The Tun Tavern: Of Course the US Marine Corps Was Founded in a Brewery

April 7, 2021Matt Fratus
beer1, tun tavern

Composite by Kenna Lee/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Every Marine knows the date: Nov. 10, 1775. It was the day the US Marine Corps (then called the Continental Marines) was born. The Second Continental Congress ordered that “two Battalions of Marines be raised” for service at sea and on shore. Marine Corps legend says that these first recruits all first rendezvoused at the Tun Tavern, regarded as the first brewhouse in Philadelphia and among the first breweries in America.

The Tun Tavern was the brainchild of Samuel Carpenter, an English coffee trader, who erected the brewhouse in 1683 (some reports say 1693) over an underground spring. The pristine waterfront location offered his brewhouse the purest water in Philadelphia. Teaming up with his brother Joshua, Carpenter opened the doors two years later. Patrons wondered about the name, and the brothers offered an explanation: The word “tun” refers to a measured cask of liquid, like the barrels of beer noticeable near their barstools.

Tun Tavern Marines coffee or die
Sketch of Tun Tavern in the Revolutionary War, birthplace of the Continental Marines, which became the US Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It didn’t take long for the brewery to build a prominent reputation. In 1732, St. John’s Lodge had its first meeting within the Tun’s walls, and thus America’s first Grand Masonic Lodge came to be. One of its members was Benjamin Franklin. Remarkably, the Tun Tavern is also said to be the birthplace of the Philly cheesesteak.

In 1745, the Tun Tavern’s proprietor, Thomas Mullen, expanded the tavern beyond mere brewhouse status. The tavern was renamed “Peggy Mullen’s Red Hot Beef Steak Club at Tun Tavern,” and the establishment soon welcomed some of America’s future founding fathers, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton. The Tun Tavern even entertained both the first and second Continental Congresses and assumed the nickname “The Governor’s Club.”

The Tun Tavern was a pivotal location for military recruitment. Benjamin Franklin organized the Pennsylvania Militia there in 1756 in response to Native American uprisings in the surrounding colonies. 

Tun Tavern Marine Corps coffee or die
The Tun Tavern opened in 1685 and hosted many Colonial-era meetings. It is most celebrated for being the first recruiting location for the US Marine Corps (then known as Continental Marines). Photo courtesy of the Tun Tavern.

On the eve of the American Revolution, the Tun Tavern provided the liquid courage necessary for America’s founding fathers to craft a plan for declaring independence from England. When the Continental Congress commissioned Samuel Nicholas, the first commissioned officer of the Continental Marines, to acquire a new breed of warfighters, he knew exactly the type of people for the job. Nicholas was the owner of the Conestoga Wagon Tavern and had seen his share of fistfights, but he needed help. So he went to none other than the Tun Tavern to appoint Mullen as the Marines’ first recruiter

Sadly, the Tun Tavern burned down in 1781. Though there is now only a commemorative marker where the Tun Tavern once stood, its legacy lives on elsewhere. The National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia, features one of two dining areas, including the famous Tun Tavern, with Colonial-era décor and a menu featuring such options as the Militia Burger and peanut soup. For those seeking a more modern setting, the Tun Tavern in Atlantic City, New Jersey, hosts National Beer Day annually on April 7.

Matt Fratus
Matt Fratus

Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.

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