The History and Traditions of the United States Marine Corps

The United States Marine Corps was founded on November 10, 1775 when Continental Congress authorized two battalions of Marines to serve aboard Naval vessels as sharpshooters and boarding parties. Philadelphian Samuel Nicholas was commissioned to lead the Continental Marine force and was charged with recruiting other officers in addition to the two battalions. Nicholas turned to the already legendary Philadelphia pub, Tun Tarvern, to start his task. He named Robert Mullan, the then proprietor of the tavern, as the job of chief Marine Recruiter operating from his place of business at Tun Tavern. The ‘commission’ proved beneficial for both: recruits flocked to Tun Tavern for beer and the opportunity to serve. Though Nicholas was building his unit, it took months for the first Marines to be outfitted in uniform. Initially, they wore their civilian clothes and solicited muskets from the well-armed populace. The first uniforms were made from green cloth in order to distinguish themselves from the blue of the Continental Army and Navy, thus fully distinguishing all American military from the much-reviled red coats of the British.

  • Did you Know: Marine Officers and NCO’s have carried swords since the Revolutionary War. It is believed that the earliest swords worn by Marine NCOs were modeled after Army patterns. In 1859, the Marine Corps altered their swords for NCOs to resemble closely the Marine Officer sword with only slight differences. Today, the Marine NCO sword is the oldest weapon in continued, unbroken, service still in U.S. inventory.

In 1803, Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon lead eight Marines (and 500 Mercenaries), across northern Africa to lay siege to the fortress at Tripoli, from which the Barbary pirate vessels were waylaying American merchant traffic. O’Bannon didn’t quite make it, but was successful in storming the fortress at Derne; his victory marked the first time an American Flag was raised anywhere in the ‘old world.’ This particular siege is described in the Marine Corps Hymns, ‘…to the shores of Tripoli.’

  • Did you Know: The Ottoman viceroy, Prince Hamet Karamanli was so impressed with the Marines that on December 8 1804, he presented a Mameluke sword to O’Bannon inscribed in memory of the Battle of Tripoli Harbor. Marine officers to this day carry a replica of that sword.
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