Sunday, November 22, 2009

Evacuation Day...New York City...November 25, 1783

It was a long hard war for independence. The American revolution was a war that went on from 1775 till the early 1780's. There is a celebration in Boston every year called Evacuation Day. It honors the date of March 17, 1776 in which the British were pushed out of Boston and they evacuated.
It is not of this event in which I will speak, I will speak of the great evacuation of New York City which was the final act of the Revolutionary War.

New York City was under complete English control throughout the entire revolution. It truly was an occupied city. There had been a great fire in New York in 1776, started it is said by the inhabitants of the city themselves. As they saw the city was to be taken over by the British, they did whatever they could to give as little too them.

The time of the British occupation was not a pretty one. Many patriots were housed in prison boats all around the island. In fact over 11,500 colonist patriots died in those ships. That is more than all who died in every battle of the American revolution. The life for anyone who was not a loyalist was pure hell in New York. The British were most cruel in New York. Today the remains of the over 11,500 patriots are buried in Brooklyn at the Prison Ship Martyr's memorial in Brooklyn. The lofty monument is shown below. The death toll in New York was the greatest in the new nation's attempt at freedom.

There was a great hatred for the British and when it was plain that the war was over and it had been won. One of the great wishes was the reclaiming of New York to its rightful owners. This was easier said than done. New York had become a City of Loyalists and British Soldiers. It was not at all an American city, it was an extension of Britain.

The Treaty of Paris which was the peace treaty between the now called United States and England was signed on September 2, 1782. It was ratified on April 17, 1783. This would get the ball rolling.

Shortly after that the head of the British forces in North America, General Guy Carleton was instructed to evacuate the British forces in total. Most at this point were in New York City. There had to be a massive evacuation of loyalists to various countries. Soldiers needed to be re routed back to England, and there was the nasty matter of slavery. The British had freed the slaves in New York and in most of the areas they had controlled. This was a personal affront to many of the patriots who wanted their property back. Even Washington pushed to have slaves returned, but the British refused basically. So it looked like they were not going to get them back as many had long since left the area or would go with the British as they evacuated and were guaranteed their freedom in England. This was one of the few great things England did.
The area of slavery would be as John Quincy Adams so well put it "The final battle of the American Revolution". It would take another 80 years before that would be addressed.

The date for evacuation was set for November 25, 1783 at noon. George Washington and his troops were stationed right outside of the Island to give the British a chance to get out and make sure all was done in a timely manner. The last of the British forces were out completely at 1 pm, followed very shortly by Washington and Clinton and a bevy of very happy and proud soldiers. Many had died for this day, many gave as much as they could for this day. All had given much, and yet as we have come to honor the 4th of July as our independence day, it is really not. For Evacuation Day indeed it was truly the first day of complete American Independence. On that day the country was free from those who had held control of it since the days of the Dutch. It is not to take anything away from July 4th, even though for histories sake independence was declared on July 2! The actions of that day inspired the country to fight on for the very thing that paper desired.

General George Washington arrives with Governor Clinton and troops in New York on Evacuation Day

The British loaded small boats with soldiers, loyalists, freed slaves, and those who were afraid to be a part of this wild rebel country. This was done under the watchful eyes of all the colonists who were very happy to see them leave. There was a good deal of hate on both sides. It was not a pretty moment for either side. There was some bad actions on both sides that day.

The British sail by Battery Park and see the Stars and Strips on the flag pole. They had not thought they would see it as they had greased the pole and kept the Union Jack flying. But a Mr. Van Arsdale, a veteran of the late war was able to climb the pole and tear off the Union Jack and replace it with the Stars and Stripes.

The public on shore was jeering the British as they left and one of the gunboats leaving was so incensed by this act that he ordered his ship to fire a cannon at the crowd. The shot was fired but fell harmlessly into the water, and that truly was the last shot of the American Revolution. The war was over, the British were gone, and America truly enjoyed her first day of true independence.