Evacuation Day

Monday, March 17, 2008

Evacuation Day

March 17 in Suffolk County, Massachusetts is Evacuation Day, an official holiday commemorating the evacuation of the city (which was a town at the time) of Boston by British forces during the American Revolutionary War. Evacuation Day is also observed in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Somerville, Massachusetts. Schools and government offices are closed. If March 17 falls on a weekend, schools and government offices are closed on the following Monday in observance. Coincidentally, it is the same day as St. Patrick's Day.

On March 17, 1776 the 11-month siege of Boston ended when the Continental Army, under Washington, fortified Dorchester Heights with cannons captured at Ticonderoga, forcing General Howe's garrison to attack or flee. To prevent what could have been a slaughter of his troops, Howe agreed to retreat to Nova Scotia via his ships without setting the city on fire as he left.

Boston was one of the most important ports in the New World, and one of the most defensible (there is only a single channel into Boston Harbor which is ringed with islands). That the Americans were able to drive off several thousand hardened troops and 1,100 loyalists with only a few warning shots fired and no loss of life or property was a major accomplishment and was Washington's first victory of the war. It was also a huge morale boost for the new country, as the city where the rebellion against England started was the first to be liberated. Boston was never attacked again.

Many of the soldiers who volunteered to serve under General George Washington to break the yoke of British colonialism were Irish Catholic. These soldiers and their families experienced first hand British occupation and suppression. Many of their sacrifices during the War of Independence were critical in bringing about the establishment of the United States of America. After a failed movement in 1876, the holiday was finally proclaimed on the 125th anniversary in 1901.


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