Isaac Barré

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Isaac Barré
Col Barre.jpg
Colonel Barré, c. 1765, by Douglas Hamilton
Member of the British Parliament
for Calne (UK Parliament constituency)
In office
1774 – 1790
Member of Parliament
for Chipping Wycombe (UK Parliament constituency)
In office
1761 – 1774
Serving with Robert Waller
Preceded byViscount FitzMaurice
Robert Waller
Succeeded byThomas Fitzmaurice
Robert Waller
Paymaster of the Forces
In office
MonarchGeorge III
Prime MinisterThe Earl of Shelburne
Preceded byEdmund Burke
Succeeded byEdmund Burke
Treasurer of the Navy
In office
MonarchGeorge III
Prime MinisterLord Rockingham
Preceded byWelbore Ellis
Succeeded byHenry Dundas
Personal details
Born1726 (1726)
Dublin, Ireland
Died20 July 1802 (1802-07-21)
Mayfair, London, England
Resting placeSt. Mary Churchyard, East Raynham, England
Political partyWhig
Alma materTrinity College, Dublin

Isaac Barré (1726 – 20 July 1802) was an Irish soldier and politician.[1] He earned distinction serving with the British Army during the Seven Years' War and later became a prominent Member of Parliament, in which role he became a vocal supporter of William Pitt. He is known for coining the term "Sons of Liberty" in reference to American Whigs opposed to the British government's policies.

Early life[edit]

He was the son of Peter Barré, a Huguenot refugee who became a linen dealer and had served as High Sheriff of Dublin City.[2] He was educated at Trinity College, and graduated in 1745. While his parents had hoped he would study law, and although he had potential as an actor, Barré instead entered the British Army in 1746.

Military career[edit]

After studying at Trinity College, he joined the 32nd regiment of foot as an ensign in 1746, and was promoted to lieutenant in 1755, and captain in 1756. He served under his patron General James Wolfe on the Rochefort expedition of 1757, when he first met Lord Shelburne, and afterwards in Canada where he was appointed adjutant-general, fighting at both Louisbourg (1758) and Quebec (1759). In 1759, he was promoted to major, but the rank applied only during his service in America. In the Quebec expedition, in which Wolfe was killed, Barré was severely wounded by a bullet in the cheek and lost the use of his right eye, and was among the group gathered around the dying Wolfe, immortalised in Benjamin West's celebrated picture.

Returning to England in September 1760, despite many years of commendable service, Barré was denied promotion by William Pitt the Elder[3] and turned to Shelburne for help. After undertaking a tour of Shelburne's Irish estates, he was advanced to lieutenant colonel of the regiment of 106th Foot at Shelburne's instigation, and in 1763 he was appointed to the lucrative posts of adjutant general of the British army and Governor of Stirling Castle.

Political career[edit]

Colonel Isaac Barré, 1785, by Gilbert Stuart

Shelburne introduced him to Lord Bute and brought him into parliament for his borough of Chipping Wycombe (1761–1774), having been selected by Shelburne "as a bravo to run down Mr. Pitt", and then for Calne (1774–1790). One of the few self-made soldiers in parliament, Barré became one of Shelburne's principal supporters in the House of Commons. In his first political speech, he vehemently attacked the absent war minister William Pitt, renewing this assault the next day to Pitt's face. This caused a sensation, and set the tone of a long and colourful parliamentary career in which he acquired a fearsome reputation as an orator. However, he ultimately became a devoted Pitt adherent.

A vigorous opponent of the taxation of America, Barré displayed his mastery of invective in his championship of the American cause, and the name "Sons of Liberty", which he had applied to the colonists in one of his speeches, became a common designation of American organisations directed against the Stamp Act, as well as later patriotic clubs. From 1766 to 1768, Barré was a Vice Treasurer of Ireland. His 1782 appointment as Treasurer of the Navy, which carried a pension of £3,200 a year at a time when the government was ostensibly advocating stringency, caused great discontent. William Pitt the Younger replied that the pension was compensation for Barré's dismissal from his military offices in 1763; he then appointed Barré to the even more lucrative position of Paymaster General of the forces, with responsibility for England's entire army payroll, which he held from August 1782 to April 1783. In 1784, Barré relinquished his pension in exchange for appointment to the sinecure of Clerk of the Pells. Nominally responsible for maintaining records of all Exchequer income and payments, the Clerk of the Pells was paid on a percentage system, which enabled Barré to accumulate a sizable fortune.[4]

Barré's knowledge of North America (he was one of the few politicians with friendships among the American mercantile classes) made him a champion of the colonists, whom he famously dubbed "Sons of Liberty" while opposing the intended Stamp Act, which nevertheless passed on 6 February 1765. An example of his fiery oratory was his response to Charles Townshend's observation when introducing the Stamp Act resolutions that the colonies should "contribute to the mother country which had planted, nurtured and indulged them", to which he replied:

They planted by your care! No, your oppressions planted them in America. They fled from your tyranny to a then uncultivated, inhospitable country, where they exposed themselves to almost all the hardships to which human nature is liable, and among others to the cruelties of a savage foe and actuated by principles of true English liberties, they met all hardships with pleasure compared with those they suffered in their own country from the hands of those who should be their friends.

In the Stamp Act crisis, Barré not only championed repeal but also followed Pitt in opposing the complete right of taxation as stated in the Declaratory Act. His efforts against the Stamp Act were commemorated in America with the founding in 1769 of the Pennsylvania town of Wilkes-Barre, named for John Wilkes and Isaac Barré. The towns of Barre, Massachusetts and Barre, Vermont were also named in his honour.[1]

Horace Walpole described Barré as "a black [meaning his hair was black], robust man, of a military figure, rather hard-favoured than not, young, with a peculiar distortion on one side of his face, which it seems was a bullet lodged loosely in his cheek, and which gave a savage glare to one eye".[5]

Death and burial[edit]

Barré died at his home on Stanhope Street in the Mayfair district of London on 20 July 1802.[6] He was buried at St. Mary Churchyard in East Raynham.[7]

Barré's residuary legatee was Anne Townshend, Marchioness Townshend, whom he had known before her marriage to George Townshend, 1st Marquess Townshend.[8] She received approximately £24,000 (equivalent to about £2.3 million in 2018, or $3.2 million).[9]


The town of Barre, Massachusetts is named for him, as is the city of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.[10] There are also a town and a city named for Barré in Vermont (Barre City and Barre Town),[11] as well as the towns of Barre, New York and Barre, Wisconsin. In addition, there is a memorial to Barré in New York City,[12] and numerous eastern US cities have named streets for him.


  1. ^ a b "Barré, Isaac". The Columbia University (6th ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. December 2007. Archived from the original on 10 February 2006. Retrieved 2 June 2008.
  2. ^ Distinguished Huguenot Refugees and Their Descendants
  3. ^ Petrillo, F. Charles (1988). "Wilkes Naming Wilkes-Barre". John Wilkes and Isaac Barre: Politics and Controversy in Eighteenth Century Graphics. Sordoni Art Gallery, Wilkes University. Archived from the original on 13 May 2008. Retrieved 2 June 2008.
  4. ^ Miner, Sidney Roby (1901). Colonel Isaac Barré, 1726-1802: Orator, Soldier, Statesman and Friend of the American Colonies. Wilkes-Barre, PA: Wyoming Historical & Genealogical Society. pp. 20–21.
  5. ^ George Thomas, Earl of Albemarle, Memoirs of the Marquis of Rockingham and His Contemporaries, London: Bentley, 1852
  6. ^ Colonel Isaac Barré, 1726-1802, p. 21.
  7. ^ "Norfolk, England Church of England Baptism, Marriages, and Burials, 1535-1812, entry for Issac Barre". Provo, UT:, LLC. July 30, 1802. Retrieved March 17, 2017. (Subscription required (help)).
  8. ^ Colonel Isaac Barré, 1726-1802, pp. 21–22.
  9. ^ Colonel Isaac Barré, 1726-1802, p. 22.
  10. ^ Early American Paintings: Catalogue of an Exhibition Held in the Museum of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. Brooklyn, NY: Museum of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. 1917. p. 82.
  11. ^ Early American Paintings, p. 82.
  12. ^ Director of Art and Antiquities. "Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Barre Monument". City Hall Park Monuments. New York, NY: New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Retrieved April 3, 2017.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Welbore Ellis
Treasurer of the Navy
Succeeded by
Henry Dundas
Preceded by
Edmund Burke
Paymaster of the Forces
Succeeded by
Edmund Burke
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Sir Edward Walpole
Clerk of the Pells
Succeeded by
Henry Addington
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Viscount FitzMaurice
Robert Waller
Member of Parliament for Wycombe
With: Robert Waller
Succeeded by
Robert Waller
Hon. Thomas FitzMaurice
Preceded by
Hon. Thomas FitzMaurice
John Dunning
Member of Parliament for Calne
With: John Dunning 1774–1782
James Townsend 1782–1787
Joseph Jekyll 1787–1790
Succeeded by
Joseph Jekyll
John Morris