Wednesday, Dec 10, 2008
November 25th dawned to a sight no one had seen in more than two centuries â the British flag flying above 26 Wall Street (Federal Hall) in downtown New York City. The âUnion Jackâ was being flown as a part of a commemoration of the 225th anniversary of Evacuation Day, the day the British military withdrew from New York City in 1783, marking the cessation of hostilities between Great Britain and its former colonies.
Evacuation Day was once the largest annual celebration in New York City, with lavish military parades, patriotic oratories, fireworks and banquets. To this day, the 1883 centennial marking the evacuation is one of the greatest events ever held in the City. Statues were unveiled in honor of the 100th anniversary, including the George Washington statue that now graces the steps of Federal Hall National Memorial, the site of the first capitol of the United States and the swearing in of Washington as our first president.
For ranger Mike Callahan, the event at Federal Hall provided the opportunity to tell the stories not only of the triumphant American troops, but also those of the loyalists forced from their homes for their commitment to the Crown, of the foreign allies and auxiliaries on both sides, of the women who worked and worried, of the Native Americas who fought in the war, and of the African-American slaves freed by the British and transported to a new life.
âThe Evacuation Day commemoration at Federal Hall is not so much about the American/French victory, but the end of the war and its ongoing legacy, and paying due respect to all those who served or followed the armies no matter what uniform they wore,â Callahan explained.
Visitors to Federal Hall were greeted by more than 60 re-enactors portraying officers and their wives, civilians, a free black soldier, regular troops (whether British, Continental or German), medical personnel, an engineer/surveyor, and a postmaster, as well as some of Americaâs Founding Fathers â George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin. Among the re-enactors were NPS rangers from Valley Forge and Independence. The day also included 18th Century music, a wreath laying at nearby Trinity Church at the graves of important Revolutionary War figures, and a ceremonial transfer of authority from British to American forces on the steps of Federal Hall.