Evacuation Day – The Forgotten Holiday
Take Your Mark, Get Set, Good-bye! The Period Between Yorktown and Evacuation Day, 1783
by C. F. William Maurer
With the beginning of World War I, a New York City holiday that had been celebrated commemorating the last day of the American Revolution was cancelled because, of all things, no one hated the British anymore! Until the bicentennial of the event twenty-five years ago, few remembered the part that early leaders of this new country, some with Masonic ties and some with the age old lament, My brother, uncle, father, father-in-law were Masons, I’m not! played such an important role in this forgotten holiday, the day the British Army left New York and ended foreign occupation in these United States.
On November 25, 1783, General of the Army George Washington, Gen. Henry Knox and New York Governor (and General) George Clinton led the American forces into New York City and down Broadway right behind the leaving British Army. That afternoon the Brits took a left turn on Pearl Street, past Fraunces Tavern, boarded ships on the East River and sailed out to sea. This signaled the end of the American Revolution and began the celebration of “Evacuation Day.” The holiday was celebrated with parades, speeches and fireworks much in the same way as today’s celebration of the Fourth of July.
Take Your Mark….
The battle of Yorktown (October 19, 1781) marked the last battle of the American Revolution when Gen. Cornwallis surrendered his entrapped army to General Washington. Sir Henry Clinton, who controlled New York City, could affect nothing but the control of the Hudson River with his small navy. The British had once before almost seized the river as far up as Albany, NY. Should hostilities be resumed, the northern colonies could be separated from the rest – as had been tried in the past. To prevent such a contingency Washington moved the American Army to encamp at New Windsor, a town near Newburgh, NY, on April 1, 1782. The officers and men eagerly awaited news from the peace negotiators in Paris. And then they waited some more.
Most historians acknowledge that Yorktown was the end of the American Revolution. Yet there were still disquieting events happening that were certainly not peaceful and could, at any moment, signal renewed fighting. Before rebuilding New York City, before becoming a country, the British would have to leave.
British troops accompanied by Loyalists started to sporadically raid outlying settlements. One such raid, January 9, 1782 led to the occupation of New Brunswick, NJ for about an hour. The next month, Loyalists raided Pleasant Valley in Monmouth County, New Jersey, this time taking a number of prisoners. These activities persisted and were encouraged by the Board of Associated Loyalists led by the former governor of New Jersey, William Franklin.
William Franklin, son of Pennsylvania Past Grand Master, Benjamin Franklin, had left New Jersey during the war, and settled in New York City directing these Loyalist activities. Another Loyalist raid led to the capture of Captain Joshua Huddy, commander of a blockhouse at Toms River, on March 24 . The Loyalist turned Huddy over to Sir Guy Carleton, commander in chief of the British in the colonies, and Carleton surrendered Huddy to the Board of Associated Loyalists. Huddy was then hung and a note was pinned to his clothing: We the Refugees, having long with grief beheld the cruel murders of our brethren, and finding nothing but such measures daily carried into execution, therefore determined not to suffer without taking vengeance for the numerous cruelties; and thus begin, having made use of Captain Huddy as the fist object to present to your view; and we further determine to hang man for man while there is a Refugee existing.
Immediate outrage to this “murder without even an excuse of hot blood” caused an uproar and demands that General Washington bring pressure on the British to halt such actions. Such a problem, now known as the Huddy Affair, would have to be settled in any Peace Treaty.
Also, the British Loyalists in the New York area began to leave for Canada and Great Britain. Leading the parade were those who might face collaboration or treason charges when peace finally happened and the British were not around to protect them. Yet there were still prisoners on both sides that had to be exchanged and even wounded still in hospitals unaccounted for.
Then there was a third problem that had been on a low flame brewing all through this war of Independence, and personal rights. This was the question of Slavery.
Both the Americans and the British recruited slaves to join the military forces. On the American side, the slave owner received the enlisting bonus; the slave/soldier served, and then the soldier was granted his freedom. The bonus would have paid or reimbursed the owner for his slave. This plan worked well in the north. The British welcomed the slaves who crossed the lines and offered freedom if the slaves served in the British army. However, there was no reimbursement to the slave owners under this system. Serious peace talks and negotiations began in April, 1782 as Washington moved the army to Newburgh. New allies began to recognize the United States. The Netherlands had now recognized American independence. Spain followed after. The Loyalists were still creating problems, by leading the Indians against fortifications and settlements along the borders.
Washington had to resolve all these problems and after some small amount of guidance and discussion with the Continental Congress, proposed that negotiations might start with a meeting to take place in a location familiar to both parties. Washington had visited Tappan, New York at least twice before. He had stayed with the De Wint family through their son-in-law, Maj. Blauvelt and took advantage of their home and hospitality while he was checking on the defenses on the Hudson early in the war and, of course, made the house his headquarters while in Tappan for the trial and hanging of John Andre in 1780.
Washington recommended to Sir Guy Carleton that a meeting between their staff be held to lay the ground work for a general exchange of prisoners at the De Wint house on September 27, 1782. Representing Sir Guy was General Campbell and Andrew Elliot (who was to take over as NY’s Tory lieutenant governor for a short time) and General Washington sent Generals Heath and Knox. Washington had met Andrew Elliot before in Tappan two years earlier when Sir Henry Clinton had made one last try to save Major Andre from hanging; Elliot was one of the team sent to plead with Washington.
Major General John Campbell had just returned from leading British forces against the Spanish in Florida and had a bitter battle and defeat in New Orleans. He was graciously allowed to leave and came to New York for a new assignment. Not much was accomplished at the De Wint home during the meeting. Feelings, emotions and problems were too high. Many questions were raised that th General Henry Knox had to be brought back to the Generals (and Congress and the King) before decisions could be made. The Provisional treaty of Peace was signed in Paris on November 30, 1782. Almost two months later, on January 20, 1783, this great news is received at the American Army’s camp in Newburgh. A Cessation of hostilities is then signed by the British and U.S. commissioners. February 4 , Great Britain proclaims a cessation of hostilities. With the war now over, the problems with the troops headquartered at Newburgh, NY took on a bigger concern. The soldiers and their officers wanted to be paid and wanted to go home. While mutinies within the young Army were nothing new, the uprising at Newburgh, the Newburgh Conspiracy, was begun by the officers, the very elite of the military and the new country. Governments need money to exist. Congress was without leadership and was bankrupt. In 1781, the Articles of Confederation gave Congress the power to maintain a wartime army but not the power to tax to pay for it. The States still retained this power and either was unwilling or unable to tax to the amount needed.
By the summer of 1782, Congress had $125,000 of the needed $6 million. Loans were defaulted, interest was not paid and, of course, the military pay was stopped.Congress had, in 1780, saw the need to preserve the Army and had offered a lifetime pension of half-pay to the officers and a bonus of $80 to enlist until the end of the war. The desire to get paid and to go home was growing.
Earlier in the 1780s, Washington had been approached twice by army officers who promised their support if he decided to seize civilian power. In one famous incident in 1782, Col. Lewis Nicola wrote a letter urging Washington to overthrow Congress and become America’s king. The commanding general scolded Nicola the very same day. In 1783, on the Ides of March, Washington caught wind of officers wanting to stage a coup d’Ètat against Congress. Washington would not be moved — that die would not be cast. General Washington called a meeting to be held in the New Building – The Temple – to be chaired by General Gates, second in command in Newburgh. Gates had, personally, been working with other dissatisfied officers and members of Congress to remove Washington and take over the government. The officers were talking of a coup and then setting up martial law to secure these payments.
When the meeting was called to order, much to the surprise of all, General Washington came in. He asked to speak to the officers, and the stunned Gates relinquished the floor. Washington could tell by the faces of his officers that they were quite angry and did not show the deference or respect that they had always shown in the past toward him. Washington gave a short speech about the precarious finances of the new nation. He could see that they were still confused, uncertain, not quite appreciating or comprehending what he had tried to impart in his speech. With a sigh, he removed from his pocket a letter and announced it was from a member of Congress, and that he now wished to read it to them. He produced the letter, and gazed upon it. Washington now reached into a pocket and brought out a pair of new reading glasses. Only those nearest to him knew he lately required them, and he had never worn them in public.
He said: Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country. This simple act and statement by their venerated commander, coupled with remembrances of battles and privations shared together with him, and their sense of shame at their present approach to the threshold of treason, was more effective than the most eloquent oratory. As he read the letter, many were in tears from the recollections and emotions which flooded their memories. As Maj. Samuel Shaw, who was present, wrote in his journal, There was something so natural, so unaffected in this appeal as rendered it superior to the most studied oratory. It forced its way to the heart, and you might see sensibility moisten every eye. This caused most of the men to realize that Washington, too, had sacrificed a great deal, maybe even more than most of them during the years for this glorious cause. These men, of course, were his fellow officers, most having worked closely with him for several years. The conspiracy collapsed.
Washington then left the room and General Henry Knox (also a Mason) and others offered resolutions reaffirming their loyalty acceptable to the group. A major crisis for the brand new country had been avoided. The new nation had a chance to succeed only if its leaders and military adhered to the rule th Guy Carleton of law. What still remained, however, was Congress being threatened with “the terror of a mutinying army.”
In June Congress will leave Philadelphia threatened by 300 or so newly released soldiers. Washington will be called to put down this “riot.” On March 23 , in Philadelphia, the French ship “Triumph” arrived with the news. In 1928 an interesting letter written by General Washington to General Henry Knox was made public by Gabriel Wells, a New York dealer in rare books and autographs. Wells says that this is believed to be the only letter in which Washington may be said to have overflowed in exuberance and patriotic feeling and even paraphrases scripture.
The note reads: Newburgh 26 March 1783 My dear Knox: Such as I have, I give unto thee. God grant the news may be true. But whether it is or not, the late conduct of the army will redound to the immortal honor of it. Yrs most sincerely, Go. Washington. The letter is believed to have been written by Washington upon receipt of a letter from Lafayette announcing the signing of the preliminary articles of peace in France.
The scriptural reference is from the 3 Chapter of Acts, verse 6. As Peter was entering the Temple a lame beggar at the door sought alms. Peter said: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk…” General Washington omitted “silver and gold I do not have,” evidently intending the words to be understood by General Knox. The money question in the army had been serious. Washington possibly intended the news of peace to sooth the troubles of the army. Sir Guy Carleton proclaimed the end of hostilities in New York on April 8th. Congress on the 11th signed off and proclaimed the end of the war. Washington delayed telling the troops in Newburgh for a week about the end of the war because he feared that those signed for the duration of the war would all leave in mass.
On April 19th Washington ordered the cessation of hostilities to be read at noon at Newburgh and left for Ringwood to meet the Secretary of War for the purpose of making arrangements for release and exchange of prisoners. This was the eighth anniversary of the Battle at Lexington. Get Set…. And what about the problems that existed over a year ago? The Tories are leaving in droves on ships to Canada/Nova Scotia and some going back to England. There are still the prisoners, the sick and wounded and the slave seen as property to be decided. Importantly, there will be a need for government and police protection in New York City once the British leave. But now, finally, somewhere in the not too distant future, the British will be leaving. Now is the time to clear up these sticky issues.
In a letter dated April 21, Washington invites Sir Guy to meet again face to face and Sir Guy agrees three days later. The purpose is “to speed business and restore the Prisoners.” The idea is advanced, that the British take a frigate, the H.M.S. Perseverance, to the meeting so that each may entertain under equal advantages; the British on board the ship and the Americans on shore. Petty problems affected the meeting.
William Smith, loyalist Chief Justice of the Province of New York, from 1763 to 1782, was personally concerned about his relationship with General (and now Governor of New York) George Clinton. Clinton had clerked for him as a young lawyer. Smith wrote that it could not be grateful to me to treat with a man who was once my clerk and now assuming the station of a superior and perhaps disposed to consider me as an Enemy. Smith was the son of Judge William Smith of New York. His brother, Doctor Thomas Smith, was the owner of the “treason house” in Haverstraw, Orange County, New York that was being occupied by his other brother, Joshua Hett Smith, at the time that Benedict Arnold and Major John Andre planned their conspiracies.
Smith tried to stall the meeting and did not want any “interview” with the Americans until there had been a prisoner exchange. Sir Guy Carleton was not in any hurry either. He wanted to make sure that all the Loyalists were taken care of and had left for new homes before the protection of the British Army was ended. Also he was waiting for news from General Charles Grey on the return of the British prisoners.
Grey was the commander of the British forces at the massacre of Baylor’s Dragoons – a Virginia cavalry unit – in Old Tappan in 1778. There was another officer named Smith involved in the negotiations. This was Lieutenant Colonel William Stephen Smith, General Washington’s aide-decamp. It is interesting to notice that this young man later married Abigail Adams, the daughter of John and Abigail Adams. The couple met in London while the Honorable John Adams was the U.S. foreign minister to Great Britain. Of course, he later was the second U.S. president.
The Smith’s had had four children, and their only daughter, Caroline Abigail Smith, married a Peter De Wint (b. 1787) in 1814.
Off shore in the Tappan Zee, the British ship, H.M.S. Perseverance, welcomed the Americans aboard with a seventeen gun salute. This is the first time that the British acknowledge Washington and the American flag. The date to hold the meeting, 6 May, was mutually agreed upon. The British party landed at Piermont, then listed on maps as Dobb’s Ferry, on the west side of the Hudson. The party disembarking consisted of Sir Guy’s two aides, Majors Beckwith and Upham, Ship Captain Lutwyche, Justice Smith, Mr. Elliot and American Lieutenant Colonel Smith who had sailed with the British by Washington’s orders. General Washington waited on shore.
The distance to the De Wint House was about three miles. Justice Smith wrote that the Generals rode in a four horse “chariot,” some of the others by horseback, but he and Mr. Elliot walked the distance with Col. Smith. After arriving at the De Wint house, about an hour was spent outside in pleasantries and “separate chats” until the Generals entered the house. General Washington spoke first. Three points needed to be resolved as soon as possible. First there was a need to protect property from being carried off by the Loyalists.
The property he was most concerned with was the “negroes.” Secondly, a day and time needed to be set for the evacuation of New York and lastly, there must be a government in place when the evacuation would take place. Sir Guy listened. When General Washington had made his points, Carleton agreed that a day and time must be set for the evacuation (we can work on that) and that he had already sent some 6,000 Loyalists to Nova Scotia. Sir Guy had appointed teams to inspect the ships to check for any property taken and had made a registry so “that the owners might eventually be paid for the slaves who were entitled to their Freedom by British proclamations and promises.” Washington appeared startled, and said, “Already embarked?”
Sir Guy pointed out that nothing could be changed in any articles that were inconsistent with prior policies or national honor. He added that the only mode was to pay for the Negroes in which case justice was done to all, the slaves and the owners. Sir Guy Carleton stated that it would be a breach of faith not to honor their promise of liberty to the Negro and declared that if removing them proved to be an infraction of the treaty then compensation would have to be paid by the British Government. To provide for such a contingency, he had a register kept of all Negroes who left, entering their name, age, occupation, and name of their former master. This was agreed to by the Americans but, as far as can be determined, no compensation was ever paid. Details were discussed and in the late afternoon, General Washington noted that dinner was approaching and offered wine and bitters.
The meeting was over. Sir Guy rose and General Washington asked him to check over the notes of the meeting so that he, Washington, could pass them on correctly to Congress to avoid any misunderstandings. A “plentiful repast” or as another recorded, “a most Sumptuous Dinner” was served under a tent nearby. About thirty officers and guests took part. This dinner was prepared by a friend of Washington’s, none other than Samuel Fraunces, a member of Holland Lodge and owner of a tavern in lower New York City at 54 Pearl Street.
That evening, Washington sent a letter to Governor of Virginia Benjamin Harrison that told him of the meeting in progress, that Sir Guy was indisposed and has been taken back to New York before the business could be brought to a close and I have discovered enough however, in the course of the conversation which was held, to convince me that the Slaves which have been absconded from their Masters will never be restored to them. Vast numbers of them are already gone to Nova Scotia. And to Sir Guy he wrote: …I cannot however conceal from your Excellency that my private opinion is, that the measure is totally different from the Letter and Spirit of the Treaty. But waving the Discussing of the point, and leaving its decision to our respective Sovereigns I find it my Duty to signify my Readiness, in 2 3 Conjunction with your Excellency, to enter into any Agreements, or take any Measures which may be deemed expedient to prevent the future Carrying away any Negroes or other property of the American Inhabitants.
The next day, May 7 , Captain Lutwyche, of the H.M.S. Perseverance, gave a dinner for General Washington and his staff aboard the ship. Sir Guy was not feeling well, having an “ague” caught before or just after coming aboard the ship and did not attend. Accompanying Washington were Governor Clinton, Mr. Scott, Mr. Duer, Mr. Benson, Colonel Cobb, Colonel Humphreys, Colonel Smith and Mr. John Trumbull, Washington’s secretary.
The comment of Richard Varick, a former aide to Gen. Arnold, and now a member of Washington’s staff, was that While an elegant dinner (tho’ not equal to the American) was prepared” not much was accomplished. Both sides had to check with their respective bosses or sovereigns, letters had to be and would be exchanged and both were eager to continue negotiations favorable to their side. Washington wrote in the closing of his expense account, To Expenditures upon an Interview with Sir Guy Carleton at Orange Town, exclusive of what was paid by the Contractors viz: Maj. Blauvelt for the use of his House, furniture etc. 10 guineas a 37/4
The Americans were represented by General Washington. His Masonic record is quite well known to all. General Henry Knox is thought to have been a member of the First Lodge of Boston. General Clinton was not a Mason and his Masonic membership is often confused with his nephew George, a member of Warren Lodge No. 17, of Little Britain, NY. Another, nephew, De Witt Clinton, was Grand Master of New York for the longest time and also New York’s Governor. Sir Guy Carleton (aka. Lord Dorchester) has a close tie to the Craft.
In 1772, Sir Guy married Lady Maria. From 1782 until 1789, Carleton’s brother-inlaw, Thomas, 3rd Earl of Effingham served as Acting Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge of England. One of the more interesting events in Effingham’s tenure as Acting Grand Master was that in 1784 Prince Hall wrote to a Brother Moody in London seeking help in applying for a warrant for Hall’s “African Lodge No. 1.” The Petition was successful and the Grand Lodge of England (Moderns) issued a warrant to African Lodge No. 459 on 20 September, 1784.
It was the Grand Master’s practice to leave the signing of warrants to Effingham – Sir Guy’s brother in law – so Effingham’s signature appears on that important warrant.
General Washington wrote to the President of Congress that, the men engaged to serve three years were formed into regiments and corps in the following manner’ namely, the troops of Massachusetts compose four regiments; Connecticut, one regiment; New Hampshire, five companies; Rhode Island, two companies; and New York artillery, two companies. The army being thus reduced to merely a competent garrison for West Point, that being the only object of importance in this quarter, and it being necessary to employ a considerable part of the men in building an arsenal and magazines at that post, agreeably to the directions given by the secretary at war, the troops accordingly broke up the cantonment (at New Windsor) yesterday, and removed to that garrison, where Major-General Knox still retains command.
An important letter was written June 11, 1783 to John Hancock from Headquarters at Newburgh.
Washington was setting the stage for America’s future with this introductory preface:
Sir The great object for which I had the honor to hold an appointment in the Service of my Country being accomplished, I am now preparing to resign it into the hands of Congress, and to return to that domestic retirement, which, it is well known I left with the greatest reluctance; a Retirement for which I have never ceased to sigh 4 th 5 6 7 8 through a long and painful absence, and in which (remote from the noise and trouble of the World) I meditate to pass the remainder of life in a state of undisturbed repose. But before I carry this resolution into effect, I think it a duty incumbent on me to make this my last Official communication…
There are four things, which I humbly conceive are essential to the well being, I may even venture to say, to the existence of the United States, as an Independent Power — 1st An indissoluble Union of the States under one federal Head. 2dly A sacred regard to public Justice. 3dly The adoption of a proper Peace Establishment, and 4thly The prevalence of that pacific and friendly disposition among the People of the United States, which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and policies, to make those mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity, and in some instances, to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the Community. These are the Pillars on which the glorious Fabric of our Independency and National Character must be supported–Liberty is the Basis and whoever should dare to sap the foundation or overturn the Structure, under whatever specious pretexts he may attempt it, will merit the bitterest execration, and the severest punishment which can be inflicted by his injured Country.
On July 16, Washington in Newburgh wrote the President of Congress a note.
I have resolved to wear away a little time (while expecting the definitive treaty) in performing a tour to the northward, as far as Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and perhaps as far up the Mohawk River as Fort Schuyler. I shall leave this place on Friday next, and shall probably be gone about two weeks.
1 The American Scrap Book: The Golden Harvest of Thought and Achievement, from the NY Times, McKellar & Platts, Inc, 1929, p. 111.
2. Thomas W. Smith “The Slave in Canada,” “Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, X. (1896-98), p. 22, n. 1
3. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799, Vol. 26, January 1, 1783-June 10, 1783. Washington DC: United States Government Printing Office.
5. Washington’s Expense Account
7. Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon, at http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/biography/carleton_g/guy_carleton.html
8. “Itinerary of General Washington from June 15, 1775 to December 23, 1783,” William S. Baker, 1892. Reprinted by Hunterdon House 1970.
9. Johnson Hall, State Historic Site at http://www.oldfortjohnson.org/jhallfolder/jhall.html
10. Leaflets of Masonic biography, or, Sketches of eminent freemasons, Cornelius Mooreat http://worldcat.org/wcpa/oclc/11083836
11. Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library of Grand Lodge Collection at http://188.8.131.52:81/index.php
12. MQ Magazine, October 2007 issue 23 at http://www.mqmagazine.co.uk/site/index.php
13. “Historical Sketches of Hudson embracing the Settlement of the City, etc”, Stephen P. Miller, Bryan and Webb Printers, Hudson, NY, 1862, p. 85.
14. George Washington in New York: Allan Boudreau and Alexander Bleimann: 1987. pgs. 66 – 70.
15. Cooperstown New York: America’s Village at http://www.baseballhalloffame.org/news/download/americas_village.PDF
16. Rockingham State Historic Site, Kingston, New Jersey at http://www.rockingham.net/history.html
17. The Men of the Commander-in-Chief Guards Captain Bezaleel Howe, Donald N. Moran at http://www.revolutionarywararchives.org/howebezaleel.html
18. Magazine of American History, v.109.
19. Itinerary Of General Washington June 15, 1775 to December 23, 1783, William Spohn Baker, >Lambertville, N. J., Hunterdon House 1970, c1892, p. 310-311.
20 Van Cortland House Museum at http://www.vancortlandthouse.org/history
21. Itinerary of Washington, p. 312.
22. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Evacuation of New York By the British, 1783. November 1883, p. 914.
23. Ibid., p. 919. 24. The Right Honorable William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham, was a favorite of the Americans and in public testimony to his memory especially that of repealing the Stamp Act, in 1770, a marble statue was shipped to America and displayed. After the Americans broke up George III’s statue with axes, and when the British took control of NYC they knocked Pitt’s statue down breaking off the head. For years the broken statue remained in the area as witness to the destruction of NYC.
An article published in ARCHIVING EARLY AMERICA (ON THE INTERNET SINCE 1995 – CHRONICLES THE LIFE AND TIMES OF FOUNDING YEARS