NYC marks forgotten holiday from Revolutionary War

November 25, 2008 at 7:59 pm Leave a comment

Reenactors in 18th century dress prepared Tuesday to answer questions about the 225th anniversary of Evacuation Day.

Visitors to the event in lower Manhattan are likely to have some. Beginning with: What’s Evacuation Day?

Answer: Nov. 25, 1783, the day Gen. George Washington and his victorious troops marched down Broadway while the last British redcoats boarded ships in the harbor and sailed away, marking the end of the American Revolution.

At Federal Hall, where a statue of Washington marks the site of his 1789 inauguration as president, there will be a National Park Service display of documents and artifacts.

A private reenactors group, the Brigade of the American Revolution, will stage a mock ceremony in which a British officer gives the key to New York City to one of Washington’s officers.

While that didn’t actually happen, the little drama symbolizes the transfer of power that ultimately ended the war, two years after Washington’s victory at Yorktown, said park service spokesman Michael Callahan.

Reenactors also will lay wreaths at the graves of Alexander Hamilton, Declaration of Independence signer Francis Lewis and Continental Army officers buried in nearby Trinity Church.

“The event is not about the war but about who served, regardless of what uniform they wore, including the Germans who fought with the British, the French, the civilians, the African-Americans, all have a story to be told,” Callahan said. “It is really about reconciliation.”

It also is about educating the public. Callahan conceded that few New Yorkers today ever heard of Evacuation Day. If 100 people on the street were asked, “maybe two” would know about it, he said, adding, “Hopefully, after this event more people will be aware of it.”

During the late 19th century, Evacuation Day was celebrated annually in New York City — a sort of Fourth of July afterthought, with parades, bands and reenactment of the tearing down of the British flag in Battery Park.

For years, bonfires were lit on high ground along the Hudson to mark the day, just as they had been for signaling during the war. This year, a dozen 2,000-watt spotlights — five in New York and seven in New Jersey — will create a 110-mile chain of lights from Beacon, along the Hudson River, to Princeton, N.J.

Evacuation Day lost its punch around 1900 and disappeared when the United States and Britain became allies in World War I, the first time they had been on the same battlefield since the War of 1812.

But in 1783, the celebration marking the British withdrawal lasted for days. The last time it was observed officially was a bicentennial parade in 1983.

On Dec. 11, Sotheby’s will auction a document signed by Washington in which he welcomes back patriots who fled New York City rather than live under British rule. The letter, which is dated Nov. 27, 1783, is expected to bring between $300,000 and $500,000.

Sotheby’s expert Selby Kiffer said the document — penned by another person but bearing Washington’s “bold signature” — is the only known original copy of several statements he delivered during the celebration.

On the Net:
Brigade of the American Revolution: http://www.brigade.org

Associated Press

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