Remembering John Barry
Born on the 25th March 1745 in the small village of Tacumshane Co. Wexford, his family were poor tenant farmers that were evicted by their English landlord and forced to move to the coastal town of Rosslare, also in Wexford.
It's here that he found his love for the sea as his uncle Nicolas was the captain of a fishing boat, Nicolas taught Barry the fishing trade and the ways of the sea, Barry now decided to dedicate his life to the sea.
At the age of sixteen, Barry had emigrated to Philadelphia where he got a job as a cabin bay and quickly rose up the ranks all the way to captaining his first ship call the Barbadoes.
He regularly sailed on the trade route between Philadelphia and the West Indies, his captaining abilities soon caught the attention of many a merchant trader which resulted in him sailing much larger ships.
When war broke out between the United States and Britain in 1776, Barry decided to help his adopted country against Ireland's old foe, so he volunteered to fight and was put to work outfitting merchant vessels into the first Continental Navy ships.
On March 14th 1776, John Barry was rewarded with a Captain's commission in the Continental Navy and command of his first warship, the brig Lexington, on which he was credited with the first capture of the American Revolution, the British sloop Edward off the Capes of Virginia on April 7, 1776.
Later that year he was given the command of the 32-gun Effingham. While the sip was still under construction the British offered Barry a bribe of £20,000 plus a commission in the British Navy if he turned the ship over to them, Barry was greatly insulted by the offer and vowed to fight on against them.
While waiting for the Effingham to be built, Barry volunteered his service to the Continental Army serving with a company of Marines under the command of Philadelphia militia commander General John Cadwalader and participated in the battles of Battle of Trenton & Princeton.
The Effingham had to be scuttled so Barry had to make do with a smaller vessel the USS Delaware, but he was a thorn in the side of the British in Delaware, capturing many of there ships and destroying all their hay forage.
Barry also captained the Raleigh, Lexington and the Alliance during the war, winning many victories against the British, the Alliance fought and won the final naval battle of the American Revolution 140 miles south of Cape Canaveral on March 10th, 1783.
After the war, Barry reentered the maritime trade and captained a ship called Asia and helped open up commerce with China and the Orient.
When the US Navy was established in 1794, Barry was appointed as the U.S. Navy’s first commissioned officer. Barry was tasked with overseeing the construction of the Navy’s first six frigates, including his own ship, the 44-gun United States.
On the 22nd of February 1797, President George Washington made him Commission Number 1, It was back-dated to June 4th, 1794, the date of his original appointment, from then on his title was ‘commodore’.
In 1798, when the Quasi-War began with France, Barry commanded the fledgling U.S. Navy fleet, and from his flagship, USS United States, captured several French merchant ships. Somehow in 1780, Barry had time to write a signal book that established a more effective communication between ships sailing in squadron formation.
Following the end of the Quasi-War, Barry was chosen to command the Mediterranean Squadron but was too ill to report to duty. At age 58, he died Sept. 13, 1803, from the complications of asthma at his home near Philadelphia.
Barry is buried in the graveyard of Old St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Center City, Philadelphia. There are ships, schools, and parks named after him, there are statues and plaques to him in Ireland and the United States.
My father is from Wexford Town, as a child on my many trips to Wexford I wondered who was this big statue in the town, now I know.
John Barry when a young boy was evicted from his home by the British and went on to become the father of the American Navy.
The epitaph on his tomb reads:
‘Let the Christian, Patriot and Soldier
Who visits these mansions of the dead
View this monument with respect.
Beneath it are interred the remains of
COMMODORE JOHN BARRY
Father of the American Navy.
He was born in the County Wexford in Ireland
But America was the object of his patriotism
And the theatre of his usefulness.’