Clad in Colonial dress, a band of Minutemen fired their muskets into the air this morning at a ceremony in Dorchester Heights in honor of Evacuation Day, which commemorates a pivotal moment in the Revolutionary War.
“We consider that battle as the birth of this country,” said Thomas McGrath, president of the South Boston Citizens Association, which helped organize the event at the neighborhood park. “If we didn’t win this battle in Dorchester Heights, we wouldn’t have the Fourth of July — we wouldn’t be free.”
Evacuation Day is the day that the British evacuated Boston in 1776, in the first Colonial victory of the Revolutionary War, organizers said.
The victory “put the British back on their heels,” said City Councilor Michael Flaherty. “It was, in a sense, the creation of our nation.”
Nearly 238 years after the famous day, Evacuation Day celebrations remain as strong as ever, participants said.
“I’m 50 years old now, and I can remember back 40 years ago when I was 9 years old and we had the same great crowd,” McGrath said. “New community members are moving in to South Boston, but they’re respecting the history of the community and keeping the tradition going.”
About 150 people, including state Representatives Gloria Fox and Nick Collins, started the day at 9 a.m. with an Evacuation Day Mass at St. Augustine’s Chapel, the oldest church in the Boston archdiocese.
A march to Dorchester Heights followed, where rangers from the National Park Service were on hand to answer questions about George Washington’s arrival in 1775 to lead the Colonial troops and the construction of a fortress on Dorchester Heights.
Several local high school and middle school students were given awards for essays that explained the role of Washington and patriot Henry Knox in Evacuation Day.
“It’s important kids learn about this because when you think of St. Patrick’s Day and all the hullaballoo that surrounds the parade, today is the day to recognize the historical significance of what Evacuation Day is all about,” said Flaherty.
Before heading to a luncheon at the historic Shirley-Eustis house in Roxbury, the Allied War Veterans Council laid a wreath to honor the men and women of South Boston in the armed forces. The Lexington Minutemen gave a final salute to the fort as they exited the famous battleground.
Evacuation Day, which was enacted in 1941, falls on the same day as St. Patrick’s Day. In what may have been a telltale nod to the city’s Irish-American population, Governor Leverett Saltonstall signed the bill in green ink. For years, the holiday meant a day off for government workers in Suffolk County but in 2010, the state ordered that government offices remain open.