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March 2015 Edition

GWGeorge Washington’s St. Patrick’s Day

During the brutal winter of 1779-1780, morale was quite low in Washington’s army. Provisions were scarce, it was intolerably cold and there were nearly 30 snowfalls between December and early March. The army was encamped at Morristown, New Jersey in an area called Jockey Hollow. At this time the face of the Continental Army had changed; the numbers of soldiers of English descent declined and were replaced by Irish immigrants. With a majority of Irish troops, Washington ordered March 17th as a day of celebration. It was the only holiday sanctioned by Washington during his command. Washington then set boundaries for the day’s jollification, ordering that the “celebration of the day will not be attended with the least rioting or disorder.”

The Morristown celebration was not the first organized observance of St. Patrick’s Day in the British North American colonies although the first official one, nor was it the only time March 17 was a date of importance to the American Revolution. Now known as “Evacuation Day,” March 17, 1776 saw the withdrawal of British troops and loyalists from the Boston harbor after the eleven-month siege of the city. Washington’s General Orders for the day set the password and countersign for safe re-entry into the city as “Boston” and “St. Patrick.”