The Marines’ First Amphibious Raid

Gunpowder 001At the outset of the American Revolution, Great Britain’s governor in Virginia recognized that stores of arms and gunpowder within his control were now threatened by colonial rebels.  Accordingly, he directed that these stores be removed from Virginia and transported to New Providence Island in the Bahamas.  In August 1775, General Gage [1] alerted Governor Montfort Browne, the governor of the Bahamas, that rebels might undertake operations to seize these supplies.

Gunpowder was in short supply in the Continental Army. It was this critical shortage that led the Second Continental Congress to direct planning for a naval expedition to seize military supplies in Nassau.  Congressional instructions issued to Captain Esek Hopkins, who had been selected to lead the expedition, simply instructed him to patrol and raid British naval targets along the Virginia/North Carolina coastline. Hopkins may have been issued additional instructions in secret, but we know that before sailing from Delaware on 17 February 1776, Hopkins instructed his fleet [2] to rendezvous at Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas.

Continental Fleet At Sea
Continental Fleet

Upon sailing, the fleet encountered gale-force winds but in spite of this, the fleet managed to say together for two days.  Then, Fly and Hornet became separated.  Hornet was forced to return to port for repairs, while Fly did eventually rejoin the fleet.  Undeterred by the loss of two ships, Hopkins continued his mission believing that the gale had forced the British fleet in to port.

In late February, Governor Browne became aware that a rebel fleet was in the process of assembling off the coast of Delaware.  In spite of this, he took no action to prepare an adequate defense.  There were two primary defense works at New Providence: Fort Nassau and Fort Montagu. Fort Nassau was poorly equipped to defend the port against amphibious raids; its walls were not strong enough to support its 46-cannon.  Fort Nassau’s poor state prompted the British to construct Fort Montagu on the eastern end of the harbor in 1742, a position that commanded the entrance to the harbor. At this time, Fort Montagu was fortified with 17-cannon but most of the gunpowder stores and ordnance was held at Fort Nassau.

Hopkins’ fleet arrived at Abaco Island on 1 March 1776. It soon captured two sloops owned and operated by British loyalists, one of whom was Gideon Lowe of Green Turtle Cay. Hopkins pressured the owners to serve as pilots.  George Dorsett, a local ship’s captain, escaped capture and alerted Browne of Hopkins’ arrival.

On the next day, Hopkins directed the transfer of Marines to Providence and the two captured sloops; plans were formulated for an amphibious assault.  The main fleet would hold back as three ships carrying the landing force entered the harbor at daybreak on 3 March.  The intention was to gain control of the town before an alarm could be raised.

As it turned out, a daybreak assault was a huge mistake because the alarm was sounded when the three ships were observed entering the harbor in the morning light.  Roused from his bed, Governor Browne ordered four guns fired from Fort Nassau to alert the militia.  Unhappily, two of these guns came off their mounts at the moment they were fired.  At 0700, Browne held a council of war with Samuel Gambier.  Browne wondered whether he should remove the gunpowder to the Mississippi Packet, a fast ship then docked in the harbor. It was a good idea, but Browne failed to act on it.  Ultimately, Browne ordered thirty unarmed militia to occupy Fort Montagu before retiring to his home for his morning ablutions.

Fort Montagu
Fort Montagu, Nassau

The landing force realized that they had been discovered the moment they heard the guns fired at Fort Nassau; the element of surprise was lost, and the assault was aborted.  Hopkins signaled his fleet to rejoin at Hanover Sound, some six nautical miles east of Nassau.  When the ships were assembled, Hopkins consulted with his captains to rethink the plan of attack [3].  The landing force was increased by fifty sailors.  Along with the Wasp, the three ships of the landing force would proceed to a point south and east of Fort Montagu (pictured right).  The Marines made an unopposed landing between noon and 1400 … it was the first amphibious landing of what became the United States Marine Corps.

Hearing commotion, a British lieutenant by the name of Burke led a detachment of troops out from Fort Montagu to investigate.  Suddenly finding himself significantly outnumbered, he sent a flag of truce to determine the intentions of these men.  He was quickly informed, and perhaps even forthrightly so, that it was their purpose to seize military stores.

Meanwhile, Governor Browne (now freshly coiffed) arrived at Fort Montagu with another eighty militiamen (some of whom were actually armed).  Upon being informed of the size of the landing force, Browne ordered three of Fort Montagu’s guns fired and then withdrew all but a few men back to Nassau. In Nassau, he ordered the militia back to their homes; he retired to the governor’s house to await his fate.

Sometime later, Governor Browne sent Lieutenant Burke to parley with the rebel force.  Burke was instructed to “wait on command of the enemy and know his errand, and on what account he has landed troops here.”

Samuel_Nicholas
Capt Samuel Nicholas

The firing of Montagu’s guns had given Captain Nicholas [4] some pause for concern even though his Marines had already occupied the fort.  He was consulting with his officers when Lieutenant Burke arrived and stated Governor Browne’s message.  Nicholas restated that their mission was to seize the military stores, adding that they intended to do this even if they had to assault the town. Burke carried this message back to Browne; Nicholas and his Marines remained in control of the fort throughout that night —which was another mistake.

That night, Governor Browne held a council of war. The decision was taken to attempt the removal of the gunpowder.  At midnight, 162 of 200 barrels of gunpowder were successfully loaded aboard the Mississippi Packet and HMS St. John.  The ships sailed at 0200 bound for St. Augustine.  This feat was made possible because Commodore Hopkins had anchored his fleet in Hanover Sound, neglecting to post a single ship at the entrance of the harbor.

On the next morning, Captain Nicholas and his Marines occupied Nassau without encountering any resistance.  In fact, the Marines were met by a committee of city officials who offered up the keys to the city.  Commodore Hopkins and his fleet remained in Nassau for two weeks, loading as much weaponry as he could fit into his ships—including the remaining casks of gunpowder.  Hopkins also pressed into service the Endeavor to transport some of the materials.

Governor Browne complained that the rebel officers had consumed most of his liquor stores during their occupation (which is probably true), and that he was placed in chains like a felon when he was arrested and taken aboard Alfred —which is also likely true.

Hopkins’ fleet sailed for Block Island off Newport, Rhode Island on 17 March 1776; he took with him Governor Browne and other British officials as prisoners.  On 4 April, the fleet returned to Long Island where they encountered and captured HMS Hawk.  The next day, the captured HMS Bolton, which was laden with stores including armaments and gunpowder. Hopkins met stiff resistance on 6 April when he encountered HMS Glasgow, a sixth-rate ship [5], but the outnumbered Glasgow managed to escape capture and severely damaged Cabot, wounding her captain, who was Hopkins’ son, John Burroughs Hopkins, and killing eleven crew.  Hopkins’ fleet returned to New London, Connecticut on 8 April.

Governor Browne was eventually exchanged for the American general William Alexander [6] (Lord Stirling).  Browne came under severe criticism for his handling of the defense of Nassau, even though Nassau remained poorly maintained and was subjected to American threats again in early 1778.

Commodore Hopkins, while initially lauded for the success of the assault upon Nassau, his failure to capture HMS Glasgow and complaints from fleet crewman resulted in several investigations and courts-martial.  In spite of the fact that his crew suffered from disease, the captain of Providence was relieved of his command, which was turned over to John Paul Jones —who received a commissioned as captain in the Continental Navy.  Eventually, Commodore Hopkins was forced out of the Navy due to further missteps and accusations relating to his integrity.

The Second Continental Congress promoted Captain Samuel Nicholas to the rank of major and placed him “at the head of the Marines.”

Notes:

[1] Thomas Gage (1718-1787) was a British general officer and colonial official who had many years of service in North America. He served as the British Commander-in-Chief in the early days of the American Revolution.

[2] Hopkins’ fleet consisted of the following ships: Alfred, Hornet, Wasp, Fly, Andrew Doria, Cabot, Providence, and Columbus.  The fleet consisted of 200 Continental Marines under the command of Captain Samuel Nicholas.

[3] Hopkins’ executive officer was John Paul Jones. Initially, it was believed that Jones urged Hopkins toward a new point of attack and then led the assault.  This notion has been discredited because unlike most other of Hopkins’ subordinates, Jones was unfamiliar with the local area. It was more likely that the assault was led by one of Cabot’s lieutenants, Thomas Weaver.

[4] Samuel Nicholas (1744-1790) was the first commissioned officer of the Continental Marines; by tradition, he is considered the first Commandant of the United States Marine Corps.

[5] A sixth-rate ship of the British navy typically measured between 450-550 tons, contained 28-guns, and had a crew of about 19 officers, including the captain, two lieutenants, chaplain, and Royal Marine lieutenant.  Quarterdeck warrant officers included the ship’s master, surgeon, assistant surgeon, purser, gunner, bosun, carpenter, two master’s mates, four midshipmen, and a captain’s clerk.  The rest of the crew were lower deck ratings.

[6] At the beginning of the American Revolution, Alexander was commissioned a colonel in the New Jersey colonial militia.  His personal wealth permitted him to outfit the militia at his own expense and he was willing to spend his own money in support of patriot causes.  During an early engagement, Alexander distinguished himself leading volunteers in the capture of a British naval transport.  By an act of the Second Continental Congress, Alexander was commissioned Brigadier General in the Continental Army.

During the Battle of Long Island, Alexander led an audacious attack against a superior British army under General William Howe.  Taking heavy casualties, Alexander was forced to withdraw, which he did in an orderly and distinguished manner.  During this withdraw, he inflicted heavy casualties upon the British, who were in pursuit.  Alexander’s brigade, overwhelmed by a ratio of 25-to-one, Alexander was taken prisoner. Because of his actions, American newspapers hailed him as “the bravest man in America.”

Alexander was exchanged as a prisoner for British Governor Montfort Browne and promoted to major general. He subsequently became one of George Washington’s most trusted generals.

Happy Birthday, America

Your Marines have been with you every step of the way.

Marines—defined as soldiers, who serve at sea, are as old as naval warfare. When Themistocles mobilized Athenian sea power against invading Persians in 480 BCE, one of his first decrees was to order the enlistment of Marines for the fleet. He called these enlistees Epibatae; heavily armed sea soldiers. He assigned them to triremes at Salamis and they fought successfully against Xerxes and saved Athens. Much later, the Romans employed what Polybius described as Milites Classiarii (soldiers of the fleet), a category of legionnaire organized and specially armed for duty on Roman warships. One of the earliest of these was a young officer named Julius Caesar. However, it was not until much later that the British and Dutch almost simultaneously rediscovered a distinct role for Marines. They raised the first two modern corps of Marines in 1664 and 1665, respectively.

Revolution Marines 001Americans of the 17th and 18th centuries were notably a maritime people. The British colonies were close to the sea, but scattered along 1,000 miles of coastline. In the absence of good roads, communication took the form of ships at sea; ships that required protection from raiding adversaries. Maritime training took place in the northeastern colonies where men learned how to handle small vessels along the Newfoundland banks, in all seasons of the year, in all kinds of seas. This was how large numbers of colonists evolved into a maritime society. They learned the art and science of naval warfare while serving on British ships, who frequently warred with the European powers of the time. Americans were first employed as Marines by Admiral Edward Vernon who commanded the British fleet against the Spaniards in the War of the Austrian Succession.

There being no further use for Marines after the Peace of Utrecht in 1712, the British government disbanded all but four small companies. However, with the outbreak of hostilities with Spain in 1739, King George II once more ordered Marines to serve aboard ships of the line. Subsequently, the government authorized six regiments of Marines, each consisting of 1,100 officers and men. Soon after, however, the British crown authorized three additional regiments for duty in the colonies. The British Crown seized upon a notion put forward by Alexander Spotswood to recruit Marines for service in the colonies from the colonies. Men for war were somewhat scarce in England.

Gooches Marines 1740It was argued that no one was better suited for service as Marines than men in the colonies who, by 1739, had established a strong maritime tradition. An order went out to the ten colonial governors to raise 30 companies of 100 men each. Each company would consist of one captain, two lieutenants, one ensign, four sergeants, and four corporals. Colonel Spotswood would command these Marines in the colonies. Not all colonies responded to the demand for Marine companies, but eventually the companies combined into a single regiment. With Spotswood’s death, command of the regiment passed to the lieutenant governor of Virginia, Colonel William Gooch. Gooch’s Marines joined Admiral Vernon’s fleet in October 1740 and served as an attacking force at Cartagena, New Granada (Colombia). The general attack began on 9 March. In one month, English and American Marines were fighting side-by-side at Fort Lazar —but it was a poor effort. Forced back by overwhelming musket fire, the American Marines left stranded their English counterparts and the battle turned into a disaster for the English. No more than one in ten American Marine returned home after this war with Spain.

American Marines again served the British Fleet during the Seven Years’ War. It was thus that American colonists gained the necessary training and experience, which made them the best material for an efficient Marine force. There did remain significant limitations on the Americans, however: there was no tradition of naval leadership in the colonies at the outbreak of the American Revolution, the Americans faced an overwhelming force, and the colonies, individually and collectively, could ill-afford a strong military force. What the colonists did have, however, was patriotism toward the cause for liberty.

The Gentlemen delegates of the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia on the morning of 10 November 1775. They discussed the unhappy facts that confronted them. First, a course of action regarding a petition from the inhabitants of Passamaquoddy, Nova Scotia whose citizens asked for admittance to the association of North Americans, and for preservation of their rights and liberties.

Second, delegates knew that Colonel Benedict Arnold was somewhere near the St. Lawrence River and prevented from mounting an attack against the city of Quebec because of the horrible weather. Time was of the essence because British reinforcements were on the way to protect the city. Arnold had barely 350 men.

At the same moment, General Washington camped with 17,000 troops outside the city of Boston, short of everything needed to command an efficient field operation in what appeared to be an endless siege.

Revolutionary Marines 003The Committee of Five soon arrived to offer their recommendations respecting the petition from Nova Scotia. The committee, consisting of John Jay of New York, Silas Deane of Connecticut, Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island, John Langdon of New Hampshire, and John Adams of Massachusetts, presented its proposal in simple, straightforward language: first, create two battalions of Marines from the forces then under the command of General Washington. The Marine force would require one colonel, two lieutenant colonels, two majors, with the remaining commissioned and non-commissioned structured to mirror the organization of an Army regiment. At the conclusion of their presentation, the Continental Congress resolved:

That two battalions of marines be raised, consisting of one colonel, two lieutenant colonels, two majors, and other officers as usual to other regiments, and that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions, that particular care be taken that no person be appointed to office or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea when required: that they be enlisted and commissioned to serve for and during the present war between Great Britain and the colonies, unless dismissed by order of Congress: that they be distinguished by the names of the first and second battalions of American Marines, and that they be considered as part of the number which the continental Army before Boston is ordered to consist of.

G Washington 1774Delegates passed another resolution later in the day: it left the fate of Nova Scotia in the hands of General Washington. President Hancock transmitted the adopted resolutions to Cambridge for Washington’s information and comment. Alas, General Washington was not at all pleased.

Pushing Against the Tide

Continental 001In the early fall of 1777, the two American frigates Effingham and Washington found themselves trapped by the British, who had blockaded the Delaware River above Philadelphia. To prevent the British from capturing these vessels, the Navy Board ordered them scuttled —accomplished in November. Subsequently, several attempts to refloat the ships failed.

By the beginning of 1778, a number of Marines began to chafe at their inactivity, but it seems as though there were two camps: those without the experience of combat wanted to get into battle as soon as possible; those who had already had their fight were happy for the inactivity. Nevertheless, plans were afoot to avenge the defeat of the frigates. On January 29th, Captain John Berry received orders to organize a boat expedition down the river for the purpose of annoying the enemy, capturing or destroying their transports, and cutting off their supplies and/or diverting them for the use of the Continental army, which was suffering at a place called Valley Forge.

The Marines procured two flat-bottomed vessels and armed them with four-pounders; manning these two barges was a bit more difficult. After numerous attempts, 40 men signed on. In the first week of February, Marines Captain Berry and Lieutenant James Coakley took command of one barge, and Navy Lieutenant Luke Matthewman commanded the second.

Remaining close in to the Jersey shore, with oars muffled, the two boats slipped silently past Philadelphia. Below, five additional boats joined them —most of these half manned with Pennsylvania seamen and privateers. Meanwhile, General Anthony Wayne’s tattered brigade pushed in toward Wilmington in search of cattle and hay for Washington’s army. Barry’s small flotilla ferried Wayne’s force across the Delaware to Salem. Within a few days, Wayne had secured about 100 head of cattle —but now the question was how to transport these animals and the soldiers to Pennsylvania?

The plan was to drive the cattle through central New Jersey and across the Delaware north of Philadelphia, and while this was going on, Captain Barry’s men would set the hay afire, creating a diversion for the British forces. Following the successful hay burning expedition, Barry and his men successfully captured two ships and a schooner off Port Penn. Captured were crewmen numbering close to 70, their holds containing supplies intended for the British forces at Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, when the British heard about the capture of these vessels, they sent two ships of war upriver to interdict the Americans, forcing Barry to burn the transports and run the schooner aground near New Castle. With renewed interest in activity on the Delaware, Captain Barry maintained a low profile but the danger to him and his small crews had not yet passed. A British punitive expedition of some 700 men landed at Whitehall and began setting afire to moored and half-sunk ships; all in all, the British destroyed more than 40 vessels and, if that weren’t enough, seized control of Bordertown. It was a staggering loss for the Continentals but the misfortunes of our infant Navy and Marine Corps were not over just yet. The British remained aggressive through the early summer of 1778, which demoralized members of the Navy and Marine Corps committees. From their official report:

Continental ship Randolph“The Enemies ships do indeed swarm in the Seas of America and Europe; but hitherto, only one of our Frigates hath been captured on the Ocean. Two have been burned in North River, two sunk in Delaware, one captured there, and one in Chesapeake. The Alfred we are just informed was taken on her passage home by two frigates in sight of the Rawleigh. The particulars of this capture and why she was not supported by the Raleigh we are ignorant of. I hope Capt. Thompson is not culpable. I entertain a high opinion of him. The Columbus is a trifling Loss, and I should not much lament the loss of the Alfred if her brave Captain, Officers and men were not in the hands of a cruel enemy. Our little fleet is very much thinned. We must contrive some plan for catching some of the enemy’s Frigates to supply our losses; but we must take care not to catch tartars. It is reported that Capt. Biddle of the Randolph, in an engagement with a sixty-gun ship, was blown up. We have been so unfortunate that I am apt to believe almost any bad news; but this report I cannot believe.”

A massive explosion sunk the Randolph on 7 March 1778; only four of the 315 crew survived. The question of whether ships captains were culpable for these losses resulted in several “courts of inquiry.”

Revolutionary War Marines

“At no period of the naval history of the world is it probable that Marines were more important than during the war of the Revolution.”

—James Fenimore Cooper

Given the factual history of this period, Mr. Cooper may have overstated the role or significance of our Revolutionary Marines. What is undeniably true is that Continental Marines served aboard ship to enforce the captain’s orders, to attack the enemy with musket ball and shot from high in the ship’s rigging, and conduct operations ashore as their officers may direct.

I think it is fair to say that the formation of a new country and any of its constituent parts, including the Naval Services, was a difficult task. Hardly anything was working as a well-oiled machine. There was much to do in organizing a new country, and so little time within which to see it done.  Resources were scarce in terms of men, material, and money.  There was a dearth of anyone who could boast military experience; colonial populations were farmers, booksellers, tinkers, and lawyers.  To complicate matters further, not everyone was convinced that we should have a separation from the mother country.

The Second Continental Congress convened on 10 May 1775; it was mainly composed of the same delegates that participated in the first congress. On 13 October 1775, the Second Continental Congress appointed a Naval Committee, which consisted of John Adams, John Landon, and Silas Deane. These individuals exercised congressional oversight of the Continental Navy and Marines.

In accordance with the Continental Marine Act on 10 November 1775, Congress ordered:

“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.”

It was initially supposed that these two battalions of men would come from George Washington’s army and that they would participate in the planned invasion of Halifax, Nova Scotia —the main British supply base. In reality, only one battalion of 300 men was formed by December 1775. It was a woefully inadequate number of troops to launch an amphibious assault against a garrison of Hessian soldiers numbering close to 3,000. In any case, General Washington was hesitant to support the Navy; he was having trouble raising his own army and suggested that recruitment for Marines take place in Pennsylvania and New York.

Tun Tavern PhiladelphiaAt this time, the senior Marine officer was a Captain by the name of Samuel Nicholas, whose commission was dated 28 November 1775. By his date of rank, Nicholas became the ranking Marine officer and is regarded as the Marine Corps’ first commandant. He established a barracks at Philadelphia and implemented a rigorous recruiting effort centered at Tun Tavern, Philadelphia.

The time between 10 November 1775 and the date upon which the Continental Marines embarked on their first amphibious assault mission on 4 January 1776 was hardly enough time to train men in this specialized form of warfare —and yet, this is precisely what happened.

On 4 January 1776, Commodore Esek Hopkins took command of the first American naval fleet, which consisted of seven small vessels: Andrew Doria, Alfred (commanded by John Paul Jones), Hornet, Columbia, Cabot, Providence, and Fly. A colonial newspaper reported, “The first American fleet that ever swelled their sails on the western ocean … sailed from Philadelphia amidst acclamation of many thousands assembled on the joyful occasion.[1]

In addition to normal stores and provisions, six of the ships embarked Continental Marines. Aboard the Alfred, Captain Sam Nicholas commanded two lieutenants and a company numbering 60 Marines. On Columbus Captain Joseph Shoemaker commanded two lieutenants and an additional company of 60 Marines. Andrew Doria accommodated Lieutenant Isaac Craig and 44 Marines. Captain John Walsh commanded Lieutenant John Hood Wilson and 40 Marines embarked on Cabot. Aboard Providence, Lieutenant Henry Dayton commanded 20 Marines.

The Naval Committee prepared two letters of instruction, which were delivered to Commodore Hopkins on the January 6th. The first letter was general in nature, directing him to ensure the good order and discipline of the fleet, that peace be preserved among ships company and Marines, that he feed and cloth all of those placed under his command, and that their health be properly administered should they become sick or wounded. He was ordered to provide sufficient instructions to his ships’ captains in the event of separation while at sea, appoint officers to command captured British ships, and accord special attention to the proper care of arms and munitions to ensure that they were always ready for action.

A second letter was marked “most secret.” In it, the Naval Committee sought to impress Commodore Hopkins with the need for successful operations, emphasizing the belief among some in the Congress that a Continental Navy was an inane scheme. Naturally, when a British fleet began operating in southern waters, Southern Delegates began to form more favorable ideas about an American Navy.

Congressional optimism was the genesis of Commodore Hopkins’ further orders: to visit upon the unnatural enemies of the colonies all possible distress upon the sea. Hopkins was first ordered to proceed to the Chesapeake Bay, there to “seek out and attack, take, or destroy all of the Naval forces that you might find there.” In part, the operation was directed in retaliation for John Murray, Earl of Dunmore’s destruction of Norfolk, Virginia.  Sadly for Hopkins, he did not obey these orders.

In spite of the best hopes of the Naval Committee, Commodore Hopkins, and all of his Navy and Marine Corps officers, nature interfered: the fleet’s seven ships were locked in ice and stood frustratingly idle until mid-day on 17 January 1776. The ships finally left their moorings in Philadelphia and headed south —directly into a raging gale, within which, Hornet and Fly collided. The Hornet was required to return to port, and the Fly remained behind the rest of the fleet in order to make minor repairs.

In spite of every attempt at secrecy, the British were well aware of Hopkins’ departure from Philadelphia —they just weren’t quite sure where the ships were heading. As early as the previous August, British General Thomas Gage began to suspect that a rebel naval force might engage British possessions and property in the Bahamas Islands. His warnings, along with those of British Captain Andrew Law that American ships may be moving against the Bahamas, were dismissed by Governor Montfort Browne as “another” in a series of false rumors. Governor Browne was not a prudent man.

Then, as now, Nassau was the administrative center of the Bahamas Islands. On 3 March 1776, Commodore Hopkins landed the first-ever amphibious assault by American naval infantry. The force consisted of 234 Marines and 50 sailors of ships’ company. Under covering fire of Providence and Wasp the Marines overwhelmed Fort Montague[2], from which the British retreated to Fort Nassau and then surrendered. While Commodore Hopkins did manage to secure some military hardware, the much-desired gunpowder consisting of 162 barrels escaped his attention and was safely evacuated to the Fort at St. Augustine, and this was attributed entirely to Hopkins’ lack of tactical experience.

Nichols 001On the morning of 4 March, Captain Nicholas led an assault into Nassau. An emissary of the governor met the Marines at the entrance to the town and demanded to know their intentions. Captain Nicholas informed them it was to seize all military equipment and to have a short visit with the governor. Nicholas learned that the town had been abandoned, the governor was in his residence, and members of the provincial council were hiding in the rocks. Captain Nicholas promptly moved his men into the town and took possession of the now-abandoned fort, and when in his judgment the town was secure, Nicholas sent word to Commodore Hopkins that it was then safe to bring the fleet into Nassau harbor.

Soon after Commodore Hopkins came ashore, he met with Governor Browne who, by every account, was an ill-mannered host. In fact, Browne’s insolence ultimately landed him and two other officials in the Alfred’s brig. Apparently, Governor Browne might have been able to forgive the American Marines for many of their transgressions, but drinking all of his liquor was not one of them.

Now came the task of loading captured weapons and munitions, which included 88-cannon, 15 mortars, 4,780 shot and shell, and 38 casks of gunpowder. Meanwhile, Captain John Trevett led a second landing in the Bahamas, a night raid that successfully captured several ships along with naval stores. Hopkins fleet returned to Rhode Island on 8 April 1776. Of the battalion of Marines, 7 were killed in action and four were seriously wounded.

In recognition of his intrepidity in action, Captain Nicholas was promoted to major on 25 June and tasked with raising four additional companies of Marines to man four new frigates then under construction.  Commodore Hopkins, on the other hand, was chastised for his failure to carry out his orders.

Continental Marine CaptainIn December 1776, the Marines were tasked to join General Washington’s army at Trenton to help slow the progress of British troops southward through New Jersey. Unsure of what to do with these Marines, Washington assigned them to a brigade of Philadelphia militia, who were similarly attired in green uniforms with white piping. Although the Marines arrived too late to have a meaningful impact at the Battle of Trenton, they did assist in the decisive victory at Princeton.

Continental Marines landed and captured Nautilus Island and the Majabagaduce peninsula —an effort to reclaim Maine (which the British had seized and renamed New Ireland). The Marines were forced to withdraw with heavy losses, however, when Commodore Saltonstall’s force failed to capture a nearby fort. Later, a group of Marines under Navy Captain James Willing departed from Pittsburg, traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, captured a ship from the Gulf of Mexico, and conducted successful raids against British loyalists on the shores of Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana. The last official act of the Continental Marines was to provide escort security for a stash of silver crowns, on loan from Louis XVI of France, from Boston to Philadelphia. These funds were used to open the Bank of North America.

What we can say about American Marines is that they have been in the fight to create and defend the United States of America even before the official Declaration of Independence, on 4 July 1776. At the end of the Revolution, both the Continental Navy and Marine Corps were disbanded in April 1793. In all, 131 Marine officers and roughly 2,000 enlisted men served in the Revolutionary War. Congress reestablished the Naval services as the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps in 1798.

OLD EGA 001

 HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA — THANKS ONLY TO THOSE

WILLING TO PUT THEIR LIVES ON THE LINE IN THE CAUSE OF LIBERTY

 

 

Notes:

[1] I have always found it curious that the only people who appear dockside to send our sailors and Marines off to war are the mothers, fathers, wives, and sweethearts of those soon-to-be combatants, and a far larger number of our citizens who would never place them selves in harms way, for any reason, much less the defense of their nation.

[2] Neither Fort Montague nor Fort Nassau was in good state of repair and readiness for action. At the appearance of the American ships, Governor Browne sounded an alarm of three guns, the discharge of which caused two of the three carriages to collapse. Browne was also unable to muster more than 70-armed militia to defend Nassau.