It was on this day in 1775 that the Continental Congress officially created the Marines to lead the fight “on land and at sea” for independence from the British.
It was John Adams who introduced a resolution to create two battalions of Marines, with the initial purpose of disrupting British naval activity in Nova Scotia. George Washington didn’t support an attack on Nova Scotia and directed that the new Marine recruits come from Philadelphia and New York.
Captain Samuel Nicholas raised the first Continental Marine recruits in the Philadelphia area. Of the 41 men, 40 were from Philadelphia and none had experience as sailors, and they saw action the following year in the Bahamas.
The Marines went on hiatus, as did much of the U.S. military, after the Revolutionary War, only to return in 1798 as a possible conflict with France was on the horizon.
Marines were also involved at the “shores of Tripoli” in 1805 near modern-day Libya. A coordinated land-sea attack led by the U.S. Navy and Marines on the city of Derna forced Tripoli to sign a peace treaty with the United States.
The Marines also fought bravely during the War of 1812, including at the Battle of New Orleans under Andrew Jackson. During the Mexican-American War, Marines were involved in fighting in 1847 that led to the U.S. capture of the National Palace and the Halls of Montezuma in Mexico City.
And in 1859, Marines led by Army Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee captured abolitionist John Brown at Harper’s Ferry. Marines fought during the Civil War – on both sides of the conflict.
After the war, the Marines’ Hymn came into use, which music inspired by a French opera, and in 1883 the Marines’ motto became Semper Fidelis – Always Faithful.
Since then Marines have served in every major military conflict, and at locations including Siberia, China, Haiti, Iceland, the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Liberia, Somalia, and Rwanda.
Today, the Marines are at a projected current strength of 184,000 active personnel, with about 39,000 reservists.
According to the Marine Corps’ History Division, more than 41,000 Marines have died in service since the Revolutionary War, with 205,000 wounded in action. The most Marine fatalities were during World War II and the Vietnam War.