Commodore John Barry and the American Revolution

Captain in the United States navy, born at Tacumshane, County Wexford, Ireland, in 1745; died at Philadelphia, September 13th, 1803. Sent to sea at an early age, Barry was came to Philadelphia at fifteen, and stayed there until his death. He worked in the West Indies trade and commanded several vessels. On October 13th, 1775, the Continental Congress authorized the purchase of two armed vessels for the beginning of the United States Navy.

Barry immediately volunteered his services, and he was assigned The Lexington. His commission was dated December 7th, 1775, the first issued by the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress. In October 1776, he was assigned to The Effingham. During that time he performed efficient service in lower Delaware Bay; on March 31st, 1776, he eluded the British Roebuck on guard in Delaware Bay. On April 7th, he captured The Edward, the first captured vessel brought to Philadelphia.

In December 1776, Barry, owing to a 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 special aide to General Washington who held him in high esteem. Later he carried out many gallant and daring expeditions on the Delaware, capturing British supply ships. In 1778, he was ordered to command The Raleigh, 32 guns, and sailed from Boston September 25th. On the 27th, after a battle with two larger British ships, he ran his ship ashore and set her on fire.

Being without a command, in 1779 Barry accepted command of the privateer Delaware, capturing the British ship Harlem. In November 1780, he was assigned command of The Alliance. On February 11th, 1781. On the return trip he captured two ships. On May 28th, he captured The Atlanta and The Trepassey, but was wounded in the process.

In December 1781, he sailed on his most successful cruise yet; the prizes he captured sold for £600,000. On March 10th, 1783, he fought The Sybille, the last encounter of the Revolutionary war at sea. Peace was declared April 11th, 1783. The ships were sold, and the country was without a navy. In 1794, the United States navy was permanently organized. Barry was one of six captains appointed, “Registered No.1,” the ranking officer of the United States navy.

In 1801 his naval service ended, and he remained at 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 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 converted to Catholicism. His first wife died in 1771. On July 7th, 1777, he married Sarah Austin who survived him. She died November 13th, 1831. Both his wives are buried with him in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church, Philadelphia. There were no children from either marriage.

A statue and fountain were erected in his memory in 1876 in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, by the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America. In 1895, the friendly Sons of St. Patrick presented his portrait to the City of Philadelphia. In 1907, a bronze statue of Barry was erected in Independence Square, Philadelphia, by the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. (When President John F. Kennedy visited Wexford, he paid homage to Barry, who is memorialized there as well.)

The above article from the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia has been edited in the interests of blogging brevity. This week leading up to Memorial Day, McNamara’s Blog will be featuring Catholics who participated in America’s wars.

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