Before Thanksgiving, there was Evacuation Day.
Evacuation Day marked the day, November 25, 1783, that the British left America after losing the Revolutionary War.
It was a holiday celebrated in New York City for more than 100 years. In the 1830s, as many as 30,000 people turned out for the parade.
The holiday gradually faded after President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation of Thanksgiving to commemorate Civil War losses.
My favorite detail about Evacuation Day is that as they departed the British left the Union Jack flying at Fort George and greased the flagpole to make it harder to take the flag down.
It’s such an amazing reminder of the petulance of people, the endurance of spite.
A veteran named John Van Arsdale eventually climbed the pole, located near modern day Battery Park, and pulled down the British colors.
The effort delayed for a few hours a victory parade that General George Washington led from the top of Manhattan.
Less celebrated is the reason it took the British so much time to organize their departure: they had to accommodate 29,000 Loyalist refugees and 3,000 Black loyalists who had fled slavery.
New York City had been under British occupation for seven years and many of the residents sided with the British in the conflict.
Also, the British, to their credit, ignored Article 7 of the Treaty of Paris that stipulated they would not depart with any enslaved Americans.
Washington followed up his procession with a dinner in Fraunces Tavern hosted by the Governor of New York, George Clinton. The dinner included thirteen toasts to:
The United States of America
His most Christian Majesty
The United Netherlands
The King of Sweden
The Continental Army
The Fleets and Armies of France, which have served in America
The Memory of those Heroes who have fallen for our Freedom
May our Country be grateful to her military children
May Justice support what Courage has gained
The Vindicators of the Rights of Mankind in every Quarter of the Globe
May America be an Asylum to the persecuted of the Earth
May a close Union of the States guard the Temple they have erected to Liberty
May the Remembrance of THIS DAY be a Lesson to Princes
Fraunces Tavern is still standing in downtown Manhattan.
Located at 54 Pearl Street, iIt’s worth a visit if you are in New York City.
It’s a reminder that some things endure even as everything changes.