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The Continental Marines were the Marine force of the American Colonies during the American Revolutionary War. The corps was formed by the Continental Congress in November 10, 1775 and was disbanded in 1783. Their mission was multi-purpose, but their most important duty was to serve as on-board security forces, protecting the Captain of a ship and his officers. During naval engagements Marine sharpshooters were stationed in the fighting tops of the ships' masts, and were supposed to shoot the opponent's officers, naval gunners, and helmsmen.

In all, there were 131 Colonial Marine officers and probably no more than 2,000 enlisted Colonial Marines.[1] Though individual Marines were enlisted for the few American naval vessels, the organization would not be re-created until 1798. Despite the gap between the disbanding of the Continental Marines and the U.S. Marine Corps, Marines worldwide celebrate 10 November 1775 as the Marine Corps Birthday.


In accordance with the Continental Marine Act of 1775, the Congress decreed

That two battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one Colonel, two lieutenant-colonels, two majors and other officers, as usual in other regiments; that they consist of an equal number of privates as with other battalions, that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to offices, or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve for and during the present war with Great Britain and the Colonies; unless dismissed by Congress; that they be distinguished by the names of the First and Second Battalions of Marines.

These two battalions were initially intended for the planned invasion of Nova Scotia, the main British reinforcement point. In reality only one battalion was formed. Plans to form the second battalion were suspended indefinitely after several British regiments-of-foot and cavalry, supported by 3,000 Hessian mercenaries, landed in Nova Scotia, making the planned amphibious assault impossible.

The Continental Marines' first and only Commandant was Captain Samuel Nicholas and the first Marine Barracks were located in Philadelphia. The first recruiting station was historically at meeting place called Tun Tavern. Recent discoveries may prove the actual tavern was nowhere near the original Tun Tavern.

Four additional Marine Security Companies were also raised and helped George Washington defend Philadelphia.

The Marines were used to conduct amphibious landings and raids during the American Revolution. They landed twice in Nassau, in the Bahamas, to seize naval stores from the British. The first landing, led by Captain Samuel Nicholas, consisted of 250 Marines and sailors who landed in New Providence, in the Bahamas; there they wreaked much damage and seized naval stores. The second landing, led by a Lieutenant Trevet, landed at night and captured several ships along with the naval stores.

Continental Marines landed and captured Nautilus Island and the Majabagaduce peninsula in the Penobscot Expedition. A Marine battalion also fought alongside the Continental Army in the Battle of Princeton. A group under Navy Captain James Willing left Pittsburgh, traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, captured a ship and in conjunction with other Continental Marines brought by ship from the Gulf of Mexico raided British Loyalists on the shore of Lake Ponchartrain.


1775, November 10
The Continental Marines are created
1775, December
Five companies of about 300 Marines were raised. While armed, they were not equipped with uniforms. They head South for the Caribbean where the five companies joined Commodore Esek Hopkins of the Continental Navy's first squadron on its first cruise.
1776, March
Nicholas' Marines land on New Providence Island, Bahamas. In 13 days they secure 2 forts, occupy Nassau, control the Government House, seize 88 guns, 16,535 shells and other supplies. Returning from the raid, they encountered a British ship. Marines engaged the ship with muskets and assisted in manning the broadside cannon. Commodore Hopkins ignored his ambitious orders to sweep the southern seas of British ships, and instead raided the Bahamas for gunpowder for Washington's army. Nicholas' Marines made an opposed landing and marched on Nassau Town, on the island of New Providence, seizing shot, shells and cannon. However, a failed attempt at a surprise attack the day before had warned the defenders, who sent off their stock of gunpowder in the night. Sailing back to Rhode Island, the squadron captured four small prize ships. The squadron finally returned on 8 April 1776, with 7 dead Marines (including Lt. John Fitzpatrick), and four wounded. Though Hopkins was disgraced for failing to obey orders, Nicholas was promoted to Major on 25 June and tasked with raising 4 new companies of Marines for 4 new frigates then under construction. Among the newly commissioned Marines was Captain Robert Mullan.[2]
1776, December
Marines were tasked to join Washington's army at Trenton to slow the progress of British troops southward through New Jersey. Unsure what to do with the Marines, Washington added the Marines to a brigade of Philadelphia militia, also dressed in green. Captain Mullan's roster lists two black men, Issac and Orange, the first recorded black Marines. Though they were unable to arrive in time to affect the battle of Trenton, they assisted in the decisive American victory at Princeton.[3] Later that spring, Washington incorporated some of the Marines into artillery units of his reorganized Army.
1778, January
A Marine detachment sails down the Mississippi River and secures New Orleans to keep British traders out. Continental Marines landed and captured Nautilus Island and the Majabagaduce peninsula in the Penobscot Expedition. A group under Navy Captain James Willing left Pittsburgh, traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, captured a ship and in conjunction with other Continental Marines brought by ship from the Gulf of Mexico raided British Loyalists on the shore of Lake Ponchartrain
1778, April
A Marine detachment nominally under the command of John Paul Jones makes two raids on British soil.
1783, January
Marines board and seize the British ship Baille in the West Indies
1785, June
After the end of the American Revolutionary War (Jan, 1783), the Alliance is sold. The last official act of the Continental Marines was to escort a stash of French silver crowns on loan from Louis XVI, from Boston to Philadelphia, to enable the opening of the Bank of North America. The Continental Marines go out of existence, along with the Continental Navy.

Continental Marine uniformsEdit

On 5 September, 1776, the Naval Committee published the Continental Marines uniform regulations specifying green coats with white facings (lapels, cuffs, and coat lining), with a leather high collar to protect against cutlass slashes and to keep a man's head erect. Its memory is preserved by the moniker "Leatherneck", and the high collar on Marine dress uniforms. Though legend attributes the green color to the traditional color of riflemen, Colonial Marines carried muskets. More likely, green cloth was simply plentiful in Philadelphia, and it served to distinguish Marines from the red of the British or the blue of the Continental Army and Navy. Also, Sam Nicholas's hunting club wore green uniforms, hence his recommendation to the committee was for green.[2]

See alsoEdit


  1. Simmons, Edwin Howard (2003). The United States Marines: A History, 4th Edition. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-790-5. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Chenoweth, USMCR (Ret.), Col. H. Avery; Col. Brooke Nihart, USMC (ret) (2005). Semper fi: The Definitive Illustrated History of the U.S. Marines. New York: Main Street. ISBN 1-4027-3099-3. 
  3. Smith, Charles Richard; Charles H. Waterhouse (1975) (in English) (PDF). A Pictoral History: the Marines in the Revolution. United States Marine Corps Historical Division. Retrieved on 2008-08-22. 
  • United States Marine Corps, Report on Marine Corps Duplication of Effort between Army and Navy 17 December 1932. Contains a very detailed account of almost all the actions of the Continental Marines and USMC until 1932. It's available in scanned TIFF format from the archives of the Marine Corps University.
  • Smith, Charles R., Marines in the Revolution: A History of the Continental Marines in the American Revolution, 1775-1783, illustrated by Major Charles H. Waterhouse, USMCR, History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C. 20380, 1975. Forward and Table of Contents online at
  • George E. Buker, The Penobscot Expedition: Commodore Saltonstall and the Massachusetts Conspiracy of 1779, Naval Institute Press, 2002.

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