Amid the stir of Guinness sponsoring a nationwide effort to make St. Patrick’s Day a holiday is the recognition that Bostonians already get March 17 off. In one of those happy coincidences, March 17 in Boston is also Evacuation Day, which marks the day George Washington and Colonial troops drove the British out of the city.
The day is typically ridiculed as a “hack holiday” but anyone who caught a glimpse of last night’s magnificent HBO mini-series John Adams got to see the power and meaning behind it. Abigail Adams hears a man cry out and the sound of marching. Frightened, she readies a musket and exits her Quincy home. She looks out to find a procession of Colonials. They are hauling two massive cannon captured from the British at Fort Ticonderga. General Knox tells her the Americans have dubbed them “Liberty” and “Independence.” (Incidentally, I’m not sure if she could have seen the ships departing from her home on Adams Street — I passed it yesterday — but certainly from the top of the vantage point now known as “Presidents Hill” for her husband and son.)
They don’t get into it in the movie, which is by far the most gripping depiction of America’s revolution I have ever seen on television, but the Colonials took the artillery to Dorchester Heights. Dorchester Heights is not in nearby Dorchester, but the highest point in South Boston, the epicenter of Irish America. With the cannon in place, the British, who had occupied Boston for several years, finally departed.
While there is, of course, a political element to Boston’s celebration of Evacuation Day, it’s nice to be reminded that there is great significance behind it as well. Here’s a website that explains what Bostonians are doing to celebrate Evacuation Day as well.