ascend the pole, tear off the British flag that had become synonymous in New York City with tyranny and hang a Stars and Stripes that was large enough that the retreating English could see it.

For over 50 years, the events of this day were regularly celebrated in America as Evacuation Day. In New York, a competition would be held in which young men would try to climb a greased pole and remove the Union Jack. Sadly, this landmark day in history began to decline from public memory during the mid 1800s and was essentially made obscure when Abraham Lincoln declared the first day of thanksgiving in 1863 to be held on the last Thursday of November. That year, the last Thursday was the 26th, and subsequent Thanksgiving Days fell either on or near Evacuation Day. Since then, Evacuation Day has largely been forgotten, with sporadic celebrations occurring on major anniversaries.

But this year, we shall not forget Evacuation Day. Instead we shall honor the brave Patriots who died on those horrid prison ships with a strong drink. The Patriot Cocktail is an appropriately autumnal cocktail that was created by Washington, D. C.’s Artbar. It’s an unusual, but tasty, cocktail made with bourbon and pumpkin purée.

Patriot Cocktail

  • 2 ounces Bourbon
  • 1 ounce Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 ounce pumpkin purée
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice

Shake with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and add a dash of bitters before serving.

Tomorrow: Here’s looking at you, kid.

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