The History of Evacuation Day

In the late summer of 1776, Continental Army led by Commander and Chief, George Washington, lost its first battle, the Battle of Long Island. The Continental retreat left the important port city of New York under British control. Patriots fled their homes and businesses. New York City remained a loyalist hub and an occupied city for the next seven years.

On September 3, 1783, nearly two years after the final battle between American and British troops, the Treaty of Paris was signed, declaring America free of British sovereignty. Tuesday, November 25th 1783 was set as the day on which the British military occupation of New York City would come to an end.

Untitled, Collection of Fraunces Tavern® Museum

On the morning of the evacuation, Washington marched over 300 soldiers down the length of Manhattan, amid cheers and waving banners.

British troops, as well as Loyalists, boarded ships by the hundreds to begin new lives in British territories, most prominently Nova Scotia and the West Indies.

Collection of Fraunces Tavern® Museum

In a final act of defiance, a British flag was left nailed to a flag pole in Battery Park, its halyards cut and the pole greased to prohibit a changing of the flags. Over an hour was spent trying to get the flag down, when a young man, a former soldier, by the name of John Van Arsdale, made cleats of wood and nails and was able to climb the pole and raise the Stars and Stripes over Manhattan for the very first time.

Washington Taking Leave of his Officers, Collection of Fraunces Tavern® Museum

Evacuation Day was celebrated in New York well into the next century. Its popularity began to wane due to several factors, including Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation that the last Thursday of November would be a day of Thanksgiving.

The Sons of the Revolution host an annual dinner on November 25th to celebrate Evacuation Day.