Sunday, April 20, 2008

VFW Newsletter Notice - 200 Years Late

200 Years Late—American Graves in Tripoli:

It has been over 200 years since the USS Intrepid embarked on its fateful mission into Tripoli Harbor to do battle with the Arab (Barbary) Pirates, a mission that is not yet over. The families of Lt. Richard Somers, Commander of the Intrepid, the citizens of Somers Point, and the VFW have not forgotten the oldest active case on record, and they want the remains of their native son returned.

There is much historical data on the location of the remains of the Intrepid’s crew. This is not an MIA issue, for they are not missing. It is a Navy operational issue, but the Navy is NOT interested in retrieving their remains. Why not? They are American citizens and sailors and belong here with their fellow veterans.

In his 1842 biography of Somers, James Finamore Cooper wrote, “Here, then, lie the remains of Somers and his two gallant friends; and it might be well to instruct the commander of some national cruiser to search for their bones, that they might be finally incorporated with the dust of their native land. Their identity would be once established by the number of skeletons, and the friends of the deceased might find a melancholy consolation in being permitted to drop a tear over the spot in which they would be finally entombed.”

Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and Sailors routinely risk everything to retrieve their fallen comrades in today’s conflicts. Why do Lt. Somers and his crewmen remain left behind when we know exactly where their remains lie, and diplomatic relations have been reestablished?

BK: Many thanks to all the Vets who keep the issue and honor of POWs and MPs alive today.
Bill Kelly can be reached at

Repatriate Richard Somers Report

RICHARD SOMERS REPORT September 2007 January 2008

SOMERS POINT, N.J. The people of Somers Point have long memories, especially when it comes to a war hero who joined the Navy to fight pirates over two hundred years ago and is still expected home someday.

Those interested in the repatriation of Richard Somers will be glad to know of the exciting news and developments in this 200 year old story.

For starters, the renewal of official diplomatic relations between the United States and Libya is a huge step forward in the efforts to repatriate Somers and the crew of the USS Intrepid.

The appointment of Gene Cretz as U.S ambassador to Libya, subject to approval of the U.S. Senate, will open the doors for exchange of ambassadors, ideas, trade and eventually the bones and relics of our heroes.

The circumstances today are not that different from Somers’ day.

Today we have an unending war against terrorism with armies in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting fundamental Islamic warlords, while then we were fighting Barbary Pirates in the same theater with similar beliefs and convictions. They then held 300 American sailors (from the captured frigate USS Philadelphia) hostage in the dungeons of Tripoli castle, held for a ransom the United States refused to pay.

Instead Somers and the Mediterranean Squadron were ordered to confront and engage the enemy, defeat them in battle and win the release of the hostages. Not an easy mission, but one they eagerly undertook. Somers fought in the Battle of Tripoli and then died with twelve other men in the explosion of the USS Intrepid in Tripoli harbor, September 4, 1804.

The bodies of the three officers and ten men washed ashore and the next day American prisoners from the castle dungeon buryried them in the sands below the castle walls. The three officers were buried separately from the ten seamen, but all were interred in a small plot that became part of a park near the castle. And there they remained for over a hundred and fifty years, until the 1930s when Italian road builders uncovered five of the remains, which were reinterred in crypts at the Old Protestant Cemetery not far away. [See: Photos of Tripoli Cemetery]

Efforts to repatriate the remains of Somers and his crew were continually thwarted as hostilities flared up and died down over the years. After a few decades of terrorist attacks and periodic bombings, the situation has changed radically over the past few years.

Col. Momar Quadafi, who assumed command in a coup in 1969, has renounced terrorism, assumed responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, made partial payments to the families of victims, turned over his stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and released the Bulgarian medics who had been imprisoned and sentenced to death. The last remaining hurdle hindering full diplomatic ties is the final payment to the families of victims of Pan Am 103.

Some military historians say we are only now ending the war with the Barbary Pirates that started over two centuries ago, and in some ways we are, and the resolution of outstanding disputes will eventually result in the repatriation home of the remains of Somers and his men.

First and most significantly, the United States and Libya have diplomatic relations again, so official public communications can begin.

President Bush announced the appointment of US Ambassador Gene Cretz [See Notes], but Senate Democrats, led by N.J. Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, have threatened to block the appointment unless Libya lives up to its previous agreements, including the final payment of restitution to the families of the victims of the Pan Am 103.

While these other issues are important, someday soon the primary issue will be the Repatriation of the remains of Richard Somers and the crew of the Intrepid, and we should be ready for that eventuallity.

The burrial site has been selected, between Somers Mansion and the Atlantic County Heritage Society, a new monument design has been chosen, based on the Tripoli Monument at Annapolis, and the USS Intrepid Association has been anticipating the return of the aircraft carrier Intrepid to its West Side Manhattan slip, and the conducting of Repatriation ceremonies on deck upon the return of the original Intrepid crew.

A local film maker is working on a documentary film about the repatriation, and the Somers and Leaming families are getting together to seek the return of the Somers' Washington ring, which could be put on permant display at the Heritage Society. Between the Somers' grave monument and the ring, there should be a lot of historic tourism generated by continued interest in this story.

The New Jersey State Department of Transportation projects in the area give Somers Point a few years to design and build a tourist friendly area around Somers Mansion, the Somers' prospective gravesite and the Atlantic County Histoircal Society, so when these projects are completed, it will be easy for people to park and walk around these historic sites and the bayfront.

For now, we must further educate Mr. Gene Cretz and Senators Lautenberg and Menendez about the story of Richard Somers and his mission, and how we must complete the mission by repatriating Somers and the men of the Intrepid.


Richard Somers Day September 4th day he died, September 13th John Barry Day, September 15th, the day Richard Somers was born, is also Constitution Day.

Now, thanks to the unanimous support of the New Jersey legislature, September 4th is officially recognized as Richard Somers Day, but since that falls on Labor Day weekend, the Richard Somers Committee has been meeting to memorialize him on other days.

They may move the memorial to his birthday, September 15th, which is also Constitution Day, which like September 13th, Commodore Barry Day, is not only officially recognized by the state as holidays, but are days that state schools are required by law to teach students about Commodore Barry and the Constitution. While not recognized as such, they are all related subjects, as the Constitution was approved by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia where young Richard Somers was a student at the Episcopal Academy and John Barry was the Sgt.of Arms at Independence Hall and possibly Richard Somers’ school instructor at the Academy.

The Constitution would not have been ratified if John Barry had not escorted two reluctant delegates to the chambers by intimidation in order to ensure a quorum.

So getting schools to teach lesson plans about Richard Somers, John Barry and the Constitution during that first week of school does not seem unwarranted, though as a law unenforceable, it should be encouraged. 2007/libya4_09_07.html

Bill Kelly can be reached at

John Barry and John Barry

John Barry – Father of U.S. Navy and First Military Academy? An Historic Theory.

By William Kelly (Bill Kelly can be reached at )

John Barry and John Barry. Historians have thus far recognized two distinct gentlemen named John Barry - one a schoolmaster, the other a sea captain.

Both men were center city Philadelphia neighborhood contemporaries who at different times, contributed to the education of four young men – Charles Stewart, Steven Decatur, Richard Somers and Richard Rush, each of whom would distinguish himself in the U.S. Navy and American history. [1]

School master John Barry is the author of the first book to be copyrighted in the United States, The Philadelphia Spelling Book [2], while the sea captain was a Revolutionary War hero and the first commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy.[3]

Each is said to have had an educational influence on Stewart, Decatur, Somers and Rush, one as the school master of the Philadelphia Free Academy they attended [4], and the other the Captain of the U.S.S. United States who selected Stewart, Decatur and Somers to be among the first Midshipmen and officers under his command. [5]

John Barry and John Barry. Both men were born in Ireland, had the same name, lived in the same small Philadelphia neighborhood, were members of the Hibernanian Society, and both played a unique role in the education of four of four very special gentlemen, three of whom make U.S. Naval history.

Or is that too unique of a coincidence?

Although previously considered to be two distinct gentlemen with the same name, there is a small, but growing body of historical evidence that John Barry the school master and Captain John Barry were one and the same person.

While schoolmaster John Barry has thus far languished in historical obscurity, a footnote to the legacy of other men, Captain John Barry is quite famous and much is known about him.

Besides having a bridge across the Delaware River named after him [6], Captain and later Commodore John Barry is generally recognized, though sometimes arguably so, as “the Father of the U.S. Navy.” [7] Without going that far, Congress declared a proclamation in his honor, and has officially recognized September 13th (the day he died) as “John Barry Day,” with schools required to teach lessons about him, though few apparently do. [8]

John Barry Kelly, who can trace his family tree to both John Barry and Richard Somers, wrote that, “Few Americans are well-acquainted with the gallantry and heroic exploits of Philadelphia's Irish-born naval commander, Commodore John Barry. Obscured by the Revolutionary War exploits of John Paul Jones, Barry remains to this day an unsung hero of the young American Republic. As most naval historians note, Barry can be classed on a par with Jones for nautical skill and daring, but he exceeds him in the length of service (17 years) to his adopted country and his fidelity to the nurturing of a permanent American Navy. Indeed, Barry deserves the proud epithet, ‘Father of the American Navy,’ a title bestowed on him not by current generations of admirers, but by his contemporaries, who were in the best position to judge.” [9]

Captain John Barry is recognized as a hero of the Revolution and the first commissioned flag officer of the United States Navy, and his Revolutionary exploits are well documented, but there is a gap in his career of almost a decade between the end of the Revolution and the official creation of the United States Navy.

At the same time, schoolmaster Barry taught at the Philadelphia Free Academy where among the sixty some young boy students were Somers, Decatur, Stewart and Rush. Historians thus far have recorded that these four young men attended the academy, where schoolmaster John Barry was responsible for their education [10], and they then three of them entered the new Navy where they served first under Captain John Barry aboard the U.S.S. United States. [11]

It is apparent that Captain John Barry knew these young men before they joined the Navy, and may have known them as the school master who taught them at the academy. If so, then this academy could be considered an early prototype of the military academies at Annapolis, West Point and the Air Force Academy. West Point was established to train cadets in the early 1800s [12], while Annapolis began training midshipmen in 1845 [13], so the Philadelphia Free Academy class of 1796 would have been the first. The Philadelphia Free Academy is still in existence as the Episcopal Academy. [14]


That Captain John Barry would be their teacher at the Philadelphia Academy before becoming their commander at sea is a distinct and viable possibility, despite the objections of those historians who believe that John Barry the teacher and Commodore John Barry are two different people.


These objections are expressed by Philadelphia Seaport Museum curator Megan Fraser, who wrote, “I don't know of any papers in the John Barry series of the Barry-Hayes Papers that pertain to him teaching at the Philadelphia Academy. Actually, I find no sources to suggest that John Barry, the naval captain, and John Barry, master of the Episcopal Academy, are the same person.” [15]

And as Megan Fraser points out, “….since the captain was a Catholic, with no documented formal education (although from his writing, one can clearly glean that he did have some sort of schooling), it seems unlikely to me that he would have served as a schoolteacher."

Fraser also noted that it is highly unlikely that standard biographies of Barry would omit the fact he was the author of the Philadelphia Spelling Book if indeed, he was the Episcopal Academy teacher. “I also find that the "Philadelphia Spelling Book" has the distinction of being the first book copyrighted in the United States,” Fraser writes and considers it, “a fact that surely would have made Captain Barry's standard biographies if he were the author.”


In addition, Fraser notes, there are ships logs that indicate when Captain Barry was at sea, which preclude him from teaching at the same time. [16]

The bane of all historic researchers is coming across more than one person with the same name, and John Barry could be considered the epitome of such cases.

Of course John Barry is a common name, and William Bell Clark, who wrote more than a century afterwards and based his narrative on published references, mentions a number of men named John Barry who also populated Captain John Barry’s life.


In pointing out some of the mistakes of historians who came before him, Clark writes, “…Here, too, is a mistake as to families….and those who have read the preceding pages will already have discovered four John Barrys crossing the Commodore’s path – the sergeant of the marines on the Lexington, the seaman on the United States, the young sea-captain who took to drink, and the merchant skipper, who was Barry’s friend for many years. John Barry was no uncommon name in Ireland.” (p. 494).


But none of them are the center city neighbor, schoolmaster, published author, mutual associate of Bishop White and Dr. Rush, and educational mentor to three of the first Midshipmen and officers Captain Barry would commission to the Navy and appoint to his staff.


There are numerous references to the four other John Barrys, but no mention of a neighborhood namesake, fellow Hibernian and Irishman, who helped rear four of his main charges.




While there is a lot of documentation on the career and exploits of Commodore John Barry, there is very little known about John Barry the school master, other than his tenure teaching at the Episcopal Academy from 1789-1796 [17], precisely the same years that mark a distinct gap in the documented career of Commodore Barry.

There is no record of schoolmaster John Barry before he enters the role as schoolmaster at the Philadelphia Academy, and nothing of what became of him after he left, some seven years later. Just as there is no record of schoolmaster John Barry before or after he leaves this academy, there are large, vacant gaps in the documented life of Captain John Barry during the same seven years – 1789-1796.

As detailed in The Episcopal Academy 1785 – 1984 (W.T. Cooke, Devon, Pa., 1984), by Charles Latham, there was some upheaval at the school in 1789, when most of the trustees were called on to help establish or solidify what is now the University of Pennsylvania. After more than one schoolmaster agreed to take the position, then suddenly declined until, as the early ledgers indicate, the schoolmaster to take the position was John Barry.




The standard biographies that would mention The Philadelphia Spelling Book, if Commodore Barry were the author, also fail to mention what Barry actually did between 1789, the year he left the merchant sea faring business and 1796, when he began overseeing the outfitting of the USS United States, leaving open the possibility that Captain John Barry was also the schoolmaster.

Captain John Barry is also credited with the authorship of a book, an official Navy flag book, designating codes and signals for flags, for identification and communication between ships, similar to a spelling book in that they both contain basic ingredients of a more complicated system of communication.

As for there being no mention of Barry teaching at the Boy’s Academy in his standard biographies, there really aren’t that many standard biographies of John Barry, as only one stands out – William Clarke’s Gallant John Barry – Clark, William Bell. Gallant John Barry, 1745-1803: The Story of a Naval Hero of Two Wars. (New York: Macmillan Company, 1938.) [18] [ ]

Today John Barry Kelly is compiling a chronology of the career of Commodore Barry for the Hibernanian Society, which should be useful in resolving the issue of whether there was one John Barry or two. But ignoring the rest of John Barry’s career, and concentrating on the years between the end of the Revolution and the beginning of the Navy (1789-1797), there is a chronological blending of time, characters, records and facts that indicate the school teacher and the Commodore could be one and the same person. [19]

“After the War for Independence, John Barry was the captain of the last ship in the Navy, and when it was decommissioned, the Continental Revolutionary War Navy was dissolved.


At that point, John B. Kelly notes, “…Barry reentered the maritime trade. Between the years 1787-89, Barry helped to open commerce with China and the Orient while captaining the merchant ship, Asia.” [20]

But in response to Megan Fraser’s contention that Barry couldn’t have been teaching if he was a traveling maritime sea captain, Barry returned from his last trip to China on June 4, 1789, after which, William Clark Bell describes in Chapter XXIV, titled “A Country Gentleman At Strawberry Hill.” [21]

Barry always considered Philadelphia his adopted hometown after he left his native home near Wexford, Ireland. Taken aboard a merchant ship as a young lad, he moved to Philadelphia as a young man, and within a decade was one of the more respected sea captains in a major port city whose docks catered to over a hundred ships at a time. In 1783 Barry’s residence was listed as 64 Spruce Street, between 3rd and 4th. [22]. The entire city at the time only extended twenty square blocks, from Front street on the river, twenty blocks west to the Schuylkill river, and ten to twenty blocks north and south.

Though he maintained an apartment in this center-city neighborhood, in 1785 Captain John Barry acquired a plantation house, Strawberry Hill, four miles north of center-city, which became his home, and the home of his wife. When he returned from his last merchant trip in June, 1789, he returned to Strawberry Hill. [23].

The Philadelphia Free Academy began in January, 1789, so there is only a six month discrepancy between the time the Academy began its first semester and when Captain John Barry returned from his last merchant voyage.

William Clark Bell (WCB) [24] writes (p. 350): “Before dusk of June 4, John Barry had ridden the four miles to Strawberry Hill, to reach home and an overjoyed Sarah ahead of the news that the Asia was in port. He regaled his doting wife and Miss Betsy Keen with stories of Canton and the long voyage, and sent them into raptures of anticipation as he described the great punch bowl, the fine china sets and the gorgeous silks and satins that would soon come to land from the ship. In turn, Sarah related all that had transpired during his absence – nothing of great moment save that Miss Keen had been rather desperately ill during January and February of 1788, but had been cured by their good friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush, who had made numerous professional visits to Strawberry Hill until his young patient was fully recovered.”

“It was the same Dr. Rush, whom the Captain met in Philadelphia several days later,” writes Clark, and the same Dr. Rush who was on the board of the Free Academy and the father of Richard Rush, one of the Academy students.

While the sea captain was not in dire financial straits, Barry did have a difficult time being paid for his war time service, and not going to sea again as a merchantman, he would be dependent on the U.S. Navy, which had yet to be constituted by Congress. The promise of a Navy commission was not a very reliable source of income, given he had yet to be paid for helping to win the Revolution. [25]

As Clark writes (p. 314), while Revolutionary War accounts were being audited, accounts were frozen, thus, “….No money from that source for some time! Inquiry at the Marine Office disclosed his accounts were still being audited! A wretched outlook! If nothing was to be forthcoming in the way of prize money, however, there was a possible source of revenue from the state. Pennsylvania was providing its army officers with half-pay and land grants. Certainly a naval officer from Pennsylvania was entitled to similar consideration,” and petitioned for the “same benefits and emoluments which are extended to the officers of the Pennsylvania Line.” The petition was returned with a request for Barry to record his military activities, which Barry did so in an eloquent way (See: Barry Memorialist).

A part-time position as a school master, at 100 pounds ($266.66 a year) [26] would help offset expenses, at least until Congress would get around to budgeting for a Navy, and paying off Revolutionary War debt. In the meantime, such a position at a boy’s academy would put Barry in the position of educating and recruiting the first generation of Midshipmen, which is what he is credited with doing. These young officers would set the tone, style and traditions of the U.S. Navy.

This salary for being schoolmaster at the Free Academy was paid, not by tuition, but from the donations of those faithful souls among the congregation of the Rev. William White. [28]. Bishop White’s congregation at different times would included George Washington, Dr. Benjamin Rush, William Keen, Esq. and Captain John Barry, and their accumulated families, all of whom apparently contributed to the Free Academy. Originally a boys school.

Realizing that there would eventually be a need for the establishment of a nation navy, and that John Barry would take the lead in its creation, perhaps there was more to his retirement at Strawberry Hill. The undue length of Barry’s “retirement,” from 1789 until the launching of the USS United States in 1796, was primarily due to two things, delay in Congressional approval and funding and a flue epidemic that struck Philadelphia [29], each holding up the establishment of the U.S. Navy in some way.

Then as now, it would take a strong provocation to enlist the Revolutionary War weary citizens and tax payers to pay millions for an army and navy, but the actions of the Barbary Pirates instigated Congress to approve the creation of four frigates, each to be built in a different coastal city. [30].

The construction of these frigates was halted when a treaty was arranged with Algiers because a rider attached to the funding for the ships called for a halt to construction if a treaty was reached. Construction was only resumed when France, a former ally, being at war with England, began taking American ships as prizes.

One history notes, “In the 1790s, under Washington's guidance, the Navy was revived as a permanent entity. Barbary Pirate depredations on American merchantmen had strained relations with America's old ally France and brought about this revival. On June 5, 1794, Secretary of War Henry Knox wrote Barry to inform him that on the day earlier, Barry had been selected senior Captain of the Federal Navy by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.” [31]

According to Mike McCormick, the National Historian of the Hibernians, Washington’s instructions to Barry, two years before the actual establishment of the new Navy, was to recruit such young officers to serve with him. “In recognition of his vast experience and dedication, Washington demonstrated Barry’s immense value to the new nation when, on June 17, 1794, he sent for the popular naval hero to form and train a class of midshipmen, who would then be given command as Ensigns, and form the nucleus of a new American navy.” [32].

While Barry was the first U.S. Naval officer to receive his commission, it would be years before he would take command of the U.S.S. United States, and with Lt. Charles Stewart and Midshipmen Richard Somers and Stephen Decatur, put to sea under the banner of the United States Navy.

It is no coincidence that before they were commissioned in the new Navy, all three were students at the Free Academy in Philadelphia.

The Academy was not far from where the U.S.S. United States was being built in the Philadelphia shipyard. Philadelphia was then a major city, but historically a young town of only 30 to 50,000 people, with most of the commercial and civic activity centered a round the Delaware river waterfront.

Captain Barry, who was then “overseeing” the construction of the United States, knew Academy students Richard Rush, and Charles Stewart, Stephen Decatur and Richard Somers before they received their commissions. Barry had previously worked for Stewart’s father in the merchant shipping industry, he knew Rush as the son of his friend and physician, was an in-law to Somers through his wife, and he knew Decatur from working on the construction of the United States.

Of the more than 350 applications, only 57 were selected for all Navy commissions, with stiff competition for each position, especially for a few dozen Midshipmen for the three frigates. That Barry would select such young men to be his officers made them special, and he knew them well before they received their commissions.

Philadelphia, besides home to the Episcopal Academy and the Navy Yard where the United States was being built, was also, for a time, the nation’s Capitol, and from where President Washington maintained his seat of power for some time.

If Mike McCormick’s report is true, that on June 17, 1794 Washington ordered John Barry “to form and train a class of Midshipmen, who would then be given command as Ensigns to form the nucleus of the new American Navy,” then he would have been following the orders of the Commander in Chief in the forming and training a class of Midshipmen, especially when three of those young men were Stewart, Decatur and Somers.

And what did Commodore Barry do during the years 1789, when he ceased being a merchant sea captain, and 1797, when the U.S.S. United States was finally launched?

Teaching young men at the Philadelphia Academy would nicely fill that black hole in Commodore Barry’s biography. And there is some evidence that Barry, during the years between the end of the Revolution and the beginning of the Navy, may have served as a teacher at the school attended by Stewart, Decatur, Somers and Rush.

One school master who taught there was certainly named John Barry. This John Barry is the author of the Philadelphia Spelling Book, the first book to receive a U.S. copyright. This John Barry is said to be, like Commodore Barry, an Irish immigrant and Hibernian, who began teaching in 1789, when Barry’s merchant career ended. He had the spelling book copyrighted in 1790, and he stopped teaching at the Philadelphia Academy in1796, just as the U.S.S. United States entered service under Captain John Barry.

In addition to the chronological fit, there are known ties and relationships between Captain Barry and the Academy, which increases the possibility that the John Barry, listed among the schoolmasters of the Academy, was also the sea captain who taught there when he ceased sailing merchant vessels and before he assumed his Navy commission.

According to John Barry Kelly, after his first wife died, “Barry was consoled by his second marriage, this time to the socially popular and attractive Sarah Keen Austin, nicknamed ‘Sally’ by her friends. Sally Austin and John Barry were married on July 7, 1777, in Old Christ Church by the Reverend William White, rector and founder of the American Episcopal Church.”

The Reverend William White was also one of the principal founders of the Classical Academy of Philadelphia 1785-1790 which became the Free Academy and eventually the Episcopal Academy (Charles Latham, Jr. The Episcopal Academy 1785-1984, Wm. Cooke, Pub., Devon, Pa.), as it is today. So Captain Barry was closely associated with Bishop White, the primary founder of the academy.

Could White have recruited Barry to head the Academy until his Navy commission was approved?

In addition, there is an association by marriage between Barry and Richard Somers, one of the principal students at the Academy.

Richard Somers’ biographer Barbara E. Koedel (Glory, at Last! – A Narrative of the Naval Career of Master Commandant Richard Somers: 1778-1804, Atlantic County Historical Society, 1993), writes,

“Several biographies of Decatur” notes Koedel, “state that he, with Richard Somers, Charles Stewart and Richard Rush, attended the Episcopal Academy of Dr. Abercrombie, ‘where the discipline is strict, and the educational standards low, and the code of conduct derived from that of the court of LOUIS XVI…They lived much out of doors, boating, swimming, fishing. Somers was the strongest of the four, but Decatur was the best skater, very quick at repartee and a clever mimic. All were high spirited as eagles, and they were involved in not a few fisticuff ‘duels’ settled in the old Quaker burying-ground.’ In a letter to Mrs. Decatur in 1846, Richard Rush remarks about the Academy: ‘….The Elite of the town went to that school…,’ All of this is possible but there is no mention of the Academy in the accounts of Richard’s father.”

Nor mention in the accounts of Richard Somers’ father, who had served with Decatur’s father in the Revolutionary War. That may be because Colonel Richard Somers died on October 22, 1794. Richard’s sister Sarah Somers had married William Jones Keen, a Philadelphia attorney, and after the death of their father, Richard lived with his sister and her husband within a few blocks of the Academy. In addition, the Academy was known as a “free school,” and called the “Free Academy,” as the tuition was paid by solicitations from the pulpit and donations.

Sarah Somers’ husband William Keen is thus related to Sarah Keen Austin, Barry’s second wife, establishing a family relationship between Commodore Barry and Richard Somers, one of the three students who would later come under his command.

Claude Berube and John Rodgaard (In A Call to the Sea – Captain Charles Stewart of the USS Constitution – Potomac Books, Washington D.C., 2005, p4), report, “Young Charlie attended Dr. Abercrombie’s Academy in Philadelphia. Known later as the Episcopal Academy, it was attended by the elite sons of the city. Little other than the name of the school is known, except that it was one of several Episcopal academies located in the city before the turn of the eighteenth century. One such Episcopal academy was founded in 1785 by Reverend William White to educate the sons of Philadelphia’s Episcopalian community. Courses included Greek, Latin, mathematics, and business – all practical courses for young boys who would become the city’s merchants, traders, and ship owners, if not sea captains. At the academy, Charley met three other youths whose futures figured prominently in his life and in the U.S. Navy and diplomatic service.”

“The first and most famous friend was Stephen Decatur, Jr., the son of an American Revolution ship captain, Stephen Decatur, Sr. The elder Decatur was a sailing master on board a ship owned by the Philadelphia merchant firm of Stewart and Nesbitt.”

“A second friend, Richard Somers, less than two months Stewart’s junior, was born in Great Egg Harbor, New Jersey, but during the American Revolution his family lived in Philadelphia. His father served as a militia colonel and judge... Somers father died in 1794 and so, like his friend Charles, young Richard lost his father at a very early age. Also like Charles, Richard Somers entered into the shipping trade when he came of age. However, Somers’ voyages were restricted to coastal routes between New York and Philadelphia.”

“In scenes that would replay themselves in their naval careers, the young Stewart, Decatur, and Somers often crossed the street from the academy, located on Forth Street, to settle their arguments with fisticuffs…But if one feature of Philadelphia life influenced Stewart, Decatur and Somers more than any other, it was the call to the sea.”

As John Barry Kelly wrote, “After the War for Independence and the dissolution of the Continental Navy, Barry reentered the maritime trade. Between the years 1787-89, Barry helped to open commerce with China and the Orient while captaining the merchant ship, Asia,” setting the dates of his merchant maritime career. Did John Barry the mariner then become a school teacher?

Charles Latham, in his history of the Episcopal Academy writes, “…Bishop White describes a series of meetings…beginning on 24 October 1788. The original proposal was for a boys’ school. A school for girls was added to the plan….Both schools apparently opened on 19 January 1789. The boys’ school was housed in the basement of the new Academy building, a wall having been built to make a separate room. The teacher was John Barry, who served until 1796, at a salary of $L100 a year. In 1790 he brought out his Philadelphia Spelling Book, which seems to have gone through several editions; the Academy owns a copy of a later edition printed in 1802. He was a member of the Hibernian Society, and in 1792 was also involved in running a Sunday school for boys.”

“In 1791, as the Classical Academy crumbled, the mangers of the Dancing Assembly, who rented the upper floors of the building, asked to have the use of the basement. In March the boys’ free school was moved to a building in the back of 62 Union Street (now DeLancy), in quarters rented from Andrew Porter at $L20 a year.”

In a footnote, Latham mentions that “The 1794 city directory lists Barry at the ‘back of 62 Union St.’” The early address of the Classical Academy however, is listed at 83 South Third Street, on the corner of Third and Pearl Streets, and thus one block from the Fourth Street Quaker Cemetery where Stewart, Decatur and Somers were known to have engaged in fisticuffs.

John Barry Kean writes, “Sarah (Keen Austin Barry), an Episcopalian, eventually converted to Barry's Roman Catholic faith. The Barrys were regular parishioners at several Philadelphia Catholic churches: Old St. Joseph's, Old St. Mary's and eventually, St. Augustine's. The Barrys had no children; however, they happily raised two boys from Barry's deceased sister Eleanor's household.”

“Sarah's nephews from Ireland, Michael and Patrick Hayes, were brought to Philadelphia by Captain John Rosseter on his ship, the Rising Sun. Rosseter was a neighbor of the Barry family in Ireland, and the captain also wound up living on the same street as John Barry in Philadelphia. His close association with the Barrys continued even in death, as the Rosseter plot lies next to the Barry plot in Old St. Mary's churchyard. …Patrick Hayes, his second wife Sally's nephew, accompanied Barry on his eventful journeys to the Orient where porcelain and ivory treasures were brought back and sold to Philadelphians hungering for luxurious items.”

But as J. P. Kelly notes, those merchant voyages ended in 1789.

According to the Episcopal Academy ledgers, teacher John Barry was paid L100 ($266.66) a year from January 1789 until September, 1796, the lowest paid of six teachers. If the teacher Barry is one and the same as the Navy Captain, this could indicate that he may have had additional income from another source, possibly from serving as a merchant sea captain, or from the Navy for outfitting the United States.

It would not be inconceivable that Commodore John Barry, who was born poor and went to sea with no formal education, could be accepted as a teacher, especially if he was endorsed by Bishop White and no less than President George Washington himself had given him the task to “form and train” a “class” of Ensigns.

Since there were five other better paid teachers at the academy, Barry’s specialty, ostensibly besides spelling, would have been seamanship, a beneficial curriculum for young boys intent on being seamen, as were Stewart, Decatur and Somers.

That professor John Barry would write, publish and obtain the first copyright for the Philadelphia Spelling Book seems to support the idea that this John Barry is a different person than the naval commander, however Commodore John Barry also wrote and published a book, on navy flag signals, which might be comparable to the spelling book.

On March 27, 1794 Congress passed an act to create a naval force and build six new frigates, and on June 4, 1794 made John Barry the first commissioned officer. In addition, Washington ordered Barry “to form and train a class of midshipman who would then be commissioned as Ensigns, and form the nucleus of a new American navy.”

Funding for the fleet however, wasn’t approved by Congress until 1797 and the Navy Department not officially created until April 30, 1798, the very day Richard Somers and Stephen Decatur received their commissions as midshipmen.

Of the 350 applicants for commissions, only 59 were approved for all grades, from midshipman to captain, so the time between the commissions and the launching of the U.S.S. United States would have been well spent teaching the young men who anticipated being first officers, as reflected in Washington’s orders to Barry.

As for Somers, Koedel writes, “(Somers) knew Captain John Barry through his brother-in-law, William Jonas Keen, cousin to Barry’s wife. Barry was to become the captain of the U.S. United States and Commodore of the West Indies squadron, so we may speculate that he was influential in getting Somers on his vessel.”

If so, Captain Barry also could have used his influence in getting Somers, Decatur, Stewart and Russ into the Episcopal Academy as students under his tutelage.

Commodore Barry was indeed Catholic, but that would not preclude him from teaching at the Episcopal school. It appears that the Philadelphia Free Academy, as Russ mentioned years later, was a school for the city’s “elite,” regardless of religion, and the city’s Quaker traditions would have encouraged cooperation between religions.

While Commodore Barry received no formal education, he was trained at sea by his uncle, and as Megan Fraser herself says, his education can be measured by his writings, letters and reports rather than by his formal schooling. Schools at the time certainly didn’t have the required teacher training and official certification they have today, and the teachers were likely selected by what they had to offer the students. Among the chosen careers of the boys at the Academy was going to sea in ship, and the crafts of seamanship should have been among the subjects taught.

As John Barry writes (26 May 1797) to Dr. John Bullus, who failed to get a coveted commission, “if you study the art of Seamanship as well as you have studied physic you may in time not only be a Lieut. but a Captain…,” something one could imagine him saying to young school students as well.

[ ]

In addition to his connections to Bishop White and Richard Somers, Commodore John Barry had sailed as a captain for the merchant house owned by the father of Charles Stewart.

So he personally knew Somers, Decatur, Stewart and Russ before they received their Navy commissions. And if Decatur personally worked under Captain Barry on the construction and outfitting of the United States before she was launched, it is likely that Decatur’s close friends and schoolmates would have assisted as well.

The U.S.S. United States was launched in Philadelphia on July 10, 1797 before a crowd of 30,000 people, almost the entire population of the city at the time. But even under Captain John Barry’s command, the ship wouldn’t be properly outfitted with sails, cannon, officers and crew for some time.

It wasn’t until April 20, of the following year, 1798, when Richard Somers would receive his appointment as Midshipman of the United States Navy, Charles Stewart having received his the day before, and Stephen Decatur the following day. Somers accepted the commission on May 1. A few days later “an interested spectator described the spirit shown by the young men of Philadelphia” in writing that, “I saw a very moving spectacle: more than a thousand young people between 17 and 23, drawn up in ranks, preceded by a flag, music and drum beats, going to present their address to the President…there is nothing more touching than to see a thousand young men in the bloom of youth, hardly at the beginning of life, offering, at the first danger to their country, to die in her defense….Drunk with wine they go to serenade at the window of the President…”

At a rally “To the Young Men of Philadelphia,” President John Adams said in a speech, “….Nothing …could be more welcome to me than this address from the ingenuous youth of Philadelphia, in their virtuous anxiety to preserve the honor and independence of their country….It would neither be consistent with…my character, nor yours, on this occasion, to read lessons to gentlemen of your education, conduct, and character…I should…recommend to your serious and constant consideration, that science and morals are the great pillars on which this country has been raised to its present population, opulence, and prosperity, and that there alone can advance, support , and preserve it….American and the world will look to your youth as one of the finest bulwarks. The generous claim which you now present, of sharing in the difficulty, danger and glory of our defense, is to me and to your country a sure and pleasing pledge, that your birth-rights will never be ignobly bartered or surrendered; but that you will in your turn transmit to future generations the fair inheritance obtained by the unconquerable spirit of your fathers.”

There is no doubt Richard Somers was there, as he recorded two disbursements of cash ($20 and $5) from his family’s ledger records that day. The next day, the day after Congress approved the funding for the Navy, Somers swore his oath of allegiance:

“I Richard Somers, appointed a Midshipman on board the Frigate United States do solemnly swear to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whomsoever; and to observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States of America, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, and in all things to conform myself, to the rules and regulations which now are and hereafter may be directed, and to the articles of war which may be enacted by Congress, for the better government of the navy of the United States – and I will support the constitution of the United States…So help me God Richard Somers. Sworn by me by
May 8 1798 Richard Peters Judge of the Pennsylvania District of the United States.”

With Charles Stewart appointed Lieutenant because of his seniority, and Somers, Dectur Midshipman, the three former Academy schoolmates were now shipmates, under Barry’s command and control, if they hadn’t been his protégés at the Philadelphia Free Academy all along.

In writing Stewart’s biography, Berbe and Rodgaard wrote, “In the midshipman’s berth on the United States were two future standouts of the young navy: Charles; friends Mid. Stephen Decatur and Mid. Richard Somers. With the three childhood friends together again, one could imagine that all three thought that the USS United States was an extension of their childhood days at Dr. Abercrombie's Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia. Under Barry’s watchful eye, the four junior officers worked the United States through the rest of her fitting out work. When the frigate was ready for sea, Captain Barry set sail for the West Indies.”

Did Captain John Barry also serve as a schoolmaster at the Philadelphia Free Academy before taking the first Commission of the U.S. Navy?

For a definitive resolution, handwriting samples of the school master John Barry, and author of the Philadelphia Spelling Book should be located and compared with the signature of Commodore John Barry, thus resolving the issue one way or the other.

There are also references to John Barry schoolmaster in the published editions of the old Pennsylvania Gazette, and there is listed, among the papers of George Washington, a letter to John Barry “schoolmaster,” both of which must be reviewed.

If they were different people, then who was John Barry, the Irish immigrant, author of the first copyrighted book Philadelphia Spelling Book, and teacher of the first class of midshipman in the United States Navy?

If not the Wexford, Ireland born author of the Navy Signal book, Captain of the U.S.S. United States and commander of the first class of midshipmen in the United States Navy, then who was the other John Barry, where did he come from and what became of him?

This is a work in progress. Your thoughts, critique welcome.


William Kelly – [609-425-6297]





(1) []

(2) [Read more of John Barry Kelly’s portrait of Commodore Barry: ]

If you got this far, good on you, but now, I have conclusive proof that there were indeed two distinct John Barrys, one a ship master, the other a schoolmaster.

I thought that obtaining a signature of the author of the Philadelphia Spelling Book would confirm or refute my thesis that the two men were actually one and the same, but that signature was not forthcoming. Today's Episcopal Academy does not seem to have a record of the signature of John Barry, Schoolmaster, and the Copyright office checked their records, which do not contain a signature of the author of the first copyrighted book.

The National Archives and Records Administration does have examples of pages scanned from The Philadelphia Spelling Book, and the archives of the Philadelphia Gazzette newspaper also contain references to Barry the Schoolmaster.

There is also a letter written by George Washington to John Barry Schoolmaster, which I have yet to get a copy of, but I thought would shed some light on the pedagog.

The Philadelphia Gazzette, the paper of record of the American Revolution, has many references to Captain John Barry, similar to the following report:

"Sunday last John Barry , Esq; sailed for St. Mary's River, (Georgia) in the brig Schuylkill, Capt. Knox, for the purpose of expediting the cutting and collecting of the timer for the frigate to be built by Mr. Joshua Humphreys, and of which he has been a pointed to the command, and has carried with him the different moulds for shaping and sizing the wood, previous to its being sent to the ship yard."

Then there are the particular references to John Barry schoolmaster.

JOHN BARRY Pennsylvania Gazette Collection: The Pennsylvania Gazette

Publication: The Pennsylvania Gazette
Date: February 24, 1790
Title: To the parents and teachers of Children. WE have carefully examined

To the parents and teachers of Children.

WE have carefully examined the manuscript of a NEW SPELLING BOOK. compiled by Mr. JOHN BARRY , Master of the Protestant Episcopal Free School. The plan appears to be very judiciously and skillfully arranged, and all its parts uniformly adapted to the capacity of youth, and tending more to facilitate the spelling and reading of the English language than any book of the kind, with which we are acquainted. We, therefore, are of opinion, that the introducing of it into schools will not only expedite the progress of the pupil, but will also give great satisfaction to the tutor. John Wigton, John Gartley, Benjamin Workman, John Ormerod, James Kidd, James Carson, James Litle, Heath Norberry. N.B. The work will be committed to the press in a few days.

Collection: The Pennsylvania Gazette
Publication: The Pennsylvania Gazette
Date: June 27, 1792
Title: Wants Employment, AS Clerk in a store compting-house, or any

Wants Employment,

AS Clerk in a store compting-house, or any other department, a middle aged man, of reputation, sobriety and good morals; who can be well recommended, and give security (if necessary) as he was regularly bred in the mercantile line, and book-keeper in capital houses of trade in Europe several years; he would agree to post books and settle partnership accompts, or transact business, as clerk, on very moderate terms, or would assist as usher to an English grammar or mathematical school. For particulars apply to Mr. John Barry , master of the Protestant Episcopal free school, between Second and Third, in Union street.

N.B. As he has a family he would, upon good terms, become tutor to a few families of note in the country.

Collection: The Pennsylvania Gazette
Publication: The Pennsylvania Gazette
Date: August 8, 1792


THE society for the institution and support of First Day, or Sunday Schools, in the city of Philadelphia, and the districts of Southwark and the Northern Liberties, having established two schools for boys, under the care of Mr. John Poor and Mr. John Barry , and one school for girls, under the care of Mr. John Ely; the Board of Visitors do hereby earnestly solicit all their fellow citizens, who cannot otherwise avail themselves of educating those under their care, to send them to those schools, to receive that instruction which is so necessary to qualify them for usefulness in civil society. Firmly persuaded of this great truth, that to disseminate knowledge, is preparing mankind for virtue, freedom, and happiness; the board do therefore earnestly request, that all their fellow-citizens who have experienced the advantages of education, will use their influence with those whose circumstances prevent the instruction of their children, to send them to those schools, that they may thereby derive the advantages intended by the society. Philadelphia, July 5, 1792.

While the entire introduction is not scanned and posted on the government web site, they do give you enough to recognize that the author of this school text is a teacher and not a naval captain.






The whole being recommended by several eminent Teachers, as the most useful performance to expedite the instruction of youth.

By JOHN BARRY, Master of the Free School of the Protestant Episcopal Church.



THE English language has received great improvement in the course of the present century, from the meritorious labours of many eminent philogogists. The indefatigable lexicographer and critical grammarian, have each in their turn, generously enlightened the literary world with their elaborate productions, no doubt hoping they would meet with a candid reception, and prove an advantageous assistant and faithful guide to their knowledge of the analysis and practical construction of our language.

May writers of spelling books, have also contributed laudable performances for the introduction of youth to the rudiments of the English language; but these performances have their respective imperfections. The ancient compilations on this subject, could not be properly fitted to the present state of the language, which has suffered many remarkable changes since their appearance.

The modern productions on this subject, are arranged mostly upon the old plan, with some recent interpolations and amendments which the present refinements of the language would evidently suggest.

These late authors of spelling books, have in general been gentlemen in situations in life which could not afford them an opportunity of experience in teaching, nor a proper acquaintance with the capacities of children beginning to learn; consequently their knowledge of the subject could only be theoretical: this their books rectify, for they are crowded with long perplexing introductions, preliminary keys and speculative directions, which no child entering the spelling book, can either read nor understand; besides, in the matter of their books they have continued tables of a kind, both in spelling and reading, to such a toilsome length, that the young scholar is both wearied and discouraged before he can perform the disagreeable talk of going over them once. They have not

Considered, that simplicity, joined to variety, is most pleasing to the tender mind. Experience teaches us that children are naturally fond of change even in their amusements, and we may daily observe how acceptable variety is to them in their puerile recreations. The embarrassments contained in the spelling books hitherto published, together with a long course of practice in teaching, and minute observations of the capacities and propensities of children, induced me to attempt a new arrangement of a book calculated as nearly to the understanding of children, as repeated trail joined with immediate improvements and speedy progress, did evidently ascertain. How far my plan may be acceptable to the public and teachers in general, practical experience of the book must determine: however this may be, great pains have been taken in arranging the lessons gradually, as the understanding and judgment of the children under my inspection seemed to increase.

The lessons are short, and change alternately from spelling to reading, and some of the lessons in spelling not divided, but left as an exercise for the young pupil’s abilities. The reading between the spelling lessons in each page, is mostly new, and carefully chosen, both with respect to graceful language and moral subjects. Many words are admitted, particularly in the monosyllables, which may appear strange or obsolete, but let it be observed they have been used for the sake of accommodation, and are all to be found in Ash’s valuable dictionary. Punctuation, in a short and comprehensive manner, is inserted; and several useful things from other books on the subject have been retained. The necessary tables of arithmetic are also added : with a copious number of select lessons, from the best authors, and on subjects most suitable, are placed at the latter end of the book.

To render the book more extensively useful, it was thought advisable to fit it in some degree, upon a plan of Sheridans’ pronouncing dictionary. This has been done in all the tables of monosyllables, with respect to found, and in the other tables of syllables, with respect to division, and still farther, through all the spelling, the silent letters are printed in Italic characters, as nearly as convenience would permit. But still it is expected some words have escaped the printer’s correction. It was also deemed unnecessary to add an ......