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14 Nov 2019 9:46 a.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Changed title from "Brtisih Corps of Colonial Marines" to "British Corps of Colonial Marines"

Areas of Interest

19th Century

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609 hits since 13 Nov 2019
©1994-2020 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP13 Nov 2019 9:38 p.m. PST

(1808-1810, 1814-1816)

"During the first two decades of the 19th Century, escaped American slaves formed a military cadre called Britain's Royal Navy Corps of Colonial Marines. After the War of 1812 these former soldiers established Trinidad's "Merikin" communities. These black marines in the British Navy were first organized in 1808 to garrison Britain's Caribbean bases but they were disbanded in 1810. During the War of 1812, British Rear Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane formed the Corps of Colonial Marines. Although they were of African descent and many were formerly enslaved, these troops received the same training, uniforms, pay, and pensions as their Royal Marine counterparts.

The Corps of Colonial Marines saw extensive military action from Canada to Georgia in the years 1814 to 1816. These former slaves often had extensive local knowledge of tidal creeks and riverine routes of the US South during that period. Because of that knowledge they participated in numerous battles, skirmishes, and raids during the War of 1812. They supported the British forces who burned Washington, D.C. in 1814 and who were later repulsed by US troops at Baltimore, Maryland. The Colonial Marines assisted Britain's Southern Coastal Campaign by guarding the British Army's right flank during the invasion and subsequent Battle of New Orleans in 1815. When the 1814 Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812, the Corps of Colonial Marines was transferred to British bases in Bermuda…."
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4th Cuirassier14 Nov 2019 1:25 a.m. PST

They later did sterling work against xenomorphs.

Fitzovich14 Nov 2019 3:16 a.m. PST


Glengarry514 Nov 2019 5:02 a.m. PST

I wasn't aware the Colonial Marines saw action in Canada. Anyone know the specifics?

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP14 Nov 2019 11:15 a.m. PST

Glad you enjoyed it boys!. (smile)


epturner Supporting Member of TMP14 Nov 2019 2:30 p.m. PST

I am with you on that. They might have been in the actions in Maine, but I don't recall them north of Maryland.

Could be they garrisoned someplace in NB, maybe?


Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP15 Nov 2019 11:03 a.m. PST

Can't find anything….


IronDuke596 Supporting Member of TMP16 Nov 2019 9:24 a.m. PST

Nor I. I don't believe they served in Canada.

Prince of Essling16 Nov 2019 10:11 a.m. PST

See link

"The Colonial Marines were officially organized on May 18, 1814 and saw their first bout of combat two weeks later, participating in a British raid up Pungoteague Creek, a tributary of the Chesapeake. There, they skirmished with Americans at Rumley ‘s Gut. Their British commanders were pleased with what they saw and British Rear Admiral George Cockburn argued that they proved to be "the best skirmishers possible for the thick woods of this country" and, in fighting, demonstrated "extraordinary steadiness and good conduct when in action with the enemy." Additionally, the Colonial Marines proved themselves as adept scouts as they were familiar with the countryside of the Chesapeake. The Colonial Marines participated in numerous raids the British made on communities stretching the full length of the Chesapeake Bay. Eventually 3,600 African Americans joined the British military effort, with between 550– 700 trained as troops."

Also: link
"The Corps of Colonial Marines saw extensive military action from Canada to Georgia in the years 1814 to 1816.
These former slaves often had extensive local knowledge of tidal creeks and riverine routes of the US South during that period. Because of that knowledge, they participated in numerous battles, skirmishes, and raids during the War of 1812.

They supported the British forces who burnt Washington in 1814 and who were later repulsed by US troops at Baltimore, Maryland. The Colonial Marines assisted Britain's Southern Coastal Campaign by guarding the British Army's right flank during the invasion and subsequent Battle of New Orleans in 1815. When the 1814 Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812, the Corps of Colonial Marines was transferred to British bases in Bermuda."

Also link

"The core of the author's project is a study of those events of the war and its aftermath that touched enslaved Americans seeking freedom, provided opportunity to attack the slaveholding society, and offered a framework for a future life. Only a few general histories of the War of 1812 attend to these matters at all closely while, until very recently, accounts of Black American armed service have ignored the Colonial Marines or presented a story at odds with the record. In dealing with events of the war, Frank Cassell, in his article of 1972 dealing with the Chesapeake, and Mary Bullard, in her book of 1983 dealing with the Georgia coast, were the first to focus on the refugees and the Colonial Marines but the current study appears to have been the first to consider the whole geographical scope of this flight from American slavery. With bicentennial commemoration in prospect, the story of these refugees is now receiving increased attention, and two recent books in particular set the story of the Colonial Marines in a more general context of Black American service, Gerald Horne's Negro Comrades of the Crown and Gene Allen Smith's The Slaves' Gamble.

1813: First refugees in the Chesapeake
The Black population of the southern states first met the British in March 1813, nine months after the start of the war in June 1812 when Americans invaded Canada. The British squadron entered the Chesapeake with instructions not only to blockade ports and damage the American navy, but especially to draw American energy away from Canada by means of a campaign of amphibious harassment. Almost immediately, Black refugees made their way to the British warships, not only men willing to act as guides and pilots but whole families seeking safe haven and freedom. Commanders had orders to offer protection to people who gave help and to enlist them in the Black regiments or else send them to British colonies. Increasing numbers fled to the British, and men, women and children rowed out perilously into the Chesapeake Bay by canoe to reach the squadron. Deputations of slaveholders were allowed on board British ships to try to persuade their runaways to return but without success – as one slaveholder wrote, ‘on being enquired of whether they were willing to return they declined, some of them very impertinently'. Charles Ball, in his account of his life in and out of slavery, records how he ‘went amongst them, and talked to them a long time, on the subject of returning home; but found that their heads were full of notions of liberty and happiness in some of the West India islands'. Detachments of emigrants were soon sent away out of American waters, first to the Bermuda dockyard and from July to Nova Scotia, where an existing Black population dated mostly from the War of Independence, those of the Black Loyalists who had not gone to Sierra Leone. In this new conflict between Britain and the United States, matters of moral high ground were bantered between the contestants, and when reports reached London that the friendly reception given to refugee families by Royal Navy officers was winning Black confidence, new and unprecedented government policy was immediately formulated: a newly appointed commander-in-chief, Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, was ordered to give special support to family emigration.

1814: Recruitment in the Chesapeake
When Cochrane took over the command in the Bermuda headquarters in April 1814, he issued a proclamation in implementation of these orders, indicating a welcome for ‘all those who may be disposed to emigrate from the United States' at British post and ships. He had sent advance instructions to his second in command, Rear-Admiral George Cockburn, to recruit a body of Colonial Marines from refugees, on the model he had previously employed six years earlier in Guadeloupe, and to find a suitable place in the Chesapeake as a base for British forces and as a safe haven for those who made their escape from American slavery. Cockburn already had a group of refugees who had stayed with the fleet as volunteers, and these formed the core of the new body of men he recruited and trained. Within six weeks they were ready, and on 18 May 1814 they enlisted as Colonial Marines. Among the volunteers who had already joined Cockburn on 23 January were four who had been heard planning their escape with one saying determinedly ‘I shall go when and where I please'. This spirited group helped lead the new corps as the first sergeants. (Two and a half years later they were to lead the Company Villages community itself, as senior NCOs appointed to be the village headmen.) Cockburn selected Tangier Island as his base, in the middle of the Chesapeake, a small archipelago barely rising out the water, easily defensible and with a supply of fresh water. The island was widely famous for great revivalist meetings attended by many thousands from around the Bay: Cockburn could assume that intending refugees over a large area would know the place well. London's instructions were that recruits for military service were to be enlisted in the existing Black corps, the West India Regiments, but the volunteers rejected this commitment to a life in what they saw as slave regiments. Cockburn's initial doubts as to their potential soon changed to praise for their determination and steadfastness. Over the first few months of the Corps news of their activities spread and numbers grew, and they saw active service as guides, scouts and skirmishers. Their first uniformed engagement at Pungoteake at the end of May 1814 brought their first fatal casualty, followed by two more deaths in the August attack on Washington: inspiration rather than disheartenment was reported to be the result. The Colonials' exemplary discipline during the burning of the city was praised by officers who had feared a loss of control over White rank and file in that action. They gave notable service again as a light company in the assault on Baltimore, in which four more were lost. In these actions they may have faced Joshua Barney's flotillamen, many of them Black sailors, described by some as the only serious fighting force on the American side. In July the Chesapeake force was enlarged with ships and men brought from Europe after Napoleon's defeat. The tired veterans of European battle suffered illness from both the Atlantic crossing and local conditions, and in September the depleted 2nd and 3rd Royal Marine battalions were reshaped, the enthusiastic Colonial Corps being joined by seasoned but exhausted Royal Marines to make a new 3rd Battalion of Royal and Colonial Marines, three Black companies and three White, garrisoned on Tangier Island.

At the end of 1814, with the burning of Washington and the attack on Baltimore and other expeditions around the Chesapeake behind them, Cockburn's force moved out of the Bay and southwards to coordinate with a new venture in the Gulf of Mexico, where a small force had been engaged since earlier in the year. A further invasion army had been brought from Europe to attack New Orleans and take possession of Louisiana, partly to secure British use of the Mississippi and partly to put a limit on American expansion. Cockburn's force had originally been intended to occupy Cumberland Island off the Georgia coast in November as a beachhead for cross-country supplies to the Gulf of Mexico and as a base for further diversionary harassment, but orders were delayed until December and extraordinarily bad weather prolonged the journey, with many deaths in the Colonial Marines and their families through illness. The battle of New Orleans was already over when they finally established themselves on Cumberland Island in mid-January 1815, expecting further action. Like Tangier Island, it lay in waterways well known to the neighbouring Blacks, who acted as guides and pilots as in the Chesapeake and who came in their hundreds, taking refuge with foraging parties on land or crossing to the island and the ships anchored there. Expeditions up the St Mary's River, the border with Spanish Florida, brought refugees from both sides of the river, and a British officer who had been living in Georgia on half- pay recruited a company from an area he knew well. In addition, many refugeed from nearby coastal estates in neutral Florida, in the ownership of British, American and Spanish planters, quite outside the emancipating provisions of the British government's instructions. In the Gulf of Mexico, an expedition up the Apalachicola River, intended to gather Indian support for the British and to recruit Blacks from the maroon communities of Florida and the backlands of Georgia, produced an independent company of over three hundred Colonial Marines, paid off at the end of hostilities and mostly remaining in the vicinity of the Negro Fort after the war with only four deciding to enlist with the main body. Cochrane's own intention in the campaign for Louisiana was not to offer liberty to slaves there, since the continued prosperity of the region should it come into British possession under his governorship depended absolutely on maintaining the body of slave labour. Nevertheless, in the retreat from New Orleans around two hundred emigrants came away with the British, none recruited into the Colonial Marines but some taken to Trinidad in 1815.

War's end
Despite early American news of the Peace Treaty, signed in Ghent on 24 December 1814, cessation of hostilities had to wait for the exchange of ratifications, finalized on 17 February 1815, and official notification from the British minister in Washington. Colonial Marine enlistment continued to 1 March and the British withdrew from Cumberland Island two weeks later and from the Gulf of Mexico in the middle of April. While the British were still anchored at Cumberland Island, Americans made demands for the return of ex-slaves under what they saw to be the provisions of the Treaty's 1st Article, which took over a decade of discussions, negotiations, arbitrations and conventions to settle. Cockburn rejected the demands, quoting Blackstone's legal commentaries that a slave arriving on British soil became free and that British ships at war were equivalent to British soil in this respect, while Cochrane (and later Sir James Cockburn, governor of Bermuda and elder brother to George Cockburn) insisted, in response to American approaches, that it was a matter to be decided at government level. Nevertheless, Cockburn's meticulous reading of the treaty itself led him to except certain refugees whom he ordered to be returned, instructions that the Americans said his officers obstructed. Five newly enlisted men were handed back, together with volunteers who, possibly, had been trained but not enlisted. For later historians of the Royal Marines the return to slavery of men who had worn His Majesty's uniform was an indelible stain on the British character.

Fourteen months on Bermuda
Ongoing recruitment in the Chesapeake and then in Georgia had provided three further Black companies. When the British companies left for home in April 1815, the six Black companies became the 3rd Battalion Colonial Marines, garrisoned in Bermuda on Ireland Island with a British Staff Company brought from Canada to accompany them as a token of White supervision. They did garrison duty and worked as artisans and labourers in the building of the new Royal Naval Dockyard. Cochrane recommended they be established on the island to man the garrison as a reserve force in case of further American conflict, describing them as ‘infinitely more dreaded' than English troops. When transfer to the West India Regiments was proposed and the men again rejected the idea, the Duke of York, as commander-in-chief of the British army, offered them a regiment of their own without any new success. Their persistent intransigence finally led the British government to offer to place them in Trinidad as independent farmers. On accepting the offer they left Bermuda on 15 July 1816."

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