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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) and was appointed a captain in the Continental Navy on December 7, 1775. He was the first captain placed in command of a U.S. warship commissioned for service under the Continental flag, which would indeed make him the father of the U.S navy.
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
Barry was born on March 25, 1745, in Tacumshane, County Wexford, Ireland to a Catholic family. 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.
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. 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 brigNancy 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. This engagement became known as the Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet.
Barry continued in command of Lexington until October 18, 1776, and captured several private armed vessels during that time.
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.
Barry authored a signal book published in 1780 to improve communications at sea among vessels traveling in formation.
Barry was successful in suppressing three mutinies during his career as an officer in the Continental Navy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The U.S. Revenue Cutter Commodore Barry, captured off Maine in the War of 1812
Commodore Barry Park in Brooklyn, New York. It is the oldest park in the borough. It was renamed for Commodore Barry in 1951, due to its location next to the Brooklyn Navy Yard that Barry helped found.
There is a large portrait of Commodore Barry at the Rhode Island State House in Providence; and Title 16 of the Rhode Island Statutes (§ 16-20-3 - Days of special observance) requires observing September 13 as Commodore John Barry Day.
The visitor entrance to the United States Naval Academy, from Downtown Annapolis to the Visitor's Center, commemorates Commodore John Barry. Inside the entrance is a monument to Commodore Barry with a plaque with an images or his Commission, Number 1 in the United States Navy. Both the gate and the monument were erected by the Ancient Order of Hibernians
A large statue of Barry stands directly in front of the formal entrance to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA.