As every United States Marine can tell you, the Corps was birthed in a Philadelphia bar called Tun Tavern in 1775. Although that is a true statement, ye olde drinking establishments were a lot different from the watering holes we know today.
Sadly for the Marine Corps and its veterans, local residents of Philadelphia don’t have thousands of celebrating Marines packing the streets of the neighborhood every November 10th. All that remains of the historic birthplace is a marker where Tun Tavern once sat. Its original site near the waterfront is now occupied by Interstate 95.
Almost as old as the English presence in the New World, Tun Tavern was founded just three years after the city of Philadelphia itself. It was founded in 1685 by local Samuel Carpenter (Philadelphia was founded in 1682; the first English settlement was founded in 1607) on the corner of Tun Alley and Water Street, the city's first brew house -- and among the earliest in the North American colonies.
Before long, everyone around knew that the Tun Tavern was serving the best beers in Philadelphia, and it kept that reputation for more than a century. As a result, it became an important meeting place for city and colonial officials and, eventually, for revolutionaries.
With the turn of the 18th century, prominent Philadelphians and society members began holding official meetings at Tun Tavern. Charitable organizations like the St. George's Society and St. Andrew's Society, groups that helped needy colonists get on their feet, began meeting there. It even became a Grand Lodge for Philadelphia Freemasons.
It is now recognized as the birthplace for Freemasonry in what would become the United States, and home to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. Benjamin Franklin was the third grand master of the lodge. So along with the Marine Corps, America's 2.3 million Freemasons can celebrate Tun Tavern as their origin.
Eventually, the owners of Tun Tavern began to recognize the importance of having some food to go along with their beverage offerings and expanded the tavern to include a restaurant, Peggy Mullan's Red Hot Beef Steak Club, by the 1740s. America's founding fathers were known to indulge in both and met there while in Philadelphia.
With its quality food and drink renowned across the colonies, when it came time for the Continental Congresses to meet in Philadelphia in the 1770s, they often found themselves at Tun Tavern, planning for the next steps in shaking off the yoke of the British crown in America. After all, Franklin had been organizing militias there to fight off American Indian tribes for decades by then. Why wouldn't it work for pesky European regents?
On top of drafting militiamen, in October 1775, a seven-person committee -- led by John Adams -- met at Tun Tavern to draft articles of war and commission a new naval fleet. But something was still missing from the colonies' new armed forces: Marines.
On Nov. 10, 1775, an innkeeper (and former Quaker) named Samuel Nicholas was assigned by the Continental Congress to raise the first two battalions of Marines, so he did it at -- where else? -- Tun Tavern. Nicholas was given the rank of captain and appointed commandant of the new Continental Marines. Robert Mullan, son of Peggy (of Red Hot Beef Steak fame), was the official proprietor of Tun Tavern and was dubbed "Chief Marine Recruiter."
Nicholas and Mullan recruited skilled marksmen to become the first Marines from a Conestoga wagon outside of the tavern. The first-ever company of Marines consisted of 100 Rhode Islanders. They, like the rest of the new Marine Corps, were posted aboard Continental Navy ships.
Throughout the Revolutionary War, Philadelphia was a contested city. It was the second-largest port city in the British Empire (after London itself). As capital of the rebel country, it was the target of the British from early in the war. The British held the city until their defeat at Saratoga, New York.
After France joined the war on the American side, Gen. William Howe resigned in Philadelphia in 1778, and his successor, Sir Henry Clinton, abandoned control of the city in favor of protecting the Eastern coast from a French attack. Tun Tavern stood the whole time, even as fighting raged in the streets.
In 1781, Tun Tavern burned down, a disastrous end to an illustrious and historic site and was never rebuilt. Marines visiting the Society Hill area of the city can visit the historical marker at 175 Front St. and learn more about its history at the nearby New Hall Military Museum.
For a taste of Tun Tavern, Marines and military history buffs can visit the U.S. National Museum of the Marine Corps' Tun Tavern in Virginia, which is decorated in the colonial style.
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