The Rose

     The British Marines can trace their ancestry back to the year 1664, when the Admiral’s Regiment, or the Duke of York and Albany’s Maritime Regiment of Foot, was raised. British troops had served at sea for many years even before the establishment of the Admirals’ Regiment. During times of war infantry regiments were designated for sea duty to function as Marines, returning to their land role when the war was over.

     The British Marines became a permanent establishment in 1755 when an Order in Council approved the raising of 5,000 troops as Marines.  Marines were deemed “necessary for the safety of (the) kingdom and the defense of the possessions of the crown of Great Britain.”  These new troops were placed under the administration of the Admiralty, divided into 50 companies, and assigned to one of three “Grand Divisions”, to be based in major English ports of Chatham, Plymouth, and Portsmouth. His Majesty's Marines soon demonstrated themselves as an effective fighting force and lived up to their motto, "Per Mare, Per Terram (By Sea, By Land).

Richard Livesay, Lt. George Belson, Corps of Marines, c. 1780, NAM

      Marine detachments serving aboard war ships could be quite large.  The typical 74 gun sip of the line would have had a naval compliment of about 650 men, and the Marine detachment during wartime would have consisted of 80 to 100 men.  While at sea the British Marines served in various capacities.  Marines protected landing parties, stood guard at various posts onboard, and protected the captain and the ships stores from the “notoriously unfaithful seamen.”  Marine detachments were a strong deterrent against mutiny or other problems aboard ship.  They were perceived by the sailors as a representative of the power of the Admiralty.

Battle of Ushant [Isle d'Ouessant] on 27 July 1778
between the French and British fleets
Painting by G.L. Ganné, after work by Theodore Gudin 
(United States Naval Academy Museum)
     British Marines had various assignments during naval engagements.  Some Marines would serve on cannon crews, others would pour small arms fire into the enemy vessel in an attempt to kill or wound its top men and sail trimmers;  still others would throw grenades.  During battle, it was the Marine commanding officer’s duty to be alert to any attempts by the enemy to board the ship.  If such a situation should occur, the Marines were to form up with fixed bayonets and repel boards.

V. Green, John Hugh Griffith Esqr., First Lieutenant of Marines, ASKBMC

The American Revolution ~

     In 1774, the HMS Asia, Somerset, and Boynes, carrying 460 British Marines were dispatched to Boston to reinforce Major General Thomas Gage’s army.  Their commander, Major John Pitcairn, drilled and nurtured them into a first class unit, and in May of 1775, an additional detachment of around 700 Marines joined the 460 marines already in Boston to form the 1st and 2nd Battalion of Marines.  Both battalions were organized along conventional army lines, complete with grenadiers and light infantry companies.  The Marines soon took part in the battles of Lexington, Concord, Breed’s and Bunker Hill, where Major Pitcairn was killed.

     When the British Army evacuated Boston in 1776, many Marines grumbled about their return to fleet duty.  Some Marines were reassigned to naval ships, but others continue to see action through the American Revolution, especially in the coastal raiding that took place.

The Phoenix and The Rose engaged
by the enemy's fire ships and galleys
on August 16, 1776
National Archives and Records Administration
     Eleven hundred Marines served with General Howe on Long Island in 1776.  In 1777 Marines were also present with the occupying British forces of Philadelphia, and helped capture an American frigate in the Delaware River.  The city of Bordentown, New Jersey was captured with the help of two companies of Marines. In 1779 a small contingent of Marines successfully defended Fort George in Penobscot Bay against a much larger force of 3,000 American troops. That same year Marines helped the British Army break the American and French siege of Savannah, Georgia.
British Troops Landing at Kip's Bay, 1776
(Royal National Maritime Museum)
     British Marines were scattered throughout North America during the American Revolution. They were present for various actions at Quebec, Fort Cumberland, New York, Newport, Martha’s Vineyard, Charleston, Florida, and the West Indies.  A detachment of Marines served in the Fusilier Redoubt at Yorktown, where Lord Cornwallis said of them that they… “maintained that post with uncommon gallantry.”