Isaac Barré (15 October 1726 – 20 July 1802) was an Anglo-Irish soldier and politician. He earned distinction serving with the British Army during the Seven Years' War and later became a prominent Member of Parliament, where he was a vocal supporter of William Pitt. He is known for coining the term "Sons of Liberty" in reference to American colonists who opposed the British government's policies.
Barré was born in Dublin on 15 October 1726, the son of Marie Madelaine (Raboteau) Barré and Peter Barré, Huguenot refugees who escaped to Ireland. Peter Barré became a linen dealer and served as High Sheriff of Dublin City. Isaac Barré was educated at Trinity College, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1745. His parents hoped he would study law, and David Garrick thought he had potential as an actor and offered to hire and train him, but Barré decided on a military career and entered the British Army in 1746.
Barré joined the 32nd Regiment of Foot as an ensign in 1746. The regiment was based in Flanders during the War of the Austrian Succession, and Barré gained his initial army experience prior to the end of the conflict in 1748. He continued to serve, and was promoted to lieutenant in 1755, and captain in 1756. During the French and Indian War, 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. He was among the group gathered around the dying Wolfe, which was immortalized 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 and turned to Shelburne for help. After undertaking a tour of Shelburne's Irish estates, he was advanced to lieutenant colonel of the 106th Foot, and in 1763 he was appointed to the lucrative posts of adjutant general of the British Army and Governor of Stirling Castle.
Shelburne introduced Barré to Lord Bute and brought him into parliament for his borough of Chipping Wycombe (1761–1774), having selected him as a "bravo" to take on Pitt. In 1774, Barré's constituency switched to Calne, and he served until 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.
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 oppression planted 'em in America. They fled from your tyranny to a then uncultivated and unhospitable 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, the most subtle, and I take upon me to say, the most formidable of any people upon the face of God’s earth....
They nourished by your indulgence? They grew by your neglect of 'em. As soon as you began to care about 'em, that care was exercised in sending persons to rule over 'em, in one department and another, who were perhaps the deputies of deputies to some member of this house, sent to spy out their liberty, to misrepresent their actions and to prey upon 'em; men whose behaviour on many occasions has caused the blood of those sons of liberty to recoil within them....
They protected by your arms? They have nobly taken up arms in your defence, have exerted a valour amidst their constant and laborious industry for the defence of a country whose frontier while drenched in blood, its interior parts have yielded all its little savings to your emolument .... The people I believe are as truly loyal as any subjects the king has, but a people jealous of their liberties and who will vindicate them if ever they should be violated; but the subject is too delicate and I will say no more."
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".
Death and burial
Barré's residuary legatee was Anne Townshend, Marchioness Townshend, whom he had known before her marriage to George Townshend, 1st Marquess Townshend. She received approximately £24,000 (equivalent to about £2.3 million in 2018, or $3.2 million).
The city of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania is named for him, as is the town of Barre, Massachusetts. There are also a town and a city named for Barré in Vermont (Barre City and Barre Town), as well as the towns of Barre, New York and Barre, Wisconsin. In addition, there is a memorial to Barré in New York City, and numerous eastern US cities have named streets for him.
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- 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 3 April 2017.
- "Charleston Streets". Scottish Rite California. Sacramento, CA: Orient of California. 2019.
- "What's in a name: Barre Street". The Baltimore Sun. Baltimore, MD. 2 June 2019.
- Middlekauff, Robert (2007). The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195315882.