Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Pelham Resident Rode With General George Washington on Evacuation Day in 1783

Happy Evacuation Day dear Pelham.  Today is the 233rd anniversary of the original Evacuation Day on November 25, 1783 when British troops departed Manhattan at the close of the Revolutionary War and George Washington, his staff, and troops made a triumphal entry into New York City before cheering throngs of ecstatic Americans.  Among the members of General Washington's staff riding with him that triumphant day was Manor of Pelham resident Philip Pell III (1753 - 1811).  

Philip Pell III (often referenced as Philip Pell Jr. and Col. Philip Pell) is one of the most illustrious citizens ever to have lived in Pelham.  Born July 7, 1753, he was the eldest son of Philip and Gloriana (Treadwell / aka Tredwell) Pell.  He served as Deputy Judge Advocate General of the Continental Army (and, some have claimed, for a time, as Acting Judge Advocate General) during the Revolutionary War.  He served as a Delegate to the Continental Congress, a member of the New York State Assembly, a Regent of the University of the State of New York, and Surrogate of Westchester County.  Pell lived in a home that he built near today's Colonial Avenue (the old Boston Post Road) and today's Cliff Avenue.  The 1750 date stone from his home that no longer stands is embedded in the side of a monument to him standing next to today's Pelham Memorial High School.  Pell was a Trustee of St. Paul's Church in the Town of Eastchester and is buried in the churchyard cemetery there (now in the City of Mount Vernon, New York).

The Homestead of Colonel Philip Pell III that Once
Stood Near Today's Colonial Avenue (the old Boston
Post Road) and Today's Cliff Avenue. Source:
Montgomery, William R. & Montgomery, Frances E.,
Colonel Philip Pell (1753-1811) Abridged from "The Pells
of Pelham," The Pelham Sun, Oct. 21, 1938, pg. 11,
col. 3.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

A host of sources reference Philip Pell's ride with General Washington into New York City on Evacuation Day in 1783.  See, e.g., Robbins, William A., "Descendants of Edward Tre(a)dwell Through His Son John" (Part II) in The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol. XLIII, No. 2, p. 127 & p. 136 (NY, NY:  Apr. 1912); Scharf, J. Thomas, History of Westchester County New York Including Morrisania, Kings Bridge, and West Farms, Which Have Been Annexed to New York City, Vol. I, p. 538 (Philadelphia, PA:  L. E. Preston & Co., 1886); Bolton, Robert, The History of the Several Towns, Manors, and Patents of the County of Westchester from its First Settlement to the Present Time Carefully Revised by its Author, Vol. II, pp. 67-68 (NY, NY:  Chas. F. Roper, 1881).

On that famous day, General George Washington's ride into the City of New York was delayed until the afternoon because American troops spied a British flag flying in the City and wanted it removed before Washington rode into Manhattan.  It turned out that upon boarding ships and departing, the British troops had nailed a British flag to the top of a flagpole that, according to tradition, they also greased so it could not be climbed easily.  After a number of unsuccessful attempts to remove the flag, a ladder was used and wooden cleats were nailed to the pole to permit an army veteran, John Van Arsdale, to pull down the British flag and replace it with an American flag before the British fleet had sailed away.  

Currier & Ives Print, 1857.  The Library of Congress Prints and
Photographs Division, Digital ID cph.3b51184.

For many years after the Revolutionary War, well into the mid-19th century, New York City celebrated Evacuation Day each November 25th.  The event celebrated that time in 1783 when General George Washington led his staff including Pell and the Continental Army from his former headquarters north of New York City across the Harlem River then southward through Manhattan on the roadway we know today as Broadway to the Battery.  Each year New York City celebrated Evacuation Day with joyous revelry.  According to some accounts, one of the most popular annual traditions involved boys who competed to tear down a British flag from a greased pole in Battery Park.

As the nineteenth century waned, so did the celebration of Evacuation Day.  According to one source:

"The importance of the commemoration was waning in 1844, with the approach of the Mexican-American War of 1846–1848.  

However, the dedication of the monument to William J. Worth, the Mexican-American War general, at Madison Square was consciously held on Evacuation Day 1857.  

The observance of the date was also diminished by the Thanksgiving Day Proclamation by 16th President Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863, that called on Americans "in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving."  That year, Thursday fell on November 26.  In later years, Thanksgiving was celebrated on or near the 25th, making Evacuation Day redundant. . . .

Over time, the celebration and its anti-British sentiments became associated with the local Irish American community.  The event was officially celebrated for the last time on November 25, 1916 with a march down Broadway for a flag raising ceremony by sixty members of the Old Guard.  The position of the flagstaff at this time was described as near Battery Park's sculptures of John Ericsson and Giovanni da Verrazzano."

Source:  "Evacuation Day (New York)," Wikipedia -- The Free Encyclopedia (visited Nov. 20, 2016).  

New York City, Nov. 25th, 1783" Lithograph by Lithographer
Edmund P. Restein (1837-1891) (Philadelphia, PA:  1879) from
the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,
Digital ID pga.02468.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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I have written extensively about Colonel Philip Pell, Jr. in the past.  For a few of the many examples of such postings, see:

Fri., Mar. 9, 2007:  Abstract of Will of Philip Pell, Sr. of the Manor of Pelham Prepared in 1751 and Proved in 1752.  [This is an abstract of the will of the father of Col. Philip Pell.] 

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