Saturday, September 13, 2008

John Barry, Schoolmaster of Midshipmen

John Barry, Schoolmaster of the first class of US Navy Midshipmen.

The exploits of Captain John Barry are well known and documented, and his accomplishments have earned him the honor of being called in some quarters "The Father of the US Navy."

Among Barry's achivements, though often ignored, but probably most significant among is the successful fullfillment of the orders Barry received from President Washington on June 14, 1794 to raise a class of Midshipmen to serve as the first officers of the US Navy.

As the first flagg officer and the Captain of the USS United States, Barry appointed Richard Somers and Stephen Decatur his first Midshipmen and Charles Stewart his first officer, all of whom were well known to him as Philadelphia neighbors and students.

While Captain Barry is credited with molding Somers, Decatur and Stewart into the types of officers that he expected all US Navy officer to be, the education of these three men didn't commence with their naval appointments, but earlier, as students.

Captain John Barry gets all the credit, but the other John Barry, his neighbor, fellow Hibernian, contemporary namesake and schoolmaster of the Philadelphia Academy, must have played an equally important role in the education of these young men.

Once I noticed John Barry's name among the teachers of what is now the Episcopal Academy, attended by Stewart, Somers and Decatur before they enlisted, and that his dates employeed there matched exactly the six years between the end of the Revolution and the reforming of the United States Navy under Barry's leadership, I suspected that it was Captain Barry himself who was the schoolmaster.

After all, both men had the same name, lived in the same neighborhood, attended the same church, knew the same pastor, and played an important role in the education of the first three Midshipmen and officers of the US Navy, that it just seemed natural for Barry to play that role.

But alas, as I learned from reading the Pennsylvania Gazzette newspaper of record of the day, and confirmed the identity of John Barry, schoolmaster, and read excerpts of his The Philadelphia Spelling Book, that I realized he was not only a unique person, but an important teacher in the development of the character of these young men.

See: John Barry and John Barry.

Proof of the existence of John Barry, Schoolmaster, comes in a letter from George Washington to Barry, which I have yet to obtain a copy of, and these two references to him in the Pennsylvania Gazzette. The Library of Congress also has credited John Barry's The Philadelphia Spelling Book as the first book to be copyrighted, excerpts of the preface included below.

JOHN BARRY Pennsylvania Gazette – AA

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.



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

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