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Colonial Marines 1808

Formed From People who Wanted Freedom

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Using former slaves and coloured africans that were available to support or replace fallen Royal Marines was not new. We know the Phoenicians and then the Persians employed sea-soldiers in amphibian operations not unlike those which played such an important part in keeping Britain's colonial fighting forces strong.

Marines were also highly regarded by the Romans to whom the oceans and seas remained an object of terror rather than curiosity. To each of the squadrons commanding the eastern and western divisions of the Mediterranean the Emperor Augustus, attached a body of several thousand sea-soldiers.

It was a regular practice of ancient invaders to enlist the local population into fighting troops, to support their formations in the countries that they conquered. It is possible those classical sea-soldiers chosen to be Marines had their own esprit de corps, just like they do today.

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Volunteers All Of Them

A new influx of freedom-seeking blacks reached Florida during the American Revolution between 1775, and 1783. Several thousand American slaves agreed to fight for the British in exchange for liberty and pay, they were called 'black Loyalists'.

Florida was under British control throughout the conflict. During the Revolution, Seminole Indians had also became allied with the British, often this happened where Africans and Seminoles came into increased contact with each other.

Members of both communities sided with the British against the US during the War of 1812, solidifying ties and earning the wrath of the war's American General Andrew Jackson. From these rare breeds two Corps of loyal Colonial Marines were formed to suppliment the Royal Marines.

First Corps of Colonial Marines were raised from former slaves as auxiliary units of the Royal Marines for service in the Americas: Two of these units were raised and subsequently disbanded. The first was a smaller unit which existed from 1808, to 12th October 1810.

The First Corps

The first Corps of Colonial Marines was raised in 1808 by Rear Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane while commander-in-chief of British naval forces on the Leeward Islands station during the Napoleonic Wars.

The British had captured the island of Marie Galante earlier that year but the French Governor of Guadeloupe attacked the island on hearing that illness had weakened its British garrison.

The Marie Galante slaves were keen to assist the British against the French. Then on being promised that they would not be returned to their proprietors and by this means the island was preserved until the arrival of three companies of the 1st West India Regiment.

Cochrane embodied the ex-slaves as a Corps of Colonial Marines, which was subsequently enlarged with fugitive slaves who came over from Guadeloupe. Some became famous for their tracking abilities and feats of endurance, and were often used as scouts or trackers.

The Corps was paid from Marie Galante revenues, clothed from Royal Navy stores and commanded by Royal Marine officers. Following the re-possession of Guadeloupe, Cochrane kept up the Corps, and on 12th October 1810, redistributed the men: 70 among the ships of the squadron, and between 20 to 30, to the battery at the Saintes (a group of small islands to the south of Guadeloupe), with 50 remaining in the Marie Galante garrison.

They saw no further action as a distinct body but were subsequently listed in ships’ musters among the supernumeraries for wages and victuals under the description of Colonial Marine until mid-1815. Cochrane’s second Corps of Colonial Marines was a separate entity.

The Second Corps Of Colonial Marines

Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, as Commander-in-Chief of British forces on the North Atlantic Station, ordered the recruitment of a body of Colonial Marines.

Rear-Admiral George Cockburn, Cochrane's second in command on the Atlantic coast, implemented the order, recruiting the second Corps of Colonial Marines from among the four thousand Black refugees of the War of 1812.

The second was more substantial and they served as part of the British forces on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States during that war. The main part of the Corps performed well participating in actions in the Chesapeake campaign on 18th May 1814, and made its combat debut in the raid on Pungoteague.

On 3rd September 1814, three companies of the Corps were to join with the three remaining companies of the 3rd Battalion Royal Marines, which had been established in 1813, to make a new 3rd Battalion of Royal and Colonial Marines.

The Corps conducted further recruitment along the coast of Georgia in the first quarter of 1815. The Colonial Corps served in many actions in the Chesapeake area during 1814, with losses at Pungoteague and Baltimore.

Greater losses to the Corps occurred from an outbreak of dysentry in January 1815, which killed the surgeon and 69 men of the battalion.

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Fort Point Peter

The Corps's last combat during the War of 1812, took place in January 1815, when members of the Corps formed part of the British land forces in the attack on the fort at Point Peter.

Members of the Corps were involved in the occupation of Tangier Island, and Cumberland Island off of the coast of Georgia, where they assisted the emigration of several hundred slaves up to the time of the promulgation of the Peace Treaty.

After the end of the war, with the departure for Britain of the three European companies, the 3rd battalion was reformed as the 3rd Battalion Colonial Marines to do garrison duty in the Royal Naval Dockyard then under construction on Ireland Island, Bermuda.

It was finally disbanded in Trinidad in August 1816, to form a free Black farming community which still retains its identity, carrying the name of The Merikens.

A detached company, recruited by Captain George Woodbine in the Gulf of Mexico under the direction of Colonel Edward Nicolls, remained at Apalachicola in Spanish East Florida after the British left at the end of the war.

Those members of the detached company who survived the destruction of Fort Gadsden (or the Negro Fort) in July 1816, joined the southward migration of Seminoles and Blacks in the face of the American advance.

They were believed to be among the group that escaped to the Bahamas in 1822, and founded the settlement on the west coast of the island of Andros, a community that still similarly retains its identity. They were well trained sea-soldiers who would have been capable of such a feat.

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