The American Revolutionary War came to a close with General George Washington leading the Continental Army to a victory over the troops of the British Empire.
On November 25th, Sir Guy Carleton, Commander of the British Army and Navy, led the last British forces out of New York City. Joining with him were over 29,000 refugees still loyal to the British monarchy, liberated slaves, and the remaining British forces still garrisoned within the confines of New York. Carleton gave a final date of noon on November 25th of 1783 to depart, and with his fleet in tow, departed through The Narrows (the seaway between Staten Island and Brooklyn that leads to the Atlantic) back to Britain.
As they departed, Americans jeered the ships, to which a frustrated British sailor fired a cannon towards the crowd which fell far short of land. General Washington and General Henry Knox would then secure New York, and tore down the remaining British Union Jack flag in Battery Park, replacing it with the Stars and Stripes of the newly minted United States. The process of this day would forever be enshrined as an encapsulation of the American victory over the mighty United Kingdom.
In the years following, the day of November 25th became synonymous with feelings of great patriotism and national pride, similar to Independence Day. Every year, the celebration of what would become known as the celebration of “Evacuation Day”, was held in Battery Park, the location of the final remaining British flags. A contest where young men would race to climb up the same flag pole and replace the Union Jack flag with the American flag was held there on an annual basis. As with many other American-centric holidays, Evacuation Day came to be known as a holiday that showed the triumph of the American spirit and the yearning to be free.
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the final Thursday in November, many times coinciding with Evacuation Day, and thus limiting much of the celebrations. In the 20th century, due to the United Kingdom becoming one of America’s strongest and closest allies, the desire to celebrate Evacuation Day annually faded. However, the centennial, bicentennial and 225 year anniversaries of Evacuation Day were marked with celebrations from the American public, in spite of the now warm relations the United States has with the UK. Several historical Revolutionary War battlegrounds in New York including Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh as well as Mount Beacon in Fishkill shined beacon lights to signify the bonfires lit to serve the same purpose during the original Evacuation Day. Though the holiday has waned, the remembrance of foreign troops leaving US soil is one that remains poignant in American history.