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The historical battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts sparked the beginning of the American War for Independence on 19 April 1775; soon after, the rest of the thirteen American colonies were pulled into the conflict.[1] Many of the leaders in the rebellion recognized that a naval engagement against the British was the primary option to prevent the British from restoring Crown rule by military occupation.[2]

Arnold's flotilla

On 9 May 1775, sailors and mariner-militiamen aboard a flotilla under the command of Colonel Benedict Arnold captured a British sloop-of-war on Lake Champlain. The ship was renamed Liberty to honor the patriot cause. Two days later on 11 May, Liberty collaborates in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga from the British. Then on 18 May, Benedict's forces captured another British sloop George, and renamed it the Interprise. [sic][3]

The new ship was reinforced with 18 Massachusetts militiamen, serving as marines; first known officer listed on the payroll, was Lt. James Watson.

The first recorded narrative of American marines were described during when the Connecticut Committee Public Safety sent £500 to Colonel Arnold in late-May, the shipment was escorted by eight colonial marines;[3] although they were actually seamen.[4] They are often referred to as the "Original Eight".[1]

From 11–13 October 1776, the colonial marines attached to Arnold's fleet participated in the battle for Valcour Island. Although defeated in the Lake Champlain assault, they delayed a British invasion until the following year.[1]

Washington's fleet

The 2nd Continental Congress passed a resolution on 10 June 1775, in creating the Continental Army from all the available colonial forces and militias around Boston; they appointed George Washington, a Congressman of Virginia, as the Commanding General of the Continental Army. It was vital for General Washington's army to seize Boston, to help interdict the Royal Navy's flow of supplies and reinforcement of troops to the British. Under-equipped and extremely lacking gunpowder and supplies; Washington greatly depended in supplying his force from the surrounding colonial armies and navies, and from any cache that came from captured British ships of provision and matériel values.[2]

By mid-August 1775, General Washington formed his own "maritime fleet" due to the limitations of funding and resources from the Continental Congress. On 24 August, he provided a schooner into service, Hannah, to interdict any British ships in the Massachusetts Bay. Hannah became the first American-built ship in the fleet, also becoming the founding vessel of the United States Navy. Following, Washington relied on the 14th Continental Regiment, or "Marblehead Regiment", consisting of a militia of skilled mariners throughout New England, in providing him a naval assault force for the upcoming siege in the Lake Champlain area.[3] Other ships including later in his fleet manned by his regiment were schooners Harrison, Franklin, Hancock, Lee, and Warren.

Capt. Nicholas Broughton sailed Hannah off the coast of Massachusetts on 7 September and recaptured the British sloop HMS Unity.[1]

On 10 October, the sailors and marines of the Marblehead Regiment helped in the battle between Hannah and the British sloop HMS Nautilus in the harbor of Beverly, Massachusetts. The Hannah was grounded by her captain in order to remove her powder and armaments to prevent their capture by the British. By 5 November 1775, Washington's regimental of marines aboard Harrison participated in the capture of the British supply vessels HMS Polly and HMS Industry off of the coast of Boston, Massachusetts. Two days later on 7 November, Lee recaptured the British sloop HMS Ranger in the Massachusetts Bay.[1]

Washington's Marblehead Regiment aboard Hancock and Franklin made an unopposed landing at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island on 17 November 1775. Three days later, they expedited to Nova Scotia and raided Canso Harbor.[1]

The marines aboard Harrison, accompanied by Harrison, participated in her fight against three British warships in Boston Harbor on 24 November 1775.[1]

Two British frigates captured the patriot ship Washington on 3 December; amongst the crew, its sailors and marines were taken prisoner.[1]

On 27 November 1775, Lee played their part in capturing a sloop off the New England coast. There after the next several weeks, these marines captured countless enemy British ships off the coast of Boston.

A company of Washington's Fleet (along with his "Marblehead" Regiment) aboard Franklin, commanded by Captain James Mugford of Commodore John Manly's (Continental Navy) squadron, captured the British transport HMS Hope on 17 May 1775. The ship was stocked with one thousand carbines and 75-ton of gunpowder.

On June 16, Washington's Fleet intercepted captured two British troopships, in attempting to reinforce Boston, which the British Army had abandoned prior their arrival.[1]

In the Atlantic on 7 June, the frigates Hancock and Boston, along with their Marines, capture the British frigate HMS Fox.[1]

State navies

During the Revolutionary War, eleven out of thirteen colonies that had institutionalized a state navy also designated a crew of marines. The state marines served mainly on coastal defense vessels, mostly recruited from state militias.[3]


In July 1775, the marines in the sloop Spy, from the Connecticut Navy, participated in the capture of the 250-ton British Tory brig HMS Nancy.[1]

In October, the Connecticut Marines aboard Spy assisted in the capture of a large British ship.[1]

The Connecticut Navy ship Defence and her Marines capture the British ship HMS Grog.[1]

On 15 April 1778, Marines participate in the actions in which Connecticut's Navy ships Oliver Cromwell and Defense capture the British letters-of-marque HMS Admiral Keppel and HMS Cyrus.


In July 1779, the Massachusetts marines (of the Massachusetts Navy) and the Continental Marines—under command of expeditionary Continental naval captain Dudley Saltonstall—participated in an expedition to Penobscot Bay to besiege the British army forces, fortifications, and their and warships. On 26 July, the landing force assaulted Nautilus Island (Banks Island)[3] against a British stronghold of cannons, an artillery battery. Outnumbered, the British forces surrendered. Two days later, the American sailors and marines alike engaged in their failed effort against the British positions on Bagaduce Peninsula.


Pennsylvania Committee of Public established a state navy, the Pennsylvania Navy, to protect the Delaware River and the its avenue of approaches.[5]

On 27 May, the marines of the Pennsylvania Navy employed row galleys to drive off two British warships in the Delaware River.[1]

On 8 March 1777, the British frigate HMS Levant defeats the Pennsylvania Navy ship Montgomery and her Marines.[1]

Marines join the crewman of two armed barges in capturing two British supply ships in the Delaware River on 7 March 1778. The barges also supported General Anthony Wayne's brigade as it wandered around New Jersey in search of provisions for Washington's army at Valley Forge.

Rhode Island

On 15 June 1775, sailors and marines of the Rhode Island Navy became the first "American navy" when the Rhode Island General Assembly commissioned two ships, the sloop Katy, and Washington, a schooner; and appointed Abraham Whipple as Commodore. That same day he voyaged out to sea and encountered the HMS Rose, which Whipple and his men eventually captured British frigate when they forced it aground.[1] It became the first naval engagement of the American Revolution. Momentarily, Whipple's sloop, Katy, was taken over by the Continental Congress, whose sought a 'national naval force'; it was later renamed and reclassified as the sloop-of-war, Providence.

South Carolina

On 11 November 1775, militiamen and mariners of the South Carolina Navy aboard Defense participated in the action against the British ships HMS Tamar and HMS Cherokee at Charleston.[1]


Commodore James Barron was in command of the Virginia Navy during the Revolutionary War.

See also


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 Hoffman, Jon T. (2002). USMC: A Complete History. New York City, New York: Universe Publishing. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Abbot, Willis J. (1890). The Naval History of the United States. New York: Peter Fenelon Collier. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Millet, Allan R. (1991). Semper Fidelis: The History of the United States Marine Corps. New York City, New York: The Free Press. ISBN 1-59114-790-5. 
  4. Journal of the Continental Congress (9–10 Nov 1775), Committee on Nova Scotia: Proposals; NDAR, II: 972, 957–958.
  5. Jackson, John W. (1974). The Pennsylvania Navy, 1775–1781. New Brunswick City, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 

Journals of the American Congress

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