Monday, March 17, 2008

March 17 - Evacuation Day in Boston

Pictured above is a rendering of General George Washington's first victory in the Revolutionary War. This historic event took place at Dorchester Heights in South Boston, just a few blocks away from my home. Below, a monument commemorating the American victory stands on the site today.
March 17 is an official holiday in the city of Boston and Suffolk County, Massachusetts - but not in honor of Saint Patrick's Day. March 17 is Evacuation Day. It commemorates the evacuation of Boston by British forces during the American Revolutionary War.

March 17, 1776, marked the end of the 11-month siege of Boston by British forces.

The tides were turned when General Henry Knox of the Continental Army brought 55 captured cannon from Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York to Boston. General George Washington’s troops placed the cannon on Dorchester Heights in South Boston. From this vantage point they had a clear view of the city and of the harbor where the British ships were docked. With this tactical advantage, the British forces realized it was time to leave. General William Howe of the British Army and General Washington quickly came to a peaceful arrangement wherein the Americans would let the British and their fleet leave the harbor as long as they left without burning the town.

On March 17, the British soldiers evacuated Boston Harbor and sailed for Nova Scotia. This was Washington's first victory of the war, and also offered a welcome morale boost for the Continental Army and its supporters.

Boston was one of the most important ports in the New World, and one of the most defensible; there is only a single channel into Boston Harbor, which is ringed with islands. That the American Patriots were able to drive off several thousand hardened troops and 1,100 loyalists with only a few warning shots fired and no loss of life or property was a major accomplishment and was Washington's first victory of the war. It was also a huge morale boost for the new country, as the city where the rebellion against England started was the first to be liberated. Boston was never attacked again.

Many of the soldiers who volunteered to serve under General George Washington to break the yoke of British colonialism were Irish Catholic, making the date of this holiday especially significant today. These soldiers and their families experienced first hand British occupation and suppression. Many of their sacrifices during the War of Independence were critical in bringing about the establishment of the United States of America.