Philadelphia and the Marines

By Jack Keefe - Originally Published May 2, 1925

Extracts from an address by the Historian of the Corps at Philadelphia on Lincoln's Birthday, 1925.

When Howe reached Philadelphia after the battle of Brandywine, it is said that Philadelphia captured Howe, instead of Howe capturing Philadelphia. Howe could hardly tear himself away. The same may be said with reference to the American Marines and Philadelphia, for the Marines were born in the City of Brotherly Love and they have been there ever since.

Continental Congress was sitting in Philadelphia in November, 1775. On the 10th of that month it said "Let there be Marines," and a regiment of them soon appeared. The first Marine officer actually commissioned by Congress was Captain Samuel Nicholas, a genuine Philadelphia Quaker. His commission carries the proud date of November 28, 1775proud, because it is the earliest date borne by any commission issued during the Revolution to any officer in the Navy or Marine Corps.

The Marines got busy. Recruiting par. tics, attractively uniformed, preceded by drum, fife, and color, noised their way up and down High Street (now Market Street) King Street (now Water Street) and other streets to excite a thirs for glory and a spirit of military ambition. How those Marines and that bond of Marine "musics" did recruit! "Drumming up" recruits had a real significance then, for look at the drum. Emblazoned on the drum was a coiled rattle-snake about to strike with the motto, Don't Tread on me! under it. Crowds followed in their wake and they finally ended up at their rendezvous the historic Tun Tavern with a queue of patriots who thus early obeyed the command to "Join the Marines."

Bradford's Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser of December 27, 1775, carries an interesting article signed by "An American Guesser," who wrote that he saw on the streets of Philadelphia this drum of the Marines bearing the rattlesnake and that he supposed that it was intended for the "Arms of North America." One eminent historian wrote that this "American Guesser" was no less a notable than Benjamin Franklin. That rattle-snake with the Marines' first motto -"Don't Tread on Me"- was inscribed on the first flag hoisted over a war vessel of the regular American Navy. That vessel was the Alfred; Philadelphia was the place; the date was December 3, 1775; and either Captain Samuel Nicholas of Philadelphia or John Paul Jones hoisted that flag. The drums at Quantico carry that first revolutionary emblem and motto of the Marines.

Associated with Samuel Nicholas at this time as Marine officers were Isaac Craig, and Robert Mullan, both of Philadelphia, and whose descendants are honored citizens of that city.

The spot where the old Tun Tavern formerly stood is now occupied by a modern warehouse building near Water and Chestnut Streets. In the Colonial days, and later during the Revolution the Tun Tavern was known and visited by persons of national prominence from Maine to Georgia. Captain Robert Mullen, proprietor of the Tavern, was a member of the Freemason's Lodge that met there, and Captain of a company of Marines. He had been admitted a member of the Lodge on March 28, 1762 and had been its Secretary for a long time. Major Samuel Nicholas, the senior officer of the Marines, had his headquarters there.

In the archives of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia there is safeguarded an old print of the great interest and value to the Marines. Below the illustration on that old woodcut are these words: "The Old Tun Tavern, Philadelphia, in which the first Lodge of Freemasons was organized in North America." History tells us that this Lodge is said to have been organized about 1730. On a reproduction of this woodcut, there appears the following caption: "The Old Tun Tavern, Philadelphia. Demolished in 1900 to make way for Merchants Warehouse," and the "First Two Battalions of U. S. Marine Corps organized here in 1775."

Some of our Marines were in Philadelphia or clung tenaciously to her outskirts during the Revolutionary War. Once the Hessians were hiking their way to the capital city of Philadelphia in 1776 just as in 1918 they were Goosestepping toward Paris. In both cases the Marines were represented in the Army that stopped them. Washington crossed the Delaware on December 8, 1776 and the day before, he wrote to General Calwalader (a fine old Philadelphian) acknowledging receipt of the information that the Marines had joined ready to do their share. There was a very ironical incident connected with this splendid victory at Trenton. The Hessian band was captured and seemed delighted to play for the Americans in Philadelphia, as they did on July 4, 1777.

Then came the days of national economy and when military and naval forces must be dispensed with to save money. There was no budget system in vogue at this time but you know a budget is superfluous where there is no money.

Next with another war staring us out of countenance a new Marine Corps was born coincidently with our Navy; 1794 was the year when Congress in Philadelphia again authorized frigates with seamen and marines to man them. Then came a Navy Department on April 30, 1798 and next the new Marine Corps arrived when President John Adams, that great believer in Marines, (who once actually fought as a Marine) at his desk in Philadelphia, signed the Act of Congress on July 11, 1798.

Thus Philadelphia twice has been the natal city of the Marines. And it was a "Philadelphia Lawyer,"-William Ward Burrows-born in South Carolina, who was selected by John Adams as the first Commandant.

Including Samuel Nicholas, there have been thirteen Commandants of the Marine Corps during a period of 149 years. Eight of the thirteen Commandants have been Philadelphia’s or from other parts of Pennsylvania. These are Samuel Nicholas, William Ward Burrows, Franklin Wharton, Anthony Gale, John Harris, Jacob Zeilen, Charles G. McCawley (who was born at the old Philadelphia Navy Yard), and William P. Biddle. One hundred and six of the 149 years of service of the Marines, Philadelphians or other Pennsylvanians have commanded, them as Commandants.

Franklin Wharton, the second Commandant of the Corps, had as his "God Father," that famous Philadelphian, Benjamin Franklin. On April 26, 1766 Thomas Wharton. of Philadelphia (Father of Franklin Wharton and Robert Wharton who for so many years served as Mayor of Philadelphia) wrote to Benjamin Franklin informing him that they had named their newly born son "Franklin" as a "new proof of their regard" for Franklin and hoped it "would not be disagreeable to him." Not only was this news agreeable to Benjamin Franklin but it pleased him so much that he took an unusual interest in Franklin Wharton, who later became the second Commandant of the new Marine Corps.

Philadelphia has given and given bountifully of her sons in every war and the Marine Corps has received a gallant share.

To one who has searched the history of the Marines, the word Philadelphia recalls a golden chain extending from 1775 to 1925-every golden link a gallant son of Philadelphia.

The French Naval War and the Tripolitan War furnished further opportunities for Philadelphians to distinguish themselves.

The war of 1812 came and Philadelphia again responded. In the first year of the war the Constitution defeated the Guerriere. Lieutenant William S. Bush, jumping on the taffrail of "Old Ironsides" to lead his Marines aboard the enemy craft and calling to Captain Hull "Shall I Board Sir?" received a bullet (fired by a British Marine), in the head killing him instantly.

If you read the Philadelphia Star of February 18, 1898, you will observe this note: "Lodge 51 F. and A. M., placed a bronze tablet to the memory of Lieutenant William S. Bush in City Hall, Philadelphia, Pa., in that part of the building nearest the Masonic Temple."

In the Florida Indian War we find that fine Pennsylvanian, Captain John Harris, who later during the Civil War served as Commandant of the Marines, commanding a company of Horse Marines in the Florida Everglades.

Captain Jacob Zeilen, of Pennsylvania, was one of those gallant sons of the Nation who in the Mexican War helped to save California and the Pacific slope for the Union. After his promotion, Major Zeilen was selected by Commodore Perry as his Fleet Marine Officer and in 1853 Major Zeilen was the second American of Perry's Japan Expedition to place his foot on Japanese soil.

The Civil War found John Harris and Jacob Zeilen as Commandants. The Spanish War saw William P. Biddle as Dewey's Marine Officer at Manila Bay. Then came the World War in which thousands of Philadelphians served in the Corps. From Philadelphia went the first Marines to France. Of them none was more beloved than Thomas Roberts Reath one of Philadelphia's "Fighting Five," who died at Belleau Wood. Others were there at Belleau Wood too,-Harbord of the Army, Neville, Catlin, Feland, Lee and John A. Lejeune, our Commandant was there for 24 hours under orders and under fire, on his way to join the 36th Division.

The Marine band was born in Philadelphia. The first press notice it ever received was in a Philadelphia Paper. It described the celebration of the 4th of July, 1800 by the Order of the Cincinnati at the City Tavern.

Often since that date has the Marine Band visited Philadelphia, and in later years under the famous "March King," John Philip Sousa. From May 30 to June 2, 1876 the Marine band was in Philadelphia performing at the Centennial. It acted as an escort to the Grand Master of Templars on the occasion of the "Centennial Assembly" of the Knights Templar of the United States.

Even though the capital was moved to Washington in 1800, the Marines have never left Philadelphia. Marine Corps Headquarters went along with the capital but the Marines remained at the barracks and the Depot of Supplies, now at 1100 S. Broad St., commanded by Colonel Radford.

Everyone knows that the Marine Corps is at present represented in Philadelphia by an Ambassador Extraordinary, the Honorable Smedley D. Butler. He however unlike other diplomats, disdains diplomatic or any other kind of immunity. Need I say that the Marines are proud, not only of the achievements in peace and war of General Butler, but we respect and-honor him. In the spirit of Decatur's historic toast, regardless of whether General "Duck-Board" Butler is in "Right or Wrong," in Philadelphia, we're still behind him.

And finally, as long as Philadelphia shall last, and as the Marines shall last, they will be as always, inseparable.