John Barry (naval officer)

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John Barry
John Barry by Gilbert Stuart.jpg
A 1972 repaint by V. Zveg of an 1801 portrait by Gilbert Stuart
Born(1745-03-25)March 25, 1745
Tacumshane, County Wexford, Ireland
DiedSeptember 13, 1803(1803-09-13) (aged 58)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branch Continental Navy
 United States Navy
Years of service1776–1783, 1797–1803
RankUSN commodore rank insignia.jpg Commodore
Battles/warsAmerican Revolutionary War

John Barry (March 25, 1745 – September 13, 1803) was an Irish-American officer in the Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War and later in the United States Navy. He has been 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 Ballysampson,[4][5] Tacumshane, County Wexford, Ireland to a Catholic family.[6] When Barry's family was evicted from their home by their English 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.[7]


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.[8]

During his naval career Barry commanded the U.S. warships Delaware, Lexington, Raleigh, Alliance and United States.

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.[9] 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.[10]

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.[11] This engagement became known as the Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet.[12]

Barry retained command of Lexington until October 18, 1776, and captured several private armed vessels during that time.[13]

Command of Delaware[edit]

In 1777, Barry commanded the ship USS Delaware, a brig sailing under a letter of marque and capturing British vessels in the Delaware River.[14]

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.[15]

Barry authored a signal book published in 1780 to improve communications at sea among vessels traveling in formation.[16]

Command of Alliance[edit]

He was seriously wounded on May 29, 1781, while in command of Alliance during her capture of HMS Atalanta and Trepassey.[17]

He and his crew of the USS Alliance fought and won the final naval battle of the American Revolution 140 miles (230 km) south of Cape Canaveral on March 10, 1783.[18]

Barry was successful in suppressing three mutinies during his career as an officer in the Continental Navy.[19]

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.[20]

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.[21]

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 13, 1803, from asthma. Barry died childless.[22]

Later life and death[edit]

Barry died at Strawberry Hill, in present-day Philadelphia on September 13, 1803, and was buried in the graveyard of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church. [23] The executors of his estate were his wife Sarah, his nephew Patrick Hayes and his friend John Leamy.[24]

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.[25] 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]


Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from the Naval History and 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. ^ FUSIO. "BALLYSAMPSON, County Wexford". Buildings of Ireland. Retrieved June 14, 2020.
  5. ^ Congress, United States (1967). Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the ... Congress. U.S. Government Printing Office.
  6. ^ Blessing, Patrick J. (1980). "Irish". In Thernstrom, Stephan (ed.). Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 527. ISBN 978-0674375123.
  7. ^ Fredriksen, John C. (2006). Revolutionary War Almanac. Infobase Publishing. p. 268. ISBN 9780816074686.
  8. ^ Williams, 2008 p. 73
  9. ^ Williams, 2008 p. 72
  10. ^ Meany 1911, p. 10-11.
  11. ^ "Lexington". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History and Heritage Command.
  12. ^ "The Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet". Wildwood Crest Historical Society.
  13. ^ Ignatius, Griffin, 1897 p. 16
  14. ^ Meany, 1911 p. 22
  15. ^ Ignatius, Griffin, 1897 pp. 42–44
  16. ^ Woods, D. & Sterling, C. Signaling and communicating at sea. Arno Press, 1980. p. 195
  17. ^ Ignatius, Griffin, 1903 pp. 137–141
  18. ^ Brotemarkle, Ben (November 15, 2017). "Revising Cape Canaveral history mean giving up some lore". Florida Today. Melbourne, Florida. pp. 14A.
  19. ^ "Alliance". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History and Heritage Command.
  20. ^ Specifically issued by a Joint Congressional Resolution and proclaimed by President George W. Bush on December 22, 2006.
  21. ^ Joseph, 1933 pp. 274–275
  22. ^ Meany, 1911 pp. 56–57
  23. ^ John Barry at Find a Grave
  24. ^ "Will of Commodore John Barry". American Catholic Historical Researches. 12 (2): 157–158. October 1895. JSTOR 44373894.
  25. ^ Ignatius, Griffin, 1897 pp. 6, 40
  26. ^ Carswell, Simon. "Reputation of Wexford-born founding father of US navy buoyed". The Irish Times. Retrieved November 30, 2019.
  27. ^ "High time to meet at the Barry Gate". Irish Echo. July 7, 2011. Retrieved November 30, 2019.
  28. ^ Archives, Notre Dame (June 17, 2011). "Campus Statue Project". Notre Dame Archives News & Notes. Retrieved February 1, 2021.


  • Clark, William Bell (1938). Gallant John Barry 1745 1803 The Story Of A Naval Hero Of Two Wars.
    The Macmillan Company, New York. pp. 554.
  • Fink, Leo Gregory (1962). Barry or Jones, "Father of the United States Navy"; Historical Reconnaissance.
    Jefferies & Manz, Inc, Philadelphia. p. 138.
  • Gurn, Joseph (1933). Commodore John Barry: Father of the American Navy.
    P. J. Kennedy & Sons. p. 274.
  • Ignatius, Martin; Griffin, Joseph (1897). The history of Commodore John Barry.
    Published by the Author, Philadelphia. p. 261.
  • Ignatius, Martin (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. pp. 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]

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