Evacuation Day is celebrated on March 17. This is the date that the British army was forced to leave the city of Boston after George Washington’s victorious fortification of Dorchester Heights. It was the first major military victory for Americans — playing a vital role in the war effort by boosting troop morale. It also made Washington — who was then commander of the Continental Army — a popular figure among Americans, and undoubtedly contributed to his election as the first President of the U.S. Evacuation Day coincides with St. Patrick’s Day, which many Bostonians look forward to with great anticipation.
History of Evacuation Day
On March 4, 1776, Major General John Thomas led a force of 1,200 laborers and 800 soldiers to Dorchester Heights. George Washington authorized this mission. The objective was to fortify Dorchester Heights. To conceal noise from the fortification work, the Americans began bombarding targets outside the city of Boston.
When the sun rose the following day on March 5, over a dozen cannons from Fort Ticonderoga had found their way to Dorchester Heights. Lady Luck was on America’s side. Bad weather prevented British ships docked in the Boston harbor from destroying enemy bases, giving the Americans enough time to set up artillery and complete their fortifications. When the weather settled down, the British realized their position was indefensible. They could no longer occupy the city they had held for eight years — not under the presence of such heavy firepower pointed directly at their troops and naval fleet.
Though the British outnumbered the Americans several times, General William Howe, commander of the British army, did not want to repeat the mistakes made in the Battle of Bunker Hill. He decided to withdraw rather than suffer devastating losses in a Pyrrhic victory. Over 11,000 British troops sailed away from Boston on March 17, heading to Halifax in Nova Scotia, and never returned. This was a major psychological victory for Washington and the Americans. The Evacuation Day holiday was proclaimed in 1901. The residents of Massachusetts still celebrate this significant victory today.
Evacuation Day timeline
British military forces invade and occupy the American city of Boston.
On December 16, 60 American colonists throw 342 chests of tea into the Boston harbor to protest a tax imposed on tea by the East India Company.
The British Parliament introduces punitive laws to punish Massachusetts colonists for the Boston Tea Party.
Militias in Massachusetts block access to Boston by land.
The British sail away from Boston after the colonists successfully fortify Dorchester Heights.
Evacuation Day FAQs
What happened on Evacuation Day?
British troops were forced to leave Boston after George Washington succeeded in fortifying Dorchester Heights.
When did Evacuation Day become a holiday?
The Evacuation Day holiday was proclaimed in 1901 after a failed attempt in 1876.
When did the British leave NYC?
British soldiers withdrew from New York City on November 25, 1783.
Evacuation Day Activities
Watch an enactment
Revolutionary war enactments are colorful affairs, complete with historically accurate clothing and weapons. History buffs and actors roleplay as different sides in the conflict in live-action displays of massive battles. It’s an entertaining way to learn about history.
Wear clothing that is color green
Evacuation Day coincides with St. Patrick’s Day and people chose to combine the two holidays. Boston is home to many Americans with Irish ancestry, and it's common to see mash-ups of St. Paddy’s Day and Evacuation Day celebrations.
Attend the parade
Join in the festivity of the parade and come together as a community in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day and Evacuation Day. Watch the parade from one of the many restaurants along the route, or take in the parade with the masses.
5 Interesting Facts About Boston You Didn’t Know
It’s named after an English town
The settlers of Boston, Massachusetts, came from the town of Boston, England.
It has America’s first subway
Bostonians built the first subway in the U.S. in 1897.
It is the home of chocolate
The very first chocolate factory in the U.S. opened in Dorchester in 1765.
The city has a nickname
Boston got the nickname ‘Beantown’ because locals loved to eat baked beans and molasses.
There are no happy hours
Despite its reputation for solid drinking culture, happy hours were outlawed in Boston in 1984 after a drunk driver killed Kathleen Barry in a restaurant parking lot in Braintree, Massachusetts.
Why We Love Evacuation Day
It helps us commemorate history
Evacuation Day is an integral part of early U.S. history. It’s one of the notable events in the country’s founding, immortalizing American defiance against the British.
It is a celebration of victory
Evacuation Day was a victory over the redcoats, and the Americans didn’t even have to fire a single shot. General Washington’s quick thinking saved lives and raised morale among troops and American citizens.
It shows American ingenuity
The Siege of Boston and its conclusion were a testament to good old-fashioned American ingenuity. With a bit of creativity and smarts, the colonists outwitted a numerically superior British force.
Evacuation Day dates