Commodore John Barry

Commodore John Barry

by Elizabeth Marsh

Known as “The Father of the American Navy”, Commodore John Barry was born in Ballysampson, County Wexford in 1745. However, he and his family were forced to migrate to commodore_barryRosslare after being evicted by the British landlord. This would be the beginning of Barry’s conflicting relationship with the British for years to come.

Growing up to become a strong and talented young man, John Barry worked as a sailor in Rosslare. He eventually sailed to the American colonies where he made Philadelphia his home in 1760. Philadelphia felt like the right choice because “William Penn’s legacy of religious freedom allowed Roman Catholics, which Barry was, greater latitude of worship than most anywhere else in the Colonies. Further, the city was emerging as a great maritime trade center.”[1] Barry continued to work as a seaman and traveled between Philadelphia and the West Indies often.

After returning from a trip to England, John Barry was put in charge of outfitting Continental Navy ships for war. While Barry had been at sea, the American Revolution had begun! For his help in outfitting the ships, Barry was given, “a Captain’s commission in the Continental Navy, dated March 14, 1776, and signed by the President of Congress, John Hancock. Along with this commission went command of Barry’s first warship, the brig Lexington.”[2] While commanding the Lexington, Barry managed to defeat and capture the British Edward. It was the first spoil of war for the new nation.

John Barry was then given command of the Effingham, though he mostly commanded smaller fleets because the Effingham was being repaired at the time. He assaulted the British using these small fleets, until he became commander of the Raleigh in 1778. Sadly, the British caught sight of the Raleigh right as it was leaving harbor, and a chase ensued. Barry made the difficult decision to save his crew and destroy his ship, rather than letting the British take it.

John Barry then took control of the Alliance. In 1781, the boat was surrounded by two British ships, and a ferocious battle ensued. Barry was shot in the shoulder, and was being treated below deck after losing blood. When his second-in-command asked for Barry’s permission to surrender, Barry declared that they would not lose the ship and returned to the top deck to resume command. Barry’s motivation and dedication to the cause revved up his crew, and they won the battle. The last naval battle of the war also occurred under Barry’s command of the Alliance. It was a short 45-minute battle with the British Sybil, and the Continental Navy won the battle.

After the war, Barry continued to work as a seaman, though he ultimately returned to the Navy. In 1797, Barry was received by President Washington to receive Commission Number One in the Navy. Technically, he became a Commodore in 1794 because the commission was backdated. Afterwards, he was put in command of the ship, United States.

Barry married the Mary Clary (Cleary) in 1767, but was overwhelmed by her early death in 1774. John Barry married again in 1777 to the popular Philadelphian, Sarah Keen Austin. Though Sarah was originally a Protestant, she later converted to Catholicism. She and John worshipped at several Catholic parishes, and were buried in Old St. Mary’s Cemetery. John Barry passed away at fifty-eight in 1803.


Works Cited “Commodore Barry.” Last updated 4 July 1995.

James F. Justin Museum. “Commodore John Barry, United States Navy.” Accessed 28 January 2015.

“John Barry by Gilbert Stuart” by Gilbert Stuart – U.S. Naval Historical Center – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

[1] “Commodore Barry,”, last updated 4 July 1995,

[2] Ibid.

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