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John Barry

Captain in the United States navy (1745-1803)

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Barry, JOHN, captain in the United States navy, b. at Tacumshane, County Wexford, Ireland, in 1745; d. at Philadelphia, September 13, 1803. At an early age Barry was sent to sea. He arrived at Philadelphia when he was fifteen years old, and made that city his home to the time of his death. He was employed in the West Indian trade and commanded several vessels until December, 1774, when he sailed from Philadelphia, as captain of a fine large ship “The Black Prince”, bound for Bristol, England, returning to Philadelphia October 13, 1775, the day the Continental Congress, then in session there, authorized the purchase of two armed vessels for the beginning of the Continental Navy. Barry immediately volunteered his services, and he was assigned to the command of the first vessel purchased, the “Lexington”. His commission was dated December 7, 1775, the first issued by the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress. On December 22, 1775, Esek Hopkins was appointed Commander-in-chief of the Navy—but was dropped from its roll in March, 1777. Barry was in command of the “Lexington” from his appointment until October, 1776, when he was assigned to the “Effingham”, 28 guns, then building in Philadelphia. During that time he performed efficient service in lower Delaware Bay; on March 31, 1776, he put to sea, eluding the British man-of-war “Roebuck” on guard in Delaware Bay, and on April 7 fell in with the “Edward”, a tender of the British man-of-war “Liverpool”, and after a sharp engagement captured her; Barry brought his prize to Philadelphia, arriving April 11, 1776. This was the first war-vessel captured by a commissioned Continental naval officer that was brought to that city. He was officially connected with the “Effingham” until her destruction, May 7, 1778, by the British forces then in control of Philadelphia. She had been sunk, by order of Washington and the Naval Board, in the Delaware for some time previously and then raised only to be destroyed by the enemy. In December, 1776, Barry, owing to the blockade of his ship in the Delaware by the English, with a company of volunteers joined the army under Washington and took part in the battles of Trenton and Princeton. He was aide to General Cadwallader and special aid to General Washington, who held him in high esteem. Returning to his command, he carried out many gallant and daring boat expeditions on the Delaware, successfully annoying and capturing vessels laden with supplies for the British army. In 1778 he was ordered to command the “Raleigh”, 32 guns, and sailed from Boston 25th September, 1778. On the 27th he fell in with two British frigates, the “Experiment”, 50 guns, and “Unicorn”, 22 guns, and after a gallant and unequal engagement Barry ran his ship ashore and set her on fire, escaping with most of his crew. Being without a Continental command Barry accepted, February 18, 1779, command of the privateer “Delaware“, 12 guns, and during the cruise captured the British sloop of war “Harlem”, 14 guns. In November, 1780, he was ordered to command the “Alliance”, 36 guns, at Boston, in which he sailed to France, 11th February, 1781, with Col. John Laurens, special commissioner to the French Government. On the return trip he captured the brig “Mars”, 22 guns, and the brig “Minerva”, 10 guns. On 28th May, he fell in with the “Atalanta”, 16 guns, and the “Trepassey”, 14 guns, and after a very sharp fight of three hours they struck their colors. In this fight Barry was severely wounded in the shoulder by a grape shot. On December 23, 1781, he sailed from Boston for France with the Marquis de Lafayette as passenger, and returning arrived at New London May 13, 1782. He sailed, August 4, 1782, on the most successful cruise of the war; the prizes he captured sold for more than £600,000. Returning by way of the West Indies and Havana, on March 10, 1783, he fell in with the British frigate “Sybille”, 38 guns, and after a sharp fight of forty-five minutes she hauled off apparently much injured and joined two other ships with which she had been in company. This was the last encounter of the Revolutionary war at sea. Peace was declared April 11, 1783, the “Alliance” was sold, and the country was without a navy. The United States navy was permanently organized by Act of Congress, March 27, 1794. Six captains were appointed by President Washington, “by and with the consent of the Senate”, and Barry headed the list. His commission, signed by George Washington, President, was dated February 22 1797 and appointed him captain in the navy “to take rank from the 4th day of June, 1794″—”Registered No. I”. He was thus made officially the ranking officer of the United States navy. He superintended the building of the frigate “United States”, 44 guns, and made several cruises in her with other vessels under his command. In 1801 the navy was reduced to a peace basis; nine captains were retained Barry being at the head of the list. His sea service was ended, and being in poor health he remained at his home in Philadelphia until his death. Barry has often been referred to as “Commodore”; there was no such grade in the United States navy until July 17, 1862. Captain was the highest grade before that date, although the non-official title of commodore was generally applied to a captain while in command of two or more vessels. Barry was married twice, both times to Protestants who subsequently became converts to the Catholic faith. His first wife died in 1771, and on July 7 1777 he married Sarah Austin who survived him. She died November 13, 1831. Both his wives were buried with him in the graveyard of St. Mary’s Church, Philadelphia. There was no issue from either marriage. His epitaph was written by Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. A statue and fountain were erected to his memory in 1876, in Fairmount Park Philadelphia, by the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America. A portrait (copy of original by Gilbert Stuart) was presented to the city of Philadelphia by the’ Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, March 18, 1895, to be placed in Independence Hall. In 1906 Congress passed a bill appropriating $50,000 for the erection of a monument in Washington to the memory of Captain John Barry; and March 16, 1907, a bronze statue of him was erected in Independence Square, Philadelphia, by the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.


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