Welcome, as ever, dear readers.
In certain parts of the world, this is a holiday—especially in Boston, Massachusetts. This holiday, however, has an odd name attached in Boston, “Evacuation Day”. What is this and why celebrate it?
Things were not going well for the British army. Ever since the arrival of the first troops in Boston in 1768,
sent to deal with New Englanders angered at attempts by the London government to tax them without their say-so, there was trouble. At first, there was the problem of where to house them, as there were no barracks.
People didn’t want them in their homes and it had been a struggle to find enough empty accommodations for them. And then they seemed to be everywhere in the small city (population about 16,000 in 1773).
As the rebellion against taxation continued, the government in London’s solution: more or different taxes, and definitely more troops.
Eventually, this led to scuffles between the soldiers and the locals, the most famous being the so-called “Boston Massacre” of 5 March, 1770, when a gathering mob threatened a sentry and things ended with five locals killed and 6 wounded. This is probably what it looked like in reality—
But a local Bostonian silversmith and rabble-rouser, Paul Revere (1734-1818),
turned it into this—
This was really bad press and it got worse as this engraving was copied and recopied and circulated throughout the 13 colonies, making the government’s troops look like murdering monsters.
And worse yet, when, in December, 1773, a mob attacked three ships in Boston harbor and destroyed 342 chests of tea—the “Boston Tea Party”–
(Although, the mob being thrifty Bostonians, probably carried away most of it, dumping only a token into the water.)
the London government, angered by this, closed the port of Boston the next year
and put a military man, Thomas Gage, in charge of Massachusetts.
Gage soon began to use the excuse of “exercising the troops” to send parties out into the countryside beyond Boston, but really in an attempt to frighten the locals and, if possible, confiscate any military supplies. There was a tense moment in February, 1775, north of the city, when the people of Salem turned out to block such a party, but it was turned back without violence.
In mid-April, however, another such expedition was a bloody disaster. After killing or wounding a number of local militia at Lexington, west of Boston,
the regulars marched on to Concord, even farther west, intent upon destroying military supplies.
In the process, they suffered a small defeat at a bridge over a local river,
and then were shot at from behind trees, stone walls, and buildings, all the way back to Boston.
suffering about 250 casualties in the process (to about 90 on the local side).
Soon after arriving back in Boston, the British found themselves hemmed in by an increasingly-large army of men from all over New England
and, although they won a local (and bloody) victory at Bunker Hill,
(This picture is full of inaccuracies, but I’ve loved it since childhood and it does capture the landscape and the determination of the regulars. Here’s a good brief article which discusses the painting vs the event: https://allthingsliberty.com/2013/09/battle-bunker-hill-howard-pyle/ )
they made no real attempt to break out and, when the army outside finally managed to obtain heavy artillery (from Fort Ticonderoga, at the head of Lake Champlain
—made easier by dragging the guns on sledges through the snow),
the British high command decided to evacuate the city, which they did in March, 1776.
The day celebrated in Boston to commemorate this is March 17th. Something else goes on in Boston on this day, however. People wear green clothing and celebrate a saint.
What’s going on here?
As I said earlier, thrifty Bostonians probably made most of those 342 chests of tea simply disappear in 1773, and, at the beginning of the 20th century, clever Irish Bostonians created a religious holiday without creating a religious holiday, that which is known elsewhere as “Saint Patrick’s Day”. The laws of Massachusetts wouldn’t allow a state holiday to commemorate a religious figure, but it could certainly celebrate the withdrawal from Boston of the British army and so, in 1901, March 17th was officially recognized as “Evacuation Day” in the eastern Massachusetts county of Suffolk, which includes Boston and its many families descended from Irish immigrants.
So, if you want to think patriotically, you can remember this as the day an army of local New England militia drove an army of trained regulars out of Boston.
But, if you’re Irish-inclined, you can toast a saint, even while doing your patriotic duty.
(Yes, that beer is green. Best not to ask!)
Thanks, as always for reading,
And know that, as ever, there’s