John Barry (naval officer)

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John Barry
John Barry by Gilbert Stuart.jpg
An 1801 Gilbert Stuart portrait of Barry.
Born (1745-03-25)March 25, 1745
Tacumshane, County Wexford, Ireland
Died September 12, 1803(1803-09-12) (aged 58)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Buried St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch Continental Navy
 United States Navy
Years of service 1775–1783, 1797–1803
Rank USN commodore rank insignia.jpg Commodore

American Revolutionary War

John Barry (March 25, 1745 – September 12, 1803) was an officer in the Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War and later in the United States Navy. He came to be widely credited as "The Father of the American Navy" (and shares that moniker with John Paul Jones and John Adams)[1] and was appointed a captain in the Continental Navy on December 7, 1775.[2] He was the first captain placed in command of a U.S. warship commissioned for service under the Continental flag.[3]

After the war, he became the first commissioned U.S. naval officer, at the rank of commodore, receiving his commission from President George Washington in 1797.

Early life and education[edit]

Barry was born on March 25, 1745, in Tacumshane, County Wexford, Ireland. When Barry's family was evicted from their home by their British landlord, they moved to Rosslare on the coast, where his uncle worked a fishing skiff. As a young man, Barry determined upon a life as a seaman, and he started out as a ship's cabin boy.


Barry received his first captain's commission in the Continental Navy on March 14, 1776, signed by John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress. Barry was a religious man and began each day at sea with a reading from the Bible. He had great regard for his crew and their well being and always made sure they were properly provisioned while at sea.[4]

During his naval career Barry commanded United States Ships Delaware, Lexington, Raleigh, and Alliance.

Command of Delaware[edit]

In 1777 Barry commanded the ship USS Delaware, a brig sailing under a letter of marque capturing English vessels in the Delaware River.[5]

Command of Raleigh[edit]

In 1778 Barry assumed command of USS Raleigh, capturing three prizes before being run aground in action on September 27, 1778. Her crew scuttled her, but she was raised by the British, who refloated her for further use in the Royal Navy.[6]

Command of Lexington[edit]

Captain Barry was given command of USS Lexington, of 14 guns, on December 7, 1775. It was the first commission issued by the Continental Congress.[7] The Lexington sailed March 31, 1776. On April 7, 1776, off the Capes of Virginia, he fell in with the Edward, tender to the British man-of-war HMS Liverpool, and after a desperate fight of one hour and twenty minutes captured her and brought her into Philadelphia.

On June 28, Pennsylvania's brig Nancy arrived in the area with 386 barrels of powder in her hold and ran aground while attempting to elude British blockader Kingfisher. Barry ordered the precious powder rowed ashore during the night leaving only 100 barrels in Nancy at dawn. A delayed action fuse was left inside the brig, which exploded the powder just as a boatload of British seamen boarded Nancy.[8] This engagement became known as the Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet.[9]

Barry continued in command of Lexington until October 18, 1776, and captured several private armed vessels during that time.

Barry authored a signal book published in 1780 to improve communications at sea among vessels traveling in formation.[10]

Command of Alliance[edit]

He and his crew of the USS Alliance fought and won the final naval battle of the American Revolution off the coast of Cape Canaveral on March 10, 1783. He was seriously wounded on May 29, 1781, while in command of Alliance during her capture of HMS Atalanta and Trepassey. Barry was successful in suppressing three mutinies during his career as an officer in the Continental Navy.[11]

John Barry was once offered 100,000 British pounds and command of any frigate in the entire British Navy if he would desert the American Navy. Outraged at the offer, Captain Barry responded that not all the money in the British treasury or command of its entire fleet could tempt him to desert his adopted country.[12]

Commodore commission[edit]

Barry receiving commodore commission from Washington

On February 22, 1797, he was issued Commission Number 1 by President George Washington, backdated to June 4, 1794. His title was thereafter "commodore." He is recognized as not only the first American commissioned naval officer but also as its first flag officer.[13]

Command of United States[edit]

Appointed senior captain upon the establishment of the U.S. Navy, he commanded the frigate United States in the Quasi-War with France. This ship transported commissioners William Richardson Davie and Oliver Ellsworth to France to negotiate a new Franco-American alliance.

Barry's last day of active duty was March 6, 1801, when he brought USS United States into port, but he remained head of the Navy until his death on September 12, 1803, from asthma. Barry died childless.[14]

Later life and death[edit]

Barry died at Strawberry Hill, in present-day Philadelphia on September 12, 1803, and was buried in the graveyard of Old St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Center City, Philadelphia.[15]

Personal life[edit]

On October 24, 1768, Barry married Mary Cleary, who died in 1774. On July 7, 1777, he married Sarah Austin, daughter of Samuel Austin and Sarah Keen of New Jersey. Barry had no children, but he helped raise Patrick and Michael Hayes, children of his sister, Eleanor, and her husband, Thomas Hayes, who both died in the 1780s.[citation needed]


See also[edit]


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Naval History & Heritage Command document "Captain John Barry".


  1. ^ "John Adams I (Frigate) 1799–1867". Retrieved August 22, 2015. 
  2. ^ Williams, 2008 p. 5
  3. ^ Meany, 1911 p. 1
  4. ^ Williams, 2008 p. 73
  5. ^ Meany, 1911 p. 22
  6. ^ Ignatius, Griffin, 1897 pp. 42–44
  7. ^ Williams, 2008 p. 72
  8. ^ "Lexington". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History and Heritage Command. 
  9. ^ "The Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet". Wildwood Crest Historical Society. 
  10. ^ Woods, D. & Sterling, C. Signaling and communicating at sea. Arno Press, 1980. p. 195
  11. ^ "Alliance". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History and Heritage Command. 
  12. ^ The American Irish Blog
  13. ^ specifically issued by a Joint Congressional Resolution and proclaimed by President George W. Bush on December 22, 2006.
  14. ^ Meany, 1911 pp. 56–57
  15. ^ John Barry at Find a Grave


  • Clark, William Bell (1938). Gallant John Barry 1745 1803 The Story Of A Naval Hero Of Two Wars.
    The Macmillan Company, New York. p. 554.
  • Fink, Leo Gregory (1962). Barry or Jones, "Father of the United States Navy"; Historical Reconnaissance.
    Jefferies & Manz, Inc, Philadelphia. p. 138.
  • Ignatius, Martin; Griffin, Joseph (1897). The history of Commodore John Barry.
    Published by the Author, Philadelphia. p. 261.
  • —— (1903). Commodore John Barry: "the father of the American navy".
    Published by the Author, Philadelphia. p. 424.
  • McGrath, Tim (2010). John Barry: An American Hero in the Age of Sail.
    AuthorHouse, IN. p. 704. ISBN 978-1-59416-104-9.
  • Meany, William Barry (1911). Commodore John Barry, the father of the American navy:
    a survey of extraordinary episodes in his naval career
    Harper & brothers, New York, London. p. 74.
  • Williams, Thomas (2008). America's First Flag Officer: Father of the American Navy.
    AuthorHouse, IN. p. 260. ISBN 978-1-4343-8654-0.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]