Colonial America and St. Patrick's Day Celebrations

The first celebrations of St. Patrick's Day in the American colonies can be traced to the formation of the Charitable Irish Society of Boston in 1737. It was on the evening of March 17 of that year that a group of Irish "gentlemen and merchants" met to form a benevolent society. At that time, the City of Boston had endured several severe winters, and high inflation was further causing havoc in the colony. As a result, large numbers of Irish emigrants in the area were in poverty and were in ill health. The need for charity to assist their
Colonial America and St. Patrick
fellow Irish resulted in the formation of the Charitable Irish Society.

Interestingly, the organization was composed entirely of 1) the Irish elite of Boston, and 2) Protestants.

While the avowed purpose of the organization was charity to the less fortunate, the membership of the group was limited to the elite, and while the bounty of their charitable efforts went to the less fortunate, those at the receiving end of such efforts were not welcome as members of the organization or at their dinners. Strict dress codes even prohibited the wearing of "aprons and caps". Also little remembered was the fact the early Irish immigration to the new world, certainly in the
eighteenth century, was generally limited to Irish Protestants. It was not until the later eighteenth century and early nineteenth century that the first large waves of Irish Catholics came to America.

While the initial meeting of the Charitable Irish Society of Boston was held on March 17 in celebration of St. Patrick, they quickly abandoned their interest in the Patron Saint of Ireland, and for more than fifty years, their meetings were held in April. Finally, in 1794, March 17 was re-establish as the organization's assembly day. In the interim, several
other organizations had grown up in and around Boston, including the Sons of St Patrick, and by 1775, celebrations honoring St. Patrick had become integral to the Irish community.

It was reportedly in 1775 that a parade on March 17 was held, as the 70 officers of the Sons of St. Patrick organization marched to a local church to hear a sermon, and then to a popular establishment for dinner. Interestingly enough, these 70 marchers were all members of an Irish contingent of the British Army.
Many of them, however, hastily left Boston a scant year later, as Irish-Born General Sullivan of the Continental Army preceded General Washington into Boston, securing the city. Thereafter, March 17 in Boston has been remembered not just as St. Patrick's Day, but also as "Evacuation Day" commemorating the liberation of Boston from the British.

The 1775 march was not the first St. Patrick's Day parade. That occurred nine years earlier in New York, when a military procession took place, complete with fifes and drums. St. Patrick's Day celebrations are known to have begun in New York in the early 1760s, and were of two very different types. The elite Protestant Irish were overwhelmingly pro-British, viewing Ireland and the colonies all part of the British Empire. They favored formal dinners replete with speeches and fundraising for the less fortunate. Lower class Catholic celebrations were more family oriented and religious, and followed traditional customs and the use of traditional trappings

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With the beginnings of the Revolutionary War, Irish society and St. Patrick's Day celebrations met new challenges.

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