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Happy Evacuation Day
In Suffolk County in Massachusetts on March 17, the local schools in Cambridge and Somerville close in celebration of Evacuation Day. This unofficial holiday commemorates the British Army’s evacuation of forces from Boston during the Revolutionary War. Coincidently, this “holiday” falls on the same day as St. Patrick’s Day.
Origins of Evacuation Day
Evacuation Day commemorates the evacuation of the British Army from Boston. Early during the Revolutionary War, after the initial battles at Lexington and Concord, the American militia surrounded the British Army in Boston in order to keep them from moving their forces into other areas of the American colonies. Led by George Washington, the militia, later known as the Continental Army, kept the British at bay for 11 months. In early March 1776, the Continental Army fortified Dorchester Heights with canons captured from the British Army. The British commander, General William Howe had to make decision, either attack and have a repeat of the British disaster at Bunker Hill or retreat into Canada. Howe decided to retreat his army to Canada on March 17. The evacuation is credited as the first American victory of the Revolutionary war and gave the revolution a boost in morale as Boston became the first City in the colonies to be liberated.
Establishment and Observance of Evacuation Day
While St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated in Boston officially since 1876, Evacuation Day was not declared a holiday until 1901. On March 17, 1901, the Mayor of Boston officially declared the first Evacuation Day to commemorate the 125th Anniversary of the British retreat from Boston. A large gathering was held where the city’s school children were presented with 100,000 special medals. Plus, city workers were granted a paid day off and schools in the area were closed. This declaration coincided with the construction of the Dorchester Heights monument that commemorates the fortification of the area that eventually led to the British retreat. Massachusetts declared Evacuation Day an official holiday in Suffolk County in 1938.
Today, Evacuation Day is celebrated by a mass in Dorchester Heights and other areas around Boston and a parade. The Dorchester Heights historical society uses the holiday to teach local history and Boston’s role in the Revolutionary cause. Schools in Boston and Suffolk County are closed as are local government offices. It is lost on nobody that St. Patrick’s Day is also celebrated on this day but local historical societies use Evacuation Day to hold parades and reenactments.
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