U.S. Military History: Some U.S. Marine Corps History

Ross Dunfee

What is a Marine? A sailor? A soldier? Or an infantry or amphibious assault member? They are all—soldiers serving on ships ready for land action. Their history, etched in antiquity, has records in ancient Greece and Rome. In the 17th century, the English, in its wars with the Dutch, referred to Marine units as naval infantry. In 1739, during hostilities with Spain, King George II created 30 Marine companies (3,000 men) from the American colonies, and 25 years later Colonial Marines would serve with British troops in the French and Indian War. In addition to naval infantry responsibilities, Marines maintain discipline and order on naval vessels. “In many instances, they preserve the vessels of their country by suppressing the turbulence of their ill-assorted crews,” said author James Fennimore Cooper concerning the Marines during the Revolutionary War.

Originally, expected to be part of the Army, the Marines came under the jurisdiction of the Navy. A resolution creating the Marines was drafted by future President John Adams. On Nov. 28, 1775, the Continental Congress commissioned the first Marine officer, Samuel Nicholas, now affectionately known as the first Commandant of the Marine Corps. Once commissioned, Captain Nicholas, a tavern owner, immediately began recruiting in Tun Tavern and Brewery, Philadelphia, Pa. By December, about 1,500 recruits had been signed up.

In January 1776, the Columbus sailed from Philadelphia to New Providence Island in the British Bahamas where the Marines stormed a fort capturing much-needed gunpowder. Additionally, 300 of the new Marines were attached to George Washington’s army. At the end of the war (1783), both the Marines and Navy were disbanded.

The new country created a U.S. Navy on March 27, 1794, and Marines immediately began serving on ships. On July 11, 1798, President John Adams signed into law the act for establishing and organizing a Marine Corps, making them a separate branch of service. Two key passages in the act dictated their primary rolls; Section 3—the President may assign Marines to the frigates and other ships; and Section 6—the President may assign Marines to forts and garrisons or other on-shore duty. Additionally established on July 11 was the Marine Corps Band. President Jefferson requested that they play at his inauguration and the band (still nicknamed “the President’s own” by Jefferson) has played at every inauguration since. John Philip Sousa conducted the band from 1880 to 1892.

Defending U.S. interest in the Mediterranean Sea was one of the first military conflicts where the Marines were dispatched. While the U.S. warship Philadelphia was captured in 1803 by Barbary pirates and subsequently destroyed by Navy hero Steven Decatur, more than 300 sailors and marines were now in a Tripolitan prison. William Eaton, Army officer and former American Council to Tripoli, led a contingent of nine Marines and 500 mercenaries on a tumultuous 500-mile trek across the Libyan Desert. On April 27, 1805, the Marines and mercenaries, supported by naval artillery, defeated 4,000 to 5,000 Tripolitan military at Derna, resulting in the release of the American prisoners.

Support Our Troops–Arizona proudly honors U.S. Marines and all members of the Armed Forces by placing flags along the principal roads in Robson Ranch on various holidays throughout the year. Contact Stephen Reeves, president, at 425-330-1181 or [email protected] or go to www.supportourtroopsaz.org to learn more about how Support Our Troops–Arizona honors and serves our veterans.