The Lost 19th Century Holiday of Evacuation Day

An 1879 lithograph depicting Washington's entry into Manhattan on November 25, 1783. Image by Edmund P. & Ludwig Restein via Library of Congress

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    Before Thanksgiving became widespread, a long-forgotten holiday would have been celebrated by many 19th century New Yorkers in late November. November 25, 1783, became known as Evacuation Day, marking the departure of British troops from New York at the end of the Revolutionary War. While the British departed the harbor, American troops entered Manhattan to officially take back the city with a triumphant welcoming of General Washington and New York State Governor Clinton.

    According to legend, the British had left their flag flying at the Battery near the harbor and greased the pole to prevent an easy exchange for the Stars and Stripes. When an enterprising man was able to scale the pole and hoist the flag of the young country, the feat set off exuberant celebrations.

    evacuation day

    A later 19th century depiction of the American flag being raised. Image via Library of Congress

    The anniversary was marked the next year and gradually became an annual celebration with elaborate dinners, parades and the flying of flags. The major parades took place in Manhattan, with Brooklyn regiments and veterans crossing the river to join the march.

    evacuation day brooklyn revolutionary war


    Brooklyn regiments gather before crossing Fulton Ferry to join the 1860 Evacuation Day parade. Article via Brooklyn Evening Star

    Commemorations of the day dwindled as veterans passed away and Thanksgiving became an official national holiday in 1863. Interest in the holiday occasionally resurfaced: In Brooklyn, early 20th century ceremonies were held at the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument and at the Liberty Pole in New Utrecht, which stood at the spot where the American flag was first hoisted over the town of New Utrecht in November 1783.

    Official celebrations largely ended by the beginning of World War I, although historical societies and sites still sometimes commemorate the mostly forgotten holiday.

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