Commodore John Barry, United States Navy

American Revolutionary War Military Leader


Born in Tacumshane, County Wexford, Ireland in 1745, John Barry, a man of large stature at six feet four inches, settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the American Colonies of England in 1760. There he served as a popular and successful merchant ship Captain for many shipping houses. When the American Revolution began the connections he gained through his popularity paid off and he was assigned to outfit the first ships of the Continental Navy for the rebelling Americans. In early 1776, commanding the brig Lexington, he defeated the tender H.M.S. Edward and took her into Philadelphia. She was the first English prize taken to that city in the war. Barry was then given the command of a new frigate Effingham, 36 guns, being built in Philadelphia. While she was building Barry offered to serve in the Army. He was taken as aide-de-camp to General John Calawader, a former business associate, taking part as a result in the Trenton and Princeton operations. After the port of Philadelphia was taken by the British, requiring the scuttling of the not yet complete Effingham, Barry commanded a flotilla of small craft and gunboats in the Delaware River. During the winter of 1777-1778, that flotilla raided British shipping from Philadelphia in an effort to disrupt and blockade British supply and communication capturing numerous vessels and supplies.

              Captain Barry returned to sea as commander of the frigate Raleigh in 1778. In an action at the mouth of the Penobscot River that year he lost the Raleigh in a gallant action against the British razee ship of the line Experiment, 54 guns, and the frigate Unicorn. Barry, together with a third of his crew, reached shore and escaped.

              On February 11, 1781 Barry sailed from Boston in command of the frigate Alliance, 36 guns, having taken command from the Frenchman Pierre Landais, whose failure to aggressively support John Paul Jones against the Serapis in the Battle of Flamborough Head cost him his command. The purpose of this cruise was to transport John Laurens, Washington's aide, to France. Enroute to France two privateers were separately sighted, engaged and taken as prizes, depleting Barry's crew. No further action was sought out as no more men could be spared for prizecrews. Upon arrival in Lorient, France Barry recruited additional men and soon set sail for America.

              Shortly after sailing, his new crewmen, disreputable rogues with no allegiance to America, mutinied. They were put down and after flogging them into submission Barry continued West. Two more British privateers were taken in due course, those being the Mars and Minerva. On May 29, 1781, Barry spotted two British Sloops, the Atalanta of 16 guns and the Trepassy, 14 guns off Cape Sable, Nova Scotia. Initially the Sloops pummeled the Alliance, wounding Barry in the process, when their sweeps gave them advantage in a calm. However the wind came up as did the wounded Captain and shortly Barry persevered, taking both Sloops as prizes into Boston.

              Barry engaged the British once more on March 10, 1783 when his Alliance briefly exchanged broadsides with the frigate Sybil in the Gulf of Mexico. Although the Englishman escaped, she did so badly damaged and without taking the valuable transport Barry was escorting, the Duc de Lauzon out of Havana with silver bullion for Congress's coffers.

              After the Revolution, Barry was chosen to convey Lafayette and Noailles to France. After a brief return to sailing as a merchant Captain, in 1794 he reentered the Navy obtaining the title Commodore by which he would be known to posterity. As Captain of the frigate United States, 44 guns, he captured French merchant vessels during naval conflict with France of 1798-1800. He also engaged in the training of many American Naval officers, men who would in a short while become the heroes of naval actions in the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812, including Stephen Decatur and Richard Somers.

              Commodore John Barry passed away on September 13, 1803 in his adopted home of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Barry's remains are interred in the small cemetery, open to the public, behind Old St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Philadelphia. For all of his exploits, Barry is known as the Father of the American Navy. A statue stands in his honor immediately in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, as does one in Washington D.C. and another in his Irish home of County Wexford. Also four naval ships have carried his name, including a World War Two destroyer which earned four battle stars, the U.S.S. Barry DD933 a Forest Sherman class destroyer launched in 1955 and now a museum in Washington, D.C. and the DDG52, an Arliegh Burke Missile Destroyer currently in service. September 13, 1981 was declared John Barry Day by President Reagan, an act repeated by President Bush in 1991. The N.R.O.T.C. hall at Villanova bears his name as does the Annapolis Ancient Order of Hibernians organization, a New York Park in Fort Green and many more sites such as schools and organizations. A more recent memorial is the Commodore John Barry Bridge which carries travelers of Route 322 between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  The bridge spans the waters of the Delaware River South of Philadelphia, waters once ruled by Barry's brave flotilla of gunboats.

"To his valor was owed much of the honor acquired on the seas during the revolution" -

Obituary of  Commodore John Barry, Massachusetts Spy & Worcester Gazette, 21 Sept. 1803

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