March 17th is of course St. Patrick’s Day, and Boston celebrates this day as well as anyone with the parade in South Boston and taverns overflowing with Irish and Irish-for-the-day revelers. But Boston has another reason to celebrate the day that is unique to the city. On March 17, 1776 Boston’s long siege ended as the British evacuated the city and sailed to Halifax. Boston has marked this date forever since as Evacuation Day, and it remains a city holiday to this day.
The siege may have continued on indefinitely had Colonel Henry Knox not pulled off the Herculean task of hauling cannon from Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point to Dorchester Heights. The British had the naval strength to continue controlling the harbor, meaning the siege was an inconvenience but the loyalists and British in Boston wouldn’t starve. It was only when they saw the cannon on Dorchester Heights that they realized the dangerous position that put them in and chose to pull out.
There are many people who roll their eyes at Evacuation Day as a city holiday. They surmise, perhaps correctly, that it’s an excuse to have a day off for the drinking, parade and extracurricular activity of St. Patrick’s Day. But if you’re a history buff it’s a great day to celebrate.
Today is Evacuation Day at home as well, as both kids head back to college. This is bittersweet of course, but ultimately a necessary rite of passage as they both move deeper into adulthood. My hope is that they get safely back to school before the drunks hit the road after a long day of celebratory drinking.