A Commodore John Barry Bio and links to More Info on Commodore Barry

From Rebels of the American Revolution

A More Detailed Biography of John Barry From American History.org

House Joint Resolution to honor Commodore Barry

Comments from Sen. Moynahan on the Barry Resolution

Proclamation of Commodore John Barry Day, 1991

Images of Commodore Barry

National AOH Biography, by Michael McCormack, National AOH Historian/Archivist:


On September 13, the Ancient Order of Hibernians celebrate one of the major holidays of their Order - Commodore John Barry Day. It is not a day unique to that Order, for it has been commemorated on the American national calendar more than once. There were even statues erected in his honor back in the days when Americans remembered with gratitude the contributions of this dedicated man. Today, too few remember his deeds! The American Heritage dictionary doesn't even list his name, and his statue which stands in front of Independence Hall, Philadelphia, serves as a platform for pigeons unnoticed by passers-by.

It is truly unfortunate that so few remember this remarkable and courageous man, for during his lifetime, Barry gave so much to America, and at a time when she needed it most. It has even been said that had it not been for John Barry, the American Revolution would have been lost. Dr. Benjamin Rush said in his eulogy at Barry's graveside, "He was born in Ireland, but America was the object of his devotion, and the theater of his usefulness."

Yes, Commodore John Barry was born in Ireland; in Tacumshane, Co. Wexford to be specific, 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 Captain of the ship, Barbadoes. The young Irishman seemed destined for a prosperous career in the colonies, but his integrity and sense of justice led him to risk all in a dangerous venture.

In 1775, years of smouldering unrest erupted in open rebellion as the American colonies openly 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 early champion of the patriot cause, promptly volunteered his service. With nine years experience as a sea-going 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 Dec 7, 1775, eight months after the first shots were fired at Lexington, Captain John Barry took the helm of a new 14-gun vessel aptly named, 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 he had taken command, Captain Barry provided a necessary boost to the moral of the continental forces just as he would do so many times when it was needed most: he captured the British ship, Edward, and her cargo - the first American war prize.

On June 6, he was given command of the new cruiser, Effingham, and captured 2 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 betayed West Point, and gone over to fight for the British; and Washington's troops were in dire need. A victory was essential to boost their sagging moral. Barry captured an armed British vessel when ammunition 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 crossed the river in boats supplied by Barry's friend, Patrick Colvin.

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 an aide to Washington, Lord Howe made a flattering offer to Barry to desert the patriot cause. "Not the value or command of the whole British fleet", Barry replied, "can lure me from the cause of my country which is liberty and freedom."

On January 5, 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 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 a confrontation on May 28, 1781, Barry was wounded and taken below. Subsequently, his First Officer informed him that the battle was going against them, and Barry ordered that he be carried back on deck. When the British demanded his surrender, Barry defiantly refused and sparked his crew to victory. The wounded Captain returned with yet another prize. The last sea battle of the American Revolution took place on March 10, 1783, as Barry was returning with a shipload of gold 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 war at sea , Barry also assisted at the Federal Convention held in 1787 to adopt the 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 organized 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.

People cheered and church bells rang as Barry scored another victory - this time over indifference. In recognition of his vast experience and dedication, Washington demonstrated Barry's immense value to the new nation when, on June 14, 1794, he sent for the popular naval hero to form and train a class of midshipmen, who would then be commissioned as Ensigns, and form the nucleus of a new American Navy. Barry himself was named the ranking officer, and granted Commission No. 1.

Commodore Barry died in Philadelphia on September 13, 1803. 195 years later, I had the tremendous honor of delivering a memorial speech at the base of his statue in Wexford harbor inwhich I extended the thanks of this generation of Americans for his contributions to establishing our nation. Commodore John Barry had many firsts in his remarkable career, 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 remembered for is his position as Father of the American Navy.

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