About that Holiday on March 17….
A lot of people think the March 17 holiday is St. Patrick’s Day. They’re not wrong, but in Suffolk County there is a second holiday–Evacuation Day.
In the spring of 1776, the British Army had occupied Boston for eight years. On March 17, they woke up to find Dorchester Heights fortified with cannon that could fire on British ships in Boston Harbor. British General William Howe knew George Washington’s army was moving the cannon into position but a strong storm kept him from using his ships’ guns to hinder their movements. When it cleared on the 17th, British forces found their position rendered indefensible. The British decamped for Nova Scotia, taking with them about 1,000 Loyalists.
Where’d Washington Get the Cannon?
Cannon were an expensive and precious resource in eighteenth century wars, and the Continental Army didn’t have very many. These particular cannon came from Ft. Ticonderoga in New York. Ethan Allen, Benedict Arnold, and the Green Mountain Boys captured the poorly defended fort from the British in May of 1775. Knowing he could use the cannon to force the British out of Boston and later in the war, Henry Knox convinced Washington to let him bring them to Boston–pulled by oxen across 300 miles and the Berkshire Mountains. He expected the journey to take two weeks; it took ten.
Evacuation Day become a holiday in Boston in 1901 and it became a county holiday in 1938. Bostonians have held St. Patrick’s Day parades since the 1870s. This is still the main celebration, but the parade is officially in honor of both the saint and the evacuation. If you ever want to see a more Revolution-focused event, the Allied War Veterans of South Boston hold a ceremony in Dorchester Heights.
And there used to be an Evacuation Day in New York City! Read a great article about it here.