Resolved, That a letter be sent by Express to General Washington, to inform him, that they [Congress] having certain intelligence of the sailing of two north country built Brigs, of no force, from England, on the 11 of August last, loaded with arms, powder, and other stores, for Quebec, without a convoy, which it being of importance to intercept, that he apply to the council of Massachusetts bay, for the two armed vessels in their service, and despatch the same, with a sufficient number of people, stores, particularly a number of oars, in order, if possible, to intercept two Brigs and their cargoes, and secure the same for the use of the continent; Also, any other transports laden with ammunition, cloathing, or other stores, for the use of the ministerial army or navy in America, and secure them in the most convenient places for the purpose abovementioned; that he give the commander or commanders such instructions as are necessary, as also proper encouragement to the marines and seamen, that shall be sent on this enterprize, which instructions, are to be delivered to the commander or commanders sealed up, with orders not to open the same until o of sight of land, on account of secresy.
That a letter be wrote to council, to put vessels under the General's command and direction, and to furnish him instantly with every necessary in their power, at the expence of the Continent.
Also that the General be directed to employ vessels.
John Hancock of Second Continental Congress to General George Washington, 5 October 1775
In that letter, it was the first time that Congress ever mentions "Marines" in United States history
A portrait of Major Samuel Nicholas, the first Commandant of the Marine Corps, 1775.
Resolved, That two Battalions of marines be raised, consisting of one Colonel, two Lieutenant Colonels, two Majors, and other officers as usual in other regiments; and that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken, that no persons 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.
Ordered, That a copy of the above be transmitted to the General.
Second Continental Congress on 10 November 1775
The Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia on 9 November 1775, consulting the Naval Committee to send an amphibious expedition to Halifax in Nova Scotia. Having launched two land expeditions toward the St. Lawrence River months earlier, (as Richard Montgomery's and Benedict Arnold's forces were each making their way toward Quebec City to join forces [later leading to the Battle of Quebec]), Congress was convinced that sending marines to fight at sea and engage military operations ashore were paramount in destroying an important British naval base in Halifax, and to procure enemy provisions and supplies, if possible. On 10 November 1775, the Naval Committee was directed by Congress to raise two marine battalions at the Continental expense. Also, Congress decided the marines will not only be used for the Nova Scotia expedition but for subsequent service thereafter. Henceforth, the Naval Committee established a network of appointments for offices; paymaster, commissions, procurements, equipment, etc., for establishing a future national corps of marines. The United States Marine Corps still celebrates 10 November, as its official birthday Borrowing from the Royal Navy, the practices and printed instructions were outlined in the "Rules for the Regulations of the Navy of the United Colonies." It was intended that the American marines would provide the same services as British marines.
The two battalions of Continental Marines officially became "resolved" when Congress issued the first commission to Captain Samuel Nicholas on 28 November 1775. Nicholas' family were tavernkeepers, his prominence came not from his work but from his leadership in two local clubs for fox-hunters and sport fishermen. Historian Edwin Simmons surmises that it is most likely Nicholas was using his family tavern, the "Conestoga Waggon" [sic], as a recruiting post; although the standing legend in the United States Marine Corps today places its first recruiting post at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia.
In December 1775, to aid in drafting plans in expanding the Continental Navy and to supervise the construction of vessels and procurement of naval equipment, the Continental Congress established a permanent committee for the Marine Corps, the Marine Committee (the forerunner of the United States Department of the Navy). It would supersede the duties of the naval affairs committee; which the majority of the personnel were also appointed in the same office of the Naval Committee. The Marine Committee contained thirteen members, one for each colony, included important figures, such as Robert Morris, John Hancock, and Samuel Chase. The Naval Committee would oversee the Marine Committee on matters concerning naval expeditions and projections. It exercised legislative, judicial, and executive powers. However, the lack of an administrative head and of actual authority over the states, impeded the Marine Committee as they did Congress. Since the Marine Committee was responsible in drafting plans for the expansion of the Continental Navy, three days later after its establishment it recommended to Congress to build a force of thirteen frigates, outfitted with 24–36 guns. Congress accepted the program as it would protect colonial merchant trade from the British blockaders; on the recommendation that the construction of warships will be decentralized.
Congress was greatly depending on Washington's cooperation for the Nova Scotia expedition and were planning to draw them from Washington's army, but Washington was unenthusiastic about the plan and suggested instead to Congress to recruit unemployed seamen for the proposed marine battalions in New York and Philadelphia (which at the time was the Nation's first capital city [before moving to the District of Columbia]). Congress agreed on the decision. Ten additional Marine officers were appointed by Captain Nicholas, the majority of officers and enlistees were Philadelphian small merchants and businessmen, skilled tradesmen and workers, and unskilled laborers. Even there were some that were acquainted to those in Congress or in the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety. The primary duties of the officers were recruiting and persuading men to enlist, most officers were commissioned because their most important qualification was knowledge of working the local taverns and other hot-spots of the working class. The officers would sweep through the city for potential recruits, accompanied by drummers borrowed from the Philadelphia Associators, a city militia. Nicholas and his officers might have had some maritime experience, but it is unlikely that they were skilled mariners. Five companies of about 300 Marines were raised. While armed, they were not equipped with standardized uniforms.
Continental Congress appointed Rhode Island Navy Commodore Esek Hopkins as the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Navy on 22 December 1775.; in Philadelphia, the Marine Committee outfitted a flotilla of five ships, the first squadron in the Continental fleet. His brother, Stephen Hopkins, served in the Continental Congress and was co-chairman of Naval Affairs and the Marine Committee. Formally commissioned as captains by Congress include: Esek's son, John Burroughs Hopkins, who commandeered the brigantine USS Cabot. USS Alfred was placed in commission on 3 December 1775, with Capt. Dudley Saltonstall in command, as to serve as Hopkins' flagship, becoming the first vessel to fly the Grand Union Flag (the precursor to the Stars and Stripes) hoisted by Lieutenant John Paul Jones in February 1776; and the brigantine USS Andrew Doria, commandeered by Nicholas Biddle. A prominent naval commander in the Rhode Island Navy, Commodore Abraham Whipple, decided to transfer his commission to the Continental Navy and was commissioned a Captain on 22 December 1775. He was given command of a frigate USS Columbus; armed with twenty-four guns and a serving crew of sailors and company of Nicholas's Continental Marines aboard its quarters.
By 17 February, the Continental Marines embarked onto Hopkin's six vessels for their maiden expedition. It was the first amphibious/expedition for the Continental Navy-Marine Corps. Hopkins was given the task to patrol the southern American coastline to intercept and clear any presence of British troops, then return north to New England and perform similar services. He was instructed to attack the British fleet under John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, in Chesapeake Bay, Hopkins considered his orders discretionary and the enemy too strong. He was ordered to clear the American coast of British warships, then return north to perform similar services. Since rebel warships were already active off the New England coast, and the Middle Colonies were forming their own coastal defense navies; Hopkins's orders made strategic sense. However, for reasons that remain obscure, he disobeyed his ambitious orders to sweep the southern seas of British ships, and to safeguard the southern American coastline. Instead without proper authority he directed his squadron to head south en route to the Bahama Islands.
As he reach the Bahamas on 1 March 1776, his squadron began harassing small British forces guarding the small islands around New Providence Island, and raiding for gunpowder for Washington's army.
While Hopkins and Nicholas were sailing the Atlantic and Caribbean, Congress authorized the Marine Committee to purchase two more brigantines for the Continental Navy. The Marine Committee purchased brigantine Wild Duck, from the Maryland Committee of Safety and renamed her USS Lexington, commemorating the battle in Lexington of Middlesex County. Lexington then was turned over to "Wharton and Humphrey's Shipyard" in Philadelphia for fitting for Continental service. John Barry was commissioned as a Captain in the Continental Navy, dated 14 March 1776; along with this commission went command of the brig Lexington, his first warship. The Marine Committee of the Continental Congress purchased merchantman Molly on 28 March 1776; renamed her USS Reprisal and placed under the command of Captain Lambert Wickes. These two vessels were to be used to supplement the efforts of the Pennsylvania Navy in clearing the lower approaches of the Delaware River. They also appointed a ship captain and four new additional Marine officers for each vessel, all of whom by March 1776 were recruiting enlistees.