On 3 March 1776, the Continental Marines made their first epitomized amphibious landing in American history when they attempted an amphibious assault during the Battle of Nassau. However, they failed to achieve a surprise attack as Hopkins directed his captains to make an opposed landing of all his 234 of Marines, and some fifty seamen on the island of New Providence, to assault the British Fort Montagu hoping to seize supplies and provisions. The next day, they then marched to Fort Nassau to seize more shots, shells, and cannons. However, the failure of surprise the day before had warned the defenders and allowed the British governor to send off their stock of gunpowder in the night. One British merchantman ship escaped, leaving all but 24 barrels of gunpowder. The Continental Marines and sailors stripped the garrisons of cannon and ordnance supply before departing. The acquired matériel were essential to the supply armament of the Continental Army.
On 16 March, Commodore Hopkins withdrew from New Providence. Sailing back to Rhode Island on the 16th, the squadron captured four small prize ships. The squadron finally returned on 8 April 1776, with 7 dead Marines and four wounded. While returning from the Bahamas, Hopkin's squadron encountered a British ship off the coast of New York City on 5 April. Here, Nicholas's Marines participated in the capture of HMS Bolton. The next day [6 April], the Marines and sailors engaged in a naval battle between Hopkin's Cabot and Alfred and the British frigate HMS Glasgow off the coast of Long Island, New York. Four Marines wounded and seven killed; Lieutenant John Fitzpatrick was the first Continental Marine killed in combat. Sailing back toward Rhode Island, the squadron captured four small prize ships. The Hopkin's squadron reached New London on 8 April 1776.
John Martin's enlistment gave him the role as the first black American Marine. In Philadelphia on April 1776, he signed to service aboard the Continental brig Reprisal docked along with Lexington in Philadelphia. While patrolling off the Virginia Capes, Lexington encountered HMS Edward and the sailors and Marines boarded the British brigantine-sloop and captured it on 7 April 1776.
Meanwhile, Hopkins fleet again set out at sea in the Atlantic, on 29 May 1776, the Continental sailors and Marines aboard brigantine Andrea Doria captured two British transports, with each bearing an infantry company. Hereafter, Hopkin's squadron patrolled the coast of New England as far north to Nova Scotia for the rest of the spring of 1776. Alfred (under command by John Paul Jones) continued to raid British commerce while the rest of the squadron awaited repairs or more crewmen. Most of the sailors and Marines were riddled by diseases, desertion, and resignation of officers. The Continental Congress struggled to find more crews to man the Navy's ships; the Marine detachments were moved from vessel to vessel and were temporarily reinforced by the Continental Army and militia. In the summer of 1776, Hopkins's squadron returned to Philadelphia. Also, Congress approved the Marine Committee's request for new officers; fourteen new officer were commissioned in the Continental Marine Corps. Samuel Nicholas was promoted to Major on 25 June due to his service in the New Providence expedition. Congress however, was utterly disappointed in Commodore Esek Hopkins's disobeying of orders. Dissatisfaction with the achievements of the fleet, and its subsequent inactivity in Rhode Island, led to an investigation by Congress. Censured for disobedience of orders, Hopkins returned to the fleet.
A sketch of Tun Tavern during the Revolutionary War.
Also on the same day [25 June], Robert Mullan (whose mother was the proprietor of Tun Tavern and most likely used it as his recruiting rendezvous) received his commission as Captain. Capt. Mullan played an important aid in recruitment of enlistees for Marines aboard the Continental navy fleets, he became by legend, the first 'Marine Recruiter'. Captain Mullan's roster lists two black men, Issac and Orange, another historical recording of one of the first black American Marines.
On 28 June Pennsylvania's brig Nancy arrived in Cape May with 386 barrels of powder in her hold and ran aground while under fire while attempting to elude British blockaders HMS Kingfisher and HMS Orpheus. The next evening, the Continental Marines aboard Lexington, along with four American warships to assist the wreck Nancy. By dawn, the crew in small boats unloaded weaponry and precious gunpowder, leaving only 100 barrels of powder behind. Barry devised a delayed action fuse just as a boatload of British seamen boarded Nancy, exploding the powder. This engagement became known as the Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet.
On 4 July 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed. The Continental sailors and Marines aboard Reprisal and then headed south to the Caribbean Islands on 27 July. Their assignment was to bring William Bingham, who had been appointed agent from the American colonies to Martinique, in acquiring intelligence, and additional arms and supplies for George Washington's armies. While enroute, they encountered the British sloop-of-war HMS Shark off the coast of Martinique and forced her out of the area. Reprisal and her accompanying Marines returned to Philadelphia from the West Indies on 13 September.
By autumn of 1776, Major Nicholas raised four new companies of Marines for four of the new frigates that were to be completed and commissioned in Philadelphia. Armed with marines by the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety, the detachments guarded both the Continental and state vessels and store while waiting for their frigates to sail.
On 5 September 1776, the Marine Committee apportioned a uniform for the Continental Marines. The uniform regulations specified that standard uniform was a short green coat with white trim facings (lapels, cuffs, and coat lining), and a high leather collar to protect against cutlass slashes and to keep a man's head erect, leading to the nickname "leatherneck"; complemented by a white waistcoat, white or buff short breeches, woolen stockings, and a short black gaiter. Marine officers wore small cocked hats, and a single epaulette; and the enlisted men sported round black hats with the brim pinned on one side. The adoption of green coats and round hats probably reflects the constraints of availability, for both of the uniform attire were used by the Philadelphia Associators. It wasn't until the year 1777 that the Marines entirely appeared in uniform in numbers. Though legend attributes the green color to the traditional color of riflemen, Continental Marines mostly carried muskets. More likely, green cloth was simply plentiful in Philadelphia, and it served to distinguish Marines from the blue of the Army and Navy or the red of the British. Also, Sam Nicholas's hunting club wore green uniforms, hence his recommendation was for green. Notably, Marines aboard USS Bonhomme Richard wore red, though they were mostly Irish soldiers of the French Army.
The Continental sailors and Marines aboard Providence sails north to Canada toward Nova Scotia. By 22 September, the sailors and Marines reached Canso Harbor and recaptured the small port. The following next day, they struck Isle Madame destroying fishing boats. On 27 September while fishing, Providence, became under surprise attack from the British frigate HMS Milford. Although surprised, the smaller American ship managed to escape in a day of expert sailing.
Sometime in October, Sergeants William Hamilton and Alexander Neilson are promoted to Lieutenant, being the first recorded "mustangs" (enlistees who received field commission) in the Marine Corps. On 24 October 1776, Benjamin Franklin was dispatched to France as appointed 'Commissioner to France' for Congress. Captain Lambert Wickes was ordered by the Continental Congress to proceed to Nantes, France, aboard Reprisal. En route to France, the sailors and Marines captured two brigantines. Reprisal reaches Nantes, France on 29 November, becoming the first vessel of the Continental Navy to arrive in European waters.
In late November 1776, General Washington's Continental Army positions along the Hudson River collapsed from the concurring assaults of British forces. In emergency response Washington requested assistance of a brigade of Philadelphia militia, a company of local seamen, and Major Nicholas's four companies of Continental Marines. George Washington wrote a staunchly letter to John Cadwalader, a brigadier general of the Pennsylvania Associators:
"...if they came out resolved to act upon Land...instead their Services to the Water only."
—George Washingtonto John Cadwalader, 7 December 1776
On 2 December 1776, Major Samuel Nicholas and his three companies of Marines, garrisoned at the Marine barracks in Philadelphia, were tasked to reinforce Washington's retreating army from New York through Trenton to slow the progress of British troops southward through New Jersey. The Major Nicholas and the American marines marched off to aid in support an American army for the first time in history; he led a battalion of 130 officers and enlisted men from Philadelphia, leaving behind one company to man the Continental vessels. Unsure what to do with the Marines, Washington requested that the Marines be attached to a brigade militiamen from the Philadelphia Associators, in which were also dressed in green uniforms alike of the Continental Marines. Thus, Nicholas and his Marines joined Cadwalader's brigade of Pennsylvania Associators, a force of 1,200 men. The Marines lived side-by-side with the militia brigade in Bristol, Pennsylvania for two weeks waiting for an attack from the British. However, the British army instead went into winter quarters along the New Jersey shore of the Delaware River.
Meanwhile at sea, Lexington becomes captured by the British frigate HMS Pearl. Momentarily, Marine Captain Abraham Boyce leads his men and Lexington's sailors in overtaking the small British prize crew. Alfred also engaged combat with HMS Milford on 9 December. Although the British frigate was better-armed, the American ship was able to out-sail their opponent and escape unharmed. The Continental Marines and sailors were able to escape to the harbor at Baltimore, Maryland.
General Washington attacked the German garrison at Trenton on 26 December, though Cadwalader's brigade were unable to arrive in time to affect the battle for Trenton, due to problems crossing the ice-choked Delaware River. Cadwalader finally crossed the river on 27 December on his own initiative, reaching Trenton by 2 January as Washington concentrated his army. As Cadwalader and his brigade managed to reach Trenton on 2 January from across the Delaware River, the Continental Marines watched the cannonade between the Continental Army and Lord Cornwallis' British Army at Assunpink Creek. The Marines helped defend a crucial bridge against a Hessian attack.  On the night of 3 January, Cadwalader's brigade (including Major Nicholas's battalion of Continental Marines) and General Washington's Army silently departs the battlefield and marches toward Princeton. By daybreak, they launched a two-pronged attack. The first prong of attack, led by Brigadier General Hugh Mercer, a close friend of George Washington, attacked a British stronghold. Mercer's brigade ran into heavy, well-disciplined musketry of two British regiments that were emplaced in front of Princeton, Mercer's brigade position soon collapsed. Cadwalader's brigade (along with the Marines) came to the assistance, but too stumbled into the British infantry forcing them to fall back. The second prong of attack caught the British in open flank, scattering three British regiments. It gave Washington's forces the advantage to take Princeton. The battle for Princeton was the first engagement that the Continental Marines fought and died in battle.
After the Trenton–Princeton campaign, Nicholas's four-company battalion discontinued service; reduced by transfers, desertion, and disease of eighty Marines. On 4 January, the remaining three companies encamped at its winter quartering at Sweets Town, not far from Washington's bivouac at Jockey Hollow, Morristown. From 1 February 1777 and throughout the winter, the two companies of Marines either transferred to Morristown to assume the roles in the Continental artillery batteries, or left the service altogether. Captain Robert Mullan's company returned to Philadelphia as prisoner guards after they found that there was no ship to man. Captain Robert Mullans' company of Continental Marines disbanded in April 1777. Many would also return to Philadelphia in the spring to become part of the detachments of the new Continental galley Washington [the third ship to be named as such] and the frigate Delaware.
In the Bay of Biscay off France, on 5 February, the Continental Marines aboard Reprisal led a boarding party that seized and sank HMS Swallow.
The 32-gun frigate Randolph was put to sea in early February 1777, joining the smaller Continental vessels from Hopkins's squadron. Constantly, the Continental Navy attempted to breach the cordon of British vessels awaiting their departure; tasks in reaching the open seas came with such burden that Congress and the state assemblies attempted to mount a serious naval campaign in an effort to drive away the British warships that were blockading the American harbors. One achievement was that they warranted in shifting some of its cruises to European waters, using the ports of their ally, France, as a base of operation. Although it did not totally hinder nor prevent the Royal Navy from going anywhere in American waters. But the naval campaigns did made it costly for Great Britain to maintain its army in American.
Marines made another overseas strike, raiding the coast of Britain (notably at Whitehaven) with John Paul Jones on the USS Ranger in April 1777.
Alfred; and Raleigh under command of Capt. Thomas Thompson; and their accompanying Continental Marines, departed for France on 22 August 1777. On 4 September, the Continental Marines aboard the frigate Raleigh participated in the bold attack on the British sloop HMS Druid. The approach of the remaining British escorts forced them to break off, unabling them to sink or capture any British prizes.
On 14 September 1777, Reprisal left France, for New England.
On 19 September, Lexington and her Marine detachments are defeated by the British cutter HMS Alert, near France.
The Continental frigate Delaware and her Marines were forced onto a shoal in the Delaware River as they fought with British batteries guarding the approaches to Philadelphia occupied by the British. Although Delaware was captured, many of the sailors and Marines managed to escape.
On 1 October 1777, caught in an Atlantic storm, Reprisal foundered off the banks of Newfoundland and all 129 on board (sailors and Marines), except the cook, went down with her. Continental naval officer in command of sloop-of-war Ranger, Captain John Paul Jones, sailed for Nantes, France, on 1 November 1777, to dispatch news to Commissioner Benjamin Franklin about the American victory of Saratoga and the surrender of British General John Burgoyne. On the voyage over, two British prizes were captured. Ranger arrived at Nantes on 2 December. Captain Jones sold the prizes and delivered the news of the victory at Saratoga to Dr. Ben Franklin.
On 2 January 1778, the Marine Committee came to the conclusion that Esek Hopkins be relieved of command. Thereafter as such, the Continental Congress implemented a few plans for squadron operations.
On 10 January, a company of Marines under Navy Captain James Willing depart Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania for an expedition, in the armed boat Rattletrap. They sail into the Ohio River en route to New Orleans.
Marines from the frigate Randolph help extinguish a huge blaze on 15 January in Charleston, South Carolina, that destroyed hundred of buildings. They seized the forts, and captured five ships in the harbor.
During a surprise attack on the night of 28 January 1778, Marines repeated the raid on smaller scale once again at New Providence Island, on Nassau in the Bahamas, under Captains John Trevett and John Rathbun. The 'Stars and Stripes' was hoisted over a foreign shore for the first time. It was repeated again for the third time, in May 1782, with Bernardo de Gálvez to secure the island for the Spanish.
Meanwhile, Captain Willing and the Marines from Rattletrap captured the British sloop HMS Rebecca while sailing down the Mississippi River. They were able to temporarily weaken the British hold on the waterway from occupation. They raided British Loyalist plantations along on the shore of Lake Ponchartrain.
The ill-fated day of 7 March, the frigate Randolph, commanded by Nicholas Biddle, explodes while commencing in a firefight with HMS Yarmouth, a British 64-gun ship-of-the-line. During battle, the powder magazines onboard combusted, exploding the entire hull. Randolph sank taking a loss of 301 sailors, soldiers, and Marines.
On 9 March 1778, near Barbados in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean Sea, Alfred and Raleigh encountered British warships HMS Ariadne and HMS Ceres. When the American ships attempted to flee, Alfred fell behind her faster consort Raleigh, who was unable to reach Alfred in time to assist her. Shortly afternoon the British men-of-war caught up with Alfred and forced her to surrender after a half an hour's battle. The Marine detachment, along with the Continental sailors, were taken prisoner. Raleigh continued north to New England. On 27 March, Raleigh was chased ashore on Point Judith, near Newport, Rhode Island, by a British squadron. The Continental Marines hold off an attack by Royal Marines while the crewmen unload valuable equipment from the grounded ship. The Continental Navy ship Raleigh returned to New England early in April 1778.
On 23 April 1778, John Paul Jones and sailors and Marines aboard USS Ranger make a raid on the British port of Whitehaven, Great Britain. The crew of Ranger set fire to ships and spiked the cannon of the fort. Later that same day, they land on St. Mary Isle to capture a British earl, but find him away from home, and instead they take the family silver. The next day [24 April], Ranger and her Marines defeat the British sloop HMS Drake in the Irish Sea.
On 1 May 1778, the Marines assist in a night battle with the British frigate HMS Lark in Narragansett Bay as Providence escapes the blockade and makes it to the open sea. Accused of cowardice and dereliction of duty for not aiding Alfred, Captain Thomas Thompson was suspended soon after reaching port. On 30 May 1778 the Marine Committee appointed John Barry to replace him as captain.
On 3 August 1778, the sailors and Marines aboard the Continental Navy ship General Gates and intercepted, then defeated, the British letter-of-marque brigantine HMS Montague, whose under command of Captain Horatio Nelson.
The Marines aboard Providence attack a 30-ship convoy on 7 August, off the coast of Nova Scotia. They inflict damage on an armed transport carrying Highland troops.
On 27 September, the British ships HMS Experiment and HMS Unicorn engage Continental ship Raleigh off the Penobscot River, Maine, and force her aground. Some of the Marines and sailors escape to shore, but more are captured.
Marines would mainly participate in the naval battles of the war, fighting ship-to-ship, such as the Battle of Valcour Island and famed Battle of Flamborough Head. Marksmen would perch in the upper riggings and masts of the ship to fire on enemy sailors from above. However, unlike British Marines, the Continental Marines would take the then-unorthodox missions of landing parties and other services ashore. For example, Marines would support batteries ashore at the Siege of Charleston in the spring of 1780.
Continental Marines landed and briefly captured Nautilus Island and the Majabagaduce peninsula in the Penobscot Expedition in 1779, but withdrew with heavy losses when Commodore Dudley Saltonstall's force failed to capture the nearby fort. A group under Navy Captain James Willing left Pittsburgh, traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, captured a ship later known as USS Morris, and in conjunction with other Continental Marines, brought by ship from the Gulf of Mexico, raided British Loyalists on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain on 10 September 1779. The last official act of the Continental Marines was to escort a stash of silver, on loan from Louis XVI of France, from Boston to Philadelphia to enable the opening of the Bank of North America. However, Marines did fight on the duel between USS Alliance and HMS Sibyl on 10 March 1783, the last recorded shots of the war, and Pvt Robert Stout of that ship would be the last recorded mention of a Continental Marine one year later. Major Nicholas would die from yellow fever on 27 August 1790. In all, the Continental Marines suffered 49 dead and 70 wounded.
At the end of the Revolution in 1783, both the Continental Navy and Marines were disbanded in April. Although individual Marines stayed on for the few American naval vessels left, the last Continental Marine was discharged in September. In all, there were 131 Colonial Marine officers and probably no more than 2,000 enlisted Colonial Marines. Though individual Marines were enlisted for the few American naval vessels, the organization would not be re-created until 1798. Despite the gap between the disbanding of the Continental Marines and the establishment of the United States Marine Corps, Marines worldwide celebrate 10 November 1775 as the official birthday. This is traditional in Marine units and is similar to the practice of the British and Netherlands Royal Marines. Despite the Continental Navy being older in establishment (13 October vs. 10 November 1775) and reestablishment (27 March 1794 vs. 11 July 1798), Marines have taken the position of precedence, awarded due to seniority of age, because they historically and consistently maintained their birth as 10 November, while the Navy had no official recognition of 13 October as their birthday until 1972.