Commodore John Barry
Father of the American Navy
Commodore John Barry was born in Ireland, in Tacumshane, Co. Wexford, in the year 1745. He grew up with a great love for the sea and while still a young man, he emigrated to the Crown colonies in America. By 1760, he was employed in a shipbuilding firm in Philadelphia and in 1766, at the age of 21, he went to sea as a captain of the ship, The Barbadoes. The young irishman seemed destined for the properous career in the colonies, but his integrity and sense of justice led him to risk all in a dangerous venture.
In 1775, years of smoldering unrest erupted in open rebellion as the American colonies finally declared their independence from the Crown. As England prepared to regain control of the situation, the colonies formed the Second Continental Congress to establish a military force and defend their recently declared independence, but experienced men were hard to find.
Captain John Barry, an earlier champion of the patriot cause, volunteered his service. With nine years experience as a seagoing captain and five successful commands to his credit, the young Irishman was quite warmly welcomed and given command of a ship under the authority of the Continental Congress.
On December 7, 1775, eight months after the first shots were fired at Lexington, Captain John Barry took the helm of a 14 gun vessel aptly named, The Lexington. He quickly trained a crew and began the task of supplying and supporting Washington's ground forces.
On April 7, 1776, just four months after taking command, Barry provided a necessary boost to the morale of the continental forces just as he would do so many times when it was needed-most: he captured the British ship, The Edward and her cargo - the first American war prize. On June 6, he was given command of a new cruiser, The Effington, and captured two more British ships.
In spite of Barry's successes, the war was not going well for the Americans, Philadelphia was in the hands of the British; the British navy had bottled up the delaware river; General Benedict Arnold had betrayed West Point and gone over to fight for the British; and Washington's troops were in dire need.
A victory was essential to boost the sagging moral. Barry captured an armed British vessel when ammuninition was scarce and a supply ship when food was at a premium; then he came to Washington's aid when the leader was planning to cross the Delaware. He organized seamen and joined the land forces which cross the river in boats supplied by Barry's friend, Patrick Calvin.
Barry was held in such high esteem that, after the delaware crossing and the subsequent victories at trenton and princeton in which he served as a aide to Washington, Lord Howe made a flattering offer to Barry to desert to the patriot cause, "Not the value or command of the British fleet," Barry replied, "can lure me from the cause of my country which is liberty and freedom." On january 3, 1778; while the Delaware was occupied by the British fleet, Barry organized the famous "Battle of the Kegs" in which small kegs loaded with explosives were sent floating down the river at the British ships and fired upon, exploding them and throwing the British into a panic.
In addition to commanding the naval operations for the Continental Congress, Barry supervised the building of their ships. In command of one of those ships in 1781, when Washington was again in need, Barry captured four important British vessels. Washington personally thanked him for the boost it provided and sent his fearless captain back into the fray.
During the cobfrontation on May 28, 1781, Barry was wounded and taken below. Subsequently, his first officer informed him that the battle was goung against them and Barry ordered that he be carried up on deck. When the british demanded his surrender, Barry defiantly refused and sparked his crew to victory. Thw wounded captain returned another prize.
The last sea battle of the American Revolution took place on March 10, 1783, as barry was returning with a shipload of bullion from Havana and was set upon by three British ships. The resourceful captain engaged and destroyed one and outdistanced the other two, returning with the precious cargo which was used to establish a National Bank for the new nation.
Even after the war, this tireless seaman assisted America by transporting Virginia tobacco to Holland to repay America's war debts. Far from the sea and war, barry also assisted at the Federal Convention held in 1787 to adopt a new constitution.
It seems that there were a minority who were opposed to the adoption and absented themselves from the convention, preventing a quorum from being formed. Barry formed a group called "The Compellers" and physically forced enough of the seceding members back to form a quorum; the vote was taken and the constitution was finally approved.
Washington demonstrated Barry's immense value to the new nation when, on June 14, 1794, he asked the popular naval hero to form and train a class of midshipmen who would then be commissioned as Ensigns and form the nucleus of the new American Navy. Barry himself was named the ranking officer and granted Commission number one.
Commodore John Barry had many firsts to his credit, from being the first to fly the new American flag in battle to escorting America's famous ally, General lafayette; back to France, but the first that he should always be rememberedd for is his position as Father of the American Navy.