“So perfect was the order of march, that entire tranquility prevailed and nothing occurred to mar the general joy…”
This was he recollection of Major Benjamin Tallmadge of the general joyousness among the crowds which greeted George Washington on his triumphant return to New York City (pictured above) on today’s date, November 25, 1783.“Every countenance” Tallmadge continued, “seemed to express the triumph of republican principles over the military despotism which had so long pervaded this new happy city.”
New York in British Hands Since 1776
Leaving the largest city in the 13 Colonies in the hands of the British had been an especially bitter pill for George Washington to swallow. In fact NYC back then was hardly “the Big Apple” of today. It occupied in it’s northern reach just the southern tip of Manhattan as far the modern day Wall Street area. Nevertheless it was the most important single port in the country. And it just stuck in General Washington’s heart that he had lost it and never did manage to re-take it. His army had suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Long Island on August 26,
1776, and in subsequent action had had to retreat into New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and eventually taking shelter behind the banks of the Upper Delaware River. From that point onward despite Washington’s fondest hope of re-capturing it, New York City became the center of British planning and logistics for their war against the 13 Colonies. It was also the center of the American “Culper” Spy Ring under the leadership of the above quoted Major Benjamin Tallmadge (above) which continued to collect intelligence on British operations in the city.
The Fortunes of War Force the Brits Out
But the fortunes of war turned sharply against the Brits with their defeat at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. Yorktown was the largest single British offensive force in the Colonies, and once it had fallen all that they had left was New York City. The Treaty of Paris (signed Sept. 3, 1783), effectively recognized American Independence so on this date of Nov. 25 they moved out of the city, and at noon of that day General Washington rode in with his officers and troops in a group spreading
eight men across. It was a triumphant precision march down the center of Manhattan over Broadway to the Battery (the southern tip of the island). Of course there were a large number of Loyalist (pro-Brit Americans) who were obliged to scurry out along with their protectors. In fact some 29,000 such people were evacuated in the days leading up to this one. A British flag had been left atop a pole, which as a final prank had been covered with grease and all off it’s cleats removed. But ultimately new cleats were attached, and the American flag was in full view as the British ships sailed out of sight.
“It was indeed a joyful day…”
As Major Tallmadge wrote of the experience: “It was indeed a joyful day to the officers and soldiers of our army, and to all the friends of American Independence, while the troops of the enemy still in our waters, and the host of tories and refugees, were sorely mortified. The joy of meeting friends, who had been separated by the cruel rigors of war, cannot be described.”
“George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution” by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, Sentinel Publ., New York, 2013
“Washington’s Spies – the Story of America’s First Spy Ring” by Alexander Rose, Bantam Books,
New York, 2006