Happy Evacuation Day – March 17th

Here in the Boston area it’s a legal holiday. It’s also a holiday in Cambridge and Somerville. Evacuation Day is one of only two celebrated in the U.S. The other is in New York.


On March 17, 1776 the 11-month siege of Boston ended when the Continental Army, under Washington, fortified Dorchester Heights with cannons captured at Ticonderoga, forcing General Howe’s garrison to attack or flee. To prevent what could have been a slaughter of his troops, Howe agreed to retreat to Nova Scotia via his ships without setting the city on fire as he left.

Both celebrate the departure of the forces of darkness of the time. The forces who sought to deprive the people of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

March 17th is also, and very obviously, a celebration of the Irish in America. I’m a full-blooded member of the Celtic tribe (pronounced keltik, from Greek (Keltoi)) and Boston born so it’s a double celebration day here. It is for a lot of Irish-Americans and has been since the original Evacuation Day.

Many of the soldiers who volunteered to serve under General George Washington to break the yoke of British colonialism were Irish Catholic. These soldiers and their families experienced first hand British occupation and suppression. Many of their sacrifices during the War of Independence were critical in bringing about the establishment of the United States of America. After a failed movement in 1876, the holiday was finally proclaimed on the 125th anniversary in 1901.

So a Happy March 17th to all of you and there’s more…

The American Revolution in turn had a feedback into the history of the long running Irish Revolution. Irish opinion changed quite a bit during the 1760 – 1783 time frame. The success the American Irish had in fighting the British here did not go unnoticed back on the Isle. That success became an historical thread – a meme if you will – that lead to the 1798 Irish Revolution.

In fact, the American Revolution had a worldwide influence at the time – the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, and the Latin American revolutions. The examples of the American and the French Revolution were influential in the 1798 Rising.

Theobald Wolfe Tone, a lawyer from County Kildare, was greatly influenced by the French Revolution. He saw it as “the dawn of a new and perfect age”. He saw in Ireland all the injustice that had been renounced by the French. He attacked the system of government of Ireland and the English rule that supported it, at first within the law, but, eventually, with armed insurrection.

In 1791, Tone published a pamphlet, “A Northern Whig”, attacking the 1782 constitution. Hoping to speed reform of the Irish government in Dublin, he advocated cooperation between Catholics and Dissenters. In October 1791, with Rowan Hamilton, Napper Tandy, and other Protestants, he formed the Society of United Irishmen, with headquarters in Belfast. The aim was: (1) to abolish all religious distinctions, (2) to unite all Irishmen against the unjust influence of England, and (3) to secure true representation in a national parliament.

Those last three points are a bit familiar. Also 1791::2008 as pamphlet::blog.

Somewhere between the time the green beer starts its way down and before it starts its way back up again as an offering to the Porcelain Gods, or a decoration for your shoes, here’s a thought for the day:

One of the seminal events in the birthing of America was the Boston Tea Party.

The Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Acts of 1767 angered colonists regarding British decisions on taxing the colonies despite a lack of representation in the Westminster Parliament. One of the protesters was John Hancock. In 1768, Hancock’s ship Liberty was seized by customs officials, and he was charged with smuggling. He was defended by John Adams, and the charges were eventually dropped. However, Hancock later faced several hundred more indictments.

Hancock organized a boycott of tea from China sold by the British East India Company, whose sales in the colonies then fell from 320,000 pounds (145,000 kg) to 520 pounds (240 kg). By 1773, the company had large debts, huge stocks of tea in its warehouses and no prospect of selling it because smugglers, such as Hancock, were importing tea from Holland without paying import taxes. The British government passed the Tea Act, which allowed the East India Company to sell tea to the colonies directly and without “payment of any customs or duties whatsoever” in Britain, instead paying the much lower American duty. This tax break allowed the East India Company to sell tea for half the old price and cheaper than the price of tea in England, enabling them to undercut the prices offered by the colonial merchants and smugglers.

… wiki snip …

On Thursday, December 16, 1773, the evening before the tea was due to be landed, Captain Roach appealed to Governor Hutchinson to allow his ship to leave without unloading its tea. When Roach returned and reported Hutchinson’s refusal to a massive protest meeting, Samuel Adams said to the assembly “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country”. As though on cue, the Sons of Liberty thinly disguised as Narragansett Indians and armed with small hatchets and clubs, headed toward Griffin’s Wharf (in Boston Harbor) , where lay Dartmouth and the newly arrived Beaver and Eleanour. Swiftly and efficiently, casks of tea were brought up from the hold to the deck, reasonable proof that some of the “Indians” were, in fact, longshoremen. The casks were opened and the tea dumped overboard; the work, lasting well into the night, was quick, thorough, and efficient. By dawn, over 342 casks or 90,000 lbs (45 tons) of tea worth an estimated £10,000 had been consigned to waters of Boston harbor. Nothing else had been damaged or stolen, except a single padlock accidentally broken and anonymously replaced not long thereafter.

… they were having a wiki pissa time … snip … [Inside the 128 Beltway joke]

Back in the day, the rabble got roused by the rabble-rousing smugglers (see John Hancock) and merchants providing kegs of beer for the enjoyment – and arousement – of the rabble. It was especially helpful to the cause when the lead rabble rouser in this particular instance was himself a brewer (see Sam Adams). And no doubt, a large part of the rabble was Irish Catholic. By no coincidence whatsoever, the predominant ethnic group among the longshoremen was Irish-Catholic.

So when you’re quaffing that brew you’re renewing an Irish-American tradition in many more ways than one. Beannachtam na Feile Padraig! Sláinte!!!

May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night,and the road downhill all the way to your door.

Coda:

Sam Adams, one of America’s first bloggers:

In January 1748, to his father’s approval, Adams and some friends launched a weekly public opinion publication, The Public Advertiser.[22] The newspaper contained mostly editorials and commentary, with a predominantly Whig stance. The cover of the publication featured a woodcut illustration of Britannia liberating a bird tied by a cord to the arms of France.[23] The publication stated it was “open to whatever may be adapted to state and defend the rights and liberties of mankind”.

And the thread continued to play out…


The Boston Tea Party is known around the world and has been inspirational to other noted activists and reform leaders. For example, Erik H. Erikson records in his book “Gandhi’s Truths” that when Mahatma Gandhi met with the British viceroy in 1930 after the Indian salt protest campaign, Gandhi took some duty-free salt from his shawl and said, with a smile, that the salt was “to remind us of the famous Boston Tea Party.”

Síocháin.

Shanti.

Peace.

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4 comments

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    • sharon on March 18, 2008 at 2:36 am

    thanks for the tales and a happy st. paddy’s day to ye.

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