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Washington and St. Patrick’s Day

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II.  Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

April 6.—Among the little army of rebels at Morristown, none are so impatient under the abuse of being forcibly detained after the expiration of the terms of their enlistment, as the sons of St. Patrick who have been seduced into the service of the Congress. Lately they had resolved to do themselves justice, and go off in a body, and publicly announced that nothing should prevent it on the ensuing anniversary of the seventeenth of March. It was a day of apprehension to some who looked for bloodshed and murder, but American policy outwitted Irish good-humor.

Washington, on the day before the feast, gave out an order for honoring the saint, and, for the gratification of his votaries, with a dispensation from labor; and the next morning was ushered in with music and the hoisting of colors, exhibiting the thirteen stripes, the favorite harp, and an inscription declaring in capitals, The Independence of Ireland. To explain the whole, amuse the discontented, and while away the day, Governor Livingston’s Mercuries reported that seventy thousand men in arms, under the Duke of Leinster and Lord Shannon, were scattered through the camp. The simple-hearted Teagues, charmed with the sight of the harp, forgot their sufferings, dropped their complaints, and seemed perfectly happy for the moment, though not a drop of whiskey or taffie was to be seen in the camp, unless in the tents of the contrivers of this dry and unusual way of celebrating the tutelar divinity of England’s fair and jolly sister, the Kingdom of Ireland.

This is the account of the deserters, and it is in some measure confirmed by the following genuine composition, taken from a Philadelphia paper of the thirtieth of March. Surely no man will refuse Mr. Washington the merit due to his piety, ingenuity, and valor. It may not, however, be advisable for him in future ever to be present without all his Yankee lifeguards at an Irish wedding:

“The following general orders lately issued by our illustrious general, the commander-in-chief of the American army, we hope will be acceptable to all our readers, and in particular to the patriotic and joyous sons of Saint Patrick:

“General Orders.—The general congratulates the army on the very interesting proceedings of the Parliament of Ireland, and of the inhabitants of that country, which have been lately communicated, not only as they appear calculated to remove those heavy and tyrannical oppressions on their trade, but to restore to a brave and generous people their ancient rights and freedom, and, by their operation, promote the cause of America. Desirous of impressing on the minds of the army transactions so important in their nature, the general directs that all fatigue and working parties cease for to-morrow, the seventeenth instant, a day held in particular regard by the people of that nation. At the same time he orders this as a mark of the great pleasure which he feels on the occasion, he persuades himself that the celebration of the day will be attended with the least rioting or disorder.”1


1 Gaine’s Mercury, April 24.