George Washington entered the city from the north at Harlem and made his way down Chatham Street. A jubilant crowd of thousands flocked to see him pass. A giant celebration ensued as Washington turned off Chatham and lead the procession down Pearl. From Pearl Washington turned right onto Wall Street. Along this part of his route he would pass within a few blocks of where one of the first, if not the first, incendiary sparks of the Revolutionary War took place in 1770, the Battle of Golden Hill. Then Washington traveled west on Wall Street where six years later he would take the oath of office as the first president of the United States. The procession ended at Fort George, today’s Battery Park, at the Southern tip of Manhattan Island, where the Stars and Stripes were hoisted over the fort.
Washington and his generals made their way to Fraunces’ Tavern at the corner of Pearl and Broad Streets where the Governor of New York, George Clinton, hosted a celebratory dinner. Thirteen toasts were made at this dinner. Toasted were, among other things: “The King of Sweden,” “The American Army,” “The memory of those heroes who have fallen for our freedom” and lastly, “May the remembrance of this day be a lesson to princes.” Bonfires and fireworks followed.
For years Evacuation Day was a day of celebration for New Yorkers and all Americans.
In his 1883 book “Evacuation Day, 1783” James Riker recalls how the day was celebrated for years afterward: “All shops and business places were closed, artisans and toilers ceased their work, and the streets, decorated with patriotic emblems, and alive with happy people, were given up to gaiety and mirth. To civic and military displays were added sumptuous dinners, and convivial parties, while the schoolboy rejoiced in a holiday; the whole bearing witness to a peoples' gratitude for the deliverance which that memorable day brought them. And boys of older growth may yet recall the simple distich:
‘It's Evacuation Day, when the British ran away,
Please, dear Master, give us holiday!’
Evacuation Day ceased to be celebrated as a public holiday in the mid-19th Century. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln declared, by presidential proclamation, that the last Thursday in November would be the official Thanksgiving holiday. Evacuation Day fell too closely to this date and was soon absorbed into the National Day of Thanksgiving celebration. Happy Evacuation Day Everyone!