March 17, 2016

Happy Evacuation Day!

On this day in 1901, the City of Boston officially celebrated Evacuation Day for the first time. This is the description in the Massachusetts record on how the sitting governor should handle March 17 every year, it was officially enacted in law in 1941:

Massachusetts General Laws, Part I, Title II, Chapter 6, Section 12k

Section 12K. The governor shall annually issue a proclamation setting apart March seventeenth as Evacuation Day and recommending that it be observed by the people with appropriate exercises in the public schools and otherwise, as he may see fit, to the end that the first major military victory in the war for American independence, namely, the evacuation of Boston by the British, may be perpetuated.

The True Meaning of Evacuation Day

During the Revolutionary War, General Washington was struggling to outsmart British General Gage, whose troops had occupied Boston since 1768. On the pre-dawn hours of March 17, 1776, Washington's Troops, made a strategic move to gain control of Dorchester Heights in South Boston which overlooked the entire British fleet. Colonel Henry Knox's troops had recently transported cannons they captured from Fort Ticonderoga in New York and transported them to Boston. On the morning of March 17, the British awoke to find the cannons aimed straight at them. The British were forced to evacuated their perch a few days later. This was a turning point in the war.

How did Evacuation Day become a Boston Holiday?

Boston Pilot and the Eliot School rebellion

The earliest mention of making March 17 an Evacuation Day holiday came in 1859. That's when the Boston Pilot suggested it during the Eliot School incident (Eliot School rebellion).

This was when Thomas J. Whall, a Catholic, refused to recite the Protestant version of the Ten Commandments. As a result, of his refusal, he was suspended from school. The Boston Pilot, which led the fight for the young Whall, was was looking for more fuel to the fire. In 1859, it noted the eighty-third anniversary of the British leaving Boston on March 17, 1776, and posed the rhetorical question as to why Bostonians hadn't yet celebrated Evacuation Day. Everyone knew the reason: Evacuation Day happened to fall on Saint Patrick's Day. The Pilot added:

Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past -

The expulsion of the battalion of England from Boston was not a 'Know Nothing' achievement; not would the sentiments of those who accomplished it harmonize with the sentiments of that party.

Dorchester Heights Monument

Additionally interest later came when construction of the Dorchester Heights Monument was being built.

In the later half of 19th Century, the hills around Dorchester Heights were getting smaller due to excavation. In 1898, the General Court of Massachusetts commissioned a monument to stand on the hill of the Heights. Designed by the architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns, the white marble Georgian revival tower commemorates the 1776 victory. Shortly after the construction was completed was when the City of Boston started celebrating Evacuation Day.

Becomes Law in 1941

Parade Members

In 1941 state representatives Thomas Coyne and Michael Cusik managed to make it a legal holiday in Suffolk County, which includes Boston, Chelsea, and Winthrop.

Every year there is some Massachusetts legislator who will file a bill to eliminate the holiday as it serves very little purpose. Opponents argue that it cost the city too much money in holiday pay. Proponents argue that it was a critical point during the Revolutionary War that should always be remembered.

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