On this Day, November 10th
In 1775, the United States Marine Corps
The official birthday of the United States Marine Corps, on 10 November 1775, was when the Second Continental Congress decreed:
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.
Tun Tavern, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is regarded as the birthplace of the Corps as the location of the first Marines to enlist under Commandant Samuel Nicholas, though it is disputed if a recruiting drive may have occurred earlier at Nicholas’s family tavern, the Conestoga Waggon . When the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the Continental Navy was disestablished, and with it, the Continental Marines. The Corps was re-established on 11 July 1798, when the “act for establishing and organizing a Marine Corps” was signed by President John Adams.
Celebration: John A. Lejeune, author of Marine Corps Order 47.
Prior to 1921, Marines celebrated the recreation of the Corps on 11 July with little pomp or pageantry. On 21 October 1921, Major Edwin North McClellan, in charge the Corps’s fledgling historical section, sent a memorandum to Commandant John A. Lejeune, suggesting the Marines’ original birthday of 10 November be declared a Marine Corps holiday to be celebrated throughout the Corps. Lejeune so ordered in Marine Corps Order 47:
MARINE CORPS ORDERS
The following will be read to the command on the 10th of November, 1921, and hereafter on the 10th of November of every year. Should the order not be received by the 10th of November, 1921, it will be read upon receipt.
JOHN A. LEJEUNE,
The first formal ball was celebrated in 1925, though no records exist that indicate the proceedings of that event. Birthday celebrations would take varied forms, most included dances, though some accounts include mock battles, musical performances, pageants, and sporting events.
The celebrations were formalized and standardized by Commandant Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr. in 1952, outlining the cake cutting ceremony, which would enter the Marine Drill Manual in 1956. By tradition, the first slice of cake is given to the oldest Marine present, who in turn hands it off to the youngest Marine present, symbolizing the old and experienced Marines passing their knowledge to the new generation of Marines. The celebration also includes a reading of Marine Corps Order 47, republished every year, as well as a message from the current Commandant, and often includes a banquet and dancing if possible. In many cases, the birthday celebration will also include a pageant of current and historical Marine Corps uniforms, as a reminder of the history of the Corps. Another modern tradition includes a unit run on the 10th. Marines are reputed to celebrate the birthday, regardless of where they may be in the world, even in austere environments or combat.
In a more somber tradition, Samuel Nicholas’s grave in the Arch Street Friends Meeting graveyard in Philadelphia is marked with a wreath at dawn by a group of Marines annually on 10 November to celebrate his role in the founding of the Corps.