Friday, September 5, 2008

Remarks on Richard Somers Day


Richard Somers Day, September 4, is officially recognized by the State of New Jersey by a resolution of the state legislature, and John Barry Day, September 13, is nationally recognized by an act of Congress.

When both acts were passed they required schools teach the biographies of these men, to tell their stories and to recognized what they and other patriots have done to allow us to be who and what we are today. Unfortunately, the education requirement is seldom carried out.

Most fifth graders however, would know the Irish born John Barry was a revolutionary war hero, first flag officer of the U.S Navy, generally recognized as the "father of the US Navy," and the guy they named the bridge after.

Richard Somers, many students are aware, was one of Barry’s first midshipmen, a pirate fighter from Somers Point, New Jersey who died and is burried in Tripoli.

Both September fourth and September 13 are dates of death, as with President Kennedy, who unlike Washington and Lincoln whose birthdays are celebrated, we remember him on the day he died, and Barry and Somers, because the circumstances of their deaths, lead us to respect and recognize how they died rather than how they lived.

Of the two hundred and four September fourth days that have come and gone since Richard Somers died, this is probably the most significant, certainly most historic, as today, Secretary of State Condi Rice will be the first top U.S. diplomat to visit Tripoli in a half century.

Unfortunately, Secretary of State Rice, who dined with Quadafi in the same Bedouin tent that the United States bombed twenty years ago, doesn't even know that her historic visit has occured onRichard Somers Day, the 104th anniversary of the explosion of the Intrepid.

New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg (D.N.J.) led the delegaton in the Senate to hold up the appointment of ambassador Cretz for the past six months over the issue of the payments to the victims of terrorism.

Now that is settled, they will turn to other issues, including the renewal of oil deals and other business, though it does not appear that the issue of the repatriation of the remains of the men of the USS Intrepid is even on the agenda.

Does Secretary of State Condi Rice, Senator Lautenberg and our new Ambassador Gene Cretz even know about Richard Somers and the crew of the Intrepid?

And the first reports from the new U.S. embassy in Tripoli (See: DIA newsletter Report) seem to indicate that the members of the U.S. mission there are totally unaware of the story of the Intrepid and our efforts to identify and secure their remains and return them home.

Every time an American learns about the graves at the cemetery site, its announced as a new discovery, as if all the work we’ve done in the past decade hasn’t meant a thing. We’ve failed, not in the teaching of our students, but in the education of our leaders, our representatives, and especially in the instructions to our military officers in the field.

The most recent reports indicate that the cemetery grave site is secure and being detailed by the American officers in Tripoli, but unfortunately they still don’t know about the original grave site where eight of the sailors are buried, the disposition of their remains or who is responsible for their repatriation (the DOD POW/MP office).

I propose that we dedicate the next nine days, from Richard Somers Day until September 13, John Barry Day, to renew efforts to educate people, not fifth graders, but our leaders in Washington and our representatives in Tripoli. We must write letters and send emails and tell the story of these men to President Bush, and Secretary of State Rice, and Ambassador Cretz, repeat the story of the Intrepid, the exact location of their grave (in the park next to the old castle fort) and to continue the efforts to repatriate their remains home.

[William Kelly is the author of 300 Years at the Point – A History of Somers Point, N.J. He can be reached at or (609) 425-6297]

The newsletter Sally quoted:



News for the DIA Community

Issue 35-08

(U) USDAO Tripoli Honors Fallen Sailors

By COL David Jesmer Jr. (Ret.)


(U) When LTC Robert “Kyle” Carnahan arrived in Tripoli, Libya, in March 2006, he had no way of knowing that he would be handed an opportunity to honor U.S. military heroes for their sacrifices on the shores of Tripoli two centuries earlier.

(U) The Department of State opened a liaison office in 2004 shortly after diplomatic relations were re-established with Libya. Newly hired Libyan guards told the regional security officer Dan Mehan about a run-down cemetery known locally as the “American Cemetery.” Curious, Mehan visited the site and found an overgrown cemetery in disrepair containing among the graves a tombstone claiming to hold the remains of “an American sailor who gave his life in the explosion of the United States Ship Intrepid in Tripoli Harbour, September 4, 1804.” Unable to do anything else at the time, Mehan locked the gate to the cemetery to keep out vandals.

(U) Shortly after Carnahan arrived as the new defense attaché, Mehan showed him the site. Carnahan promptly arranged to meet with the Libyan chairman of the Department of Archaeology Dr. Giuma Anag and hoped to obtain permission to clean the site and gain official control of the cemetery for the U.S. government. Anag confirmed that five graves contained the remains of five to nine American sailors who had washed ashore following the premature explosion of the USS Intrepid in the Tripoli harbor during the First Barbary War in 1804.

(U) Anag explained that the remains were disinterred during the late 19th century by Italian workers who were building a coastal road. The Italians reburied the remains in a local Protestant cemetery instead of the Italian Catholic cemetery, presuming that the American sailors from that period were likely Protestant. Although there are five marked graves, there is confusion about the exact number of Americans who were buried there as early reports claim that the graves contain more than one set of remains.

(U) Carnahan and Operations Coordinator CWO Ernest Brown cleaned up the cemetery and arranged for a Memorial Day ceremony in 2006, and again in 2007, to honor the Americans. Carnahan continued to research the history of the graves and has requested support from the Marine Corps and Navy. The Marine Corps provided a report from 1955 that concluded the remains were not of Marines, though several Marines died during the First Barbary War. The report also indicated that U.S. service members stationed at nearby Wheelus Air Force Base, which closed following Muammar Gadaffi’s coup in 1969, used to care for the cemetery, and delegations from U.S. ships visits routinely paid their respects. This lead to the conclusion that the neglect had occurred only during the past four decades.

(U) A U.S. Naval Forces Europe delegation plans to conduct a survey of the cemetery and discuss with Anag how best to preserve the site. One wall is slowly crumbling from erosion despite the efforts of the U.S. Defense Attache Office. Carnahan hopes that the cemetery will one day become a tourist location in Tripoli for Americans wishing to pay their respects, and a place where they can learn more about the United States’ first military conflict abroad.

September, 2008

M.G. L. - Chapter 6, Section 12e

The General Laws of Massachusetts




Chapter 6: Section 12E. Commodore John Barry Day

Section 12E. The governor shall annually issue a proclamation setting apart September thirteenth as Commodore John Barry Day and recommending that it be observed by the people with appropriate exercises in the public schools and otherwise, as he may see fit, to the end that the memory of the service rendered by him during the struggle for American independence may be perpetuated.

Proclamation 6589 - September 13, 1993

A Proclamation

During its War for Independence, our Nation faced a great and proven sea power. The young Continental Navy, which had been established by the Continental Congress in October 1775, was only a fraction of the size of the British fleet. Nevertheless, the small American naval force not only achieved several key victories during the War but also established a tradition of courageous service that continues to this day. On this occasion, we honor the memory of one of America's first and most distinguished naval leaders, Commodore John Barry.

After immigrating to the United States from Ireland, John Barry became a successful shipmaster in Philadelphia. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of American independence, and when the Revolutionary War began, he readily volunteered for service and became one of the first captains of the Continental Navy.

Captain Barry served bravely and with distinction throughout the course of the War. While commanding the brig LEXINGTON, he captured the British sloop EDWARD in April 1776. This victory marked the first capture in battle of a British vessel by a regularly commissioned American warship. Later in 1776, he led a raid by four small boats against British vessels on the Delaware River and seized a significant quantity of supplies meant for the British Army. Seven years later, Captain Barry participated in the last American naval victory of the War, leading the frigate ALLIANCE against HMS SYBILLE in March 1783.

Serving as a volunteer artillery officer in December of that year, Captain Barry participated in General George Washington's celebrated campaign to cross the Delaware River, which led to victory at the Battle of Trenton.

Captain Barry continued to serve our country after the end of the Revolution, helping to make the American victory a meaningful and enduring one. Active in Pennsylvania politics, he became a strong supporter of the Constitution, which was ratified by the State Assembly on December 12, 1787. In June 1794, President George Washington appointed him as commander of the new frigate USS UNITED STATES, one of six that were built as part of a permanent American naval armament. For the remaining years of his life, Commodore Barry helped to build and lead the new United States Navy, commanding not only USS UNITED STATES but also "Old Ironsides," USS CONSTITUTION.

Commodore John Barry died on September 13, 1803, but his outstanding legacy of service is carried on today by all the brave and selfless Americans who wear the uniform of the United States Navy.

The Congress, by House joint Resolution 157, has designated September 13, 1993, as "Commodore John Barry Day" and has authorized and requested the President to issue a proclamation in observance of this day.

Now, Therefore, I, William J. Clinton, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim September 13, 1993, as Commodore John Barry Day. I invite all Americans to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities in honor of those individuals, past and present, who have served in the United States Navy.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this thirteenth day of September, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and eighteenth.

Wiki on Barry:

House Joint Resolution 38


At The First Session

Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday, the fourth day of January, two thousand and five


Recognizing Commodore John Barry as the first flag officer of the United States Navy.

Whereas John Barry, American merchant marine captain and native of County Wexford, Ireland, volunteered his services to the Continental Navy during the American War for Independence and was assigned by the Continental Congress as captain of the Lexington, taking command of that vessel on March 14, 1776, and later participating in the victorious Trenton campaign;

Whereas the quality and effectiveness of Captain John Barry's service to the American war effort was recognized noy only by George Washington but also by the enemies of the new Nation;

Whereas Captain John Barry rejected British General Lord Howe's flattering offer to desert Washington and the patriot cause, stating: "Not the value and command of the whole British fleet can lure me from the cause of my country.";

Whereas Captain John Barry, while in commad of the frigate Alliance, successfully transported French gold to America to help finance the American War for Independence and also won numerous victories at sea;

Whereas when the First Congress, acting under the new Constitution of the United States, authorized the raising and construction of the United States Navy, it was Captain John Barry that President George Washington turned to build and lead the new Nation's infant Navy, the successor to the Continental Navy of the War of Independence;

Whereas Captain John Barry supervised the building of his flagship, the U.S.S. United States;

Whereas on February 22, 1797, President Washington personally conferred upon Captain John Barry, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, the rank of Captain, with "Commission No. 1", United States Navy, dated June 7, 1794;

Wheras John Barry served as the senior officer of the United States Navy, with the title of "Commodore" (in official correspondence), under Presidents Washington, John Adams, and Jefferson;

Whereas as commander of the first United States naval squadron under the Constitution of the United States, which included the U.S.S. Constitution ("Old Ironsides"), John Barry was a Commodore, with the right to fly a broad pendant, which made him a flag officer, and

Whereas in this sense it can be said that Commodore John Barry was the first flag officer of the United States Navy; Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of American in Congress assembled, That Commodore John Barry is recognized, and is hereby honored, as the first flag officer of the United States Navy.

J. Dennis Hastent, Speaker of the House of Representatives

Theodore F. Stevens, President of the Senate Protempore

Signed into Law on December 22nd, 2005

George W. Bush, President of the United States of America


John Barry was born in Ireland in 1745, went to sea while still a young boy and in 1760 adopted Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as his permanent residence. Remaining active in the seagoing trade, he had command of the merchantman Black Prince in 1775 and assisted in her entry into the Continental service under the name Alfred. He commanded the Continental brig Lexington during the first part of 1776, capturing several British vessels. Later in the year, he received the rank of Captain in the Continental Navy and was appointed Commanding Officer of the new frigate Effingham. Though his ship was unable to get to sea, Barry used her armament and men effectively during the long campaign to defend the Philadelphia region against greatly superior British forces.

In 1778, Captain Barry commanded the frigate Raleigh. Barry's gallant conduct at the time of her loss in September 1778 ensured that he received further active employment. After a time as captain of a privateer, in 1780 he was given the frigate Alliance, in which he captured three enemy privateers and three Royal Navy warships during 1781-1783. Alliance also carried American diplomats across the Atlantic to France and performed valuable services in the Caribbean area.

Following the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, Barry returned to the merchant service. In 1794 he was appointed the senior Captain of the newly established United States Navy and subsequently was in charge of constructing the large frigate United States. Captain Barry commanded the new ship in the West Indies during the 1798-1801 Quasi-War with France, including a period as Commodore of U.S. Navy forces in the region. He served ashore at Philadelphia for the remainder of his life. Commodore John Barry died there on 13 September 1803.

The U.S. Navy has named four destroyers in honor of John Barry, including: USS Barry (Destroyer # 2), 1902-1920; USS Barry (DD-248, later APD-29), 1920-1945; USS Barry (DD-933), 1956-Present; and USS John Barry (DDG-52), 1992-Present.

Taken from the U.S. Naval Historical Center – September 13, 2002


On September 13, the Ancient Order of Hibernians celebrates one of the major holidays of their Order - Commodore John Barry Day. It is not a day unique to that Order, for it has been commemorated on the American national calendar more than once. There were even statues erected in his honor back in the days when Americans remembered with gratitude the contributions of this dedicated man. Today, too few remember his deeds! The American Heritage dictionary doesn't even list his name, and his statue which stands in front of Independence Hall, Philadelphia, serves as a platform for pigeons unnoticed by passers-by.

It is truly unfortunate that so few remember this remarkable and courageous man, for during his lifetime, Barry gave so much to America, and at a time when she needed it most. It has even been said that had it not been for John Barry, the American Revolution would have been lost. Dr. Benjamin Rush said in his eulogy at Barry's graveside, "He was born in Ireland, but America was the object of his devotion, and the theater of his usefulness."

Yes, Commodore John Barry was born in Ireland; in Tacumshane, Co. Wexford to be specific, in the year 1745. He grew up with a great love for the sea, and while still a young man, he emigrated to the Crown colonies in America. By 1760, he was employed in a shipbuilding firm in Philadelphia and in 1766, at the age of 21; he went to sea as Captain of the ship, Barbadoes. The young Irishman seemed destined for a prosperous career in the colonies, but his integrity and sense of justice led him to risk all in a dangerous venture.

In 1775, years of smoldering unrest erupted in open rebellion as the American colonies openly declared their independence from the Crown. As England prepared to regain control of the situation, the colonies formed the Second Continental Congress to establish a military force, and defend their recently declared independence, but experienced men were hard to find. Captain John Barry, an early champion of the patriot cause, promptly volunteered his service. With nine years experience as a sea-going Captain, and five successful commands to his credit, the young Irishman was quite warmly welcomed, and given command of a ship under the authority of the Continental Congress.,

On Dec 7, 1775, eight months after the first shots were fired at Lexington; Captain John Barry took the helm of a new 14-gun vessel aptly named, Lexington. He quickly trained a crew, and began the task of supplying and supporting Washington's ground forces.
On April 7, 1776, just four months after he had taken command, Captain Barry provided a necessary boost to the moral of the continental forces just as he would do so many times when it was needed most: he captured the British ship, Edward, and her cargo - the first American war prize.

On June 6, he was given command of the new cruiser, Effingham, and captured 2 more British ships. In spite of Barry's successes, the war was not going well for the Americans: Philadelphia was in the hands of the British; the British Navy had bottled up the Delaware River; General Benedict Arnold had betrayed West Point, and gone over to fight for the British; and Washington's troops were in dire need. A victory was essential to boost their sagging moral. Barry captured an armed British vessel when ammunition was scarce, and a supply ship when food was at a premium, then he came to Washington's aid when the leader was planning to cross the Delaware. He organized seamen and joined the land forces which crossed the river in boats supplied by Barry's friend, Patrick Colvin.

Barry was held in such high esteem that, after the Delaware crossing, and the subsequent victories at Trenton and Princeton, in which he served as an aide to Washington, Lord Howe made a flattering offer to Barry to desert the patriot cause. "Not the value or command of the whole British fleet", Barry replied, "can lure me from the cause of my country which is liberty and freedom."

On January 5, 1778, while the Delaware was occupied by the British fleet, Barry organized the famous Battle of the Kegs, in which small kegs loaded with explosives were sent floating down the river at the British ships and fired upon, exploding them and throwing the British into a panic. In addition to commanding naval operations for the Continental Congress, Barry supervised the building of their ships. In command of one of those ships in 1781, when Washington was again in need, Barry captured four important British vessels. Washington personally thanked him for the boost it provided, and sent his fearless Captain back into the fray.

During a confrontation on May 28, 1781, Barry was wounded and taken below. Subsequently, his First Officer informed him that the battle was going against them, and Barry ordered that he be carried back on deck. When the British demanded his surrender, Barry defiantly refused and sparked his crew to victory. The wounded Captain returned with yet another prize. The last sea battle of the American Revolution took place on March 10, 1783, as Barry was returning with a shipload of gold bullion from Havana, and was set upon by three British ships. The resourceful Captain engaged and destroyed one, and outdistanced the other two, returning with the precious cargo which was used to establish a National Bank for the new nation. Even after the war, this tireless seaman assisted America by transporting Virginia tobacco to Holland to repay America's war debts.

Far from the war at sea, Barry also assisted at the Federal Convention held in 1787 to adopt the new constitution. It seems that there were a minority who were opposed to the adoption and absented themselves from the convention, preventing a quorum from being formed. Barry organized a group called The Compellers,' and physically forced enough of the seceding members back to form a quorum. The vote was taken, and the constitution was finally approved.

People cheered and church bells rang as Barry scored another victory - this time over indifference. In recognition of his vast experience and dedication, Washington demonstrated Barry's immense value to the new nation when, on June 14, 1794, he sent for the popular naval hero to form and train a class of midshipmen, who would then be commissioned as Ensigns, and form the nucleus of a new American Navy. Barry himself was named the ranking officer, and granted Commission No. 1.

Commodore Barry died in Philadelphia on September 13, 1803. 195 years later, I had the tremendous honor of delivering a memorial speech at the base of his statue in Wexford harbor in which I extended the thanks of this generation of Americans for his contributions to establishing our nation. Commodore John Barry had many firsts in his remarkable career, from being the first to fly the new American flag in battle to escorting America's famous ally, General Lafayette, back to France, but the first that he should always be remembered for is his position as Father of the American Navy.

The above article was written by Mike McCormack, National A.O.H. Historian


September 13th is Commodore John Barry Day in at least two States, Pennsylvania (a legal holiday) and New York (legislatively, since 1986). One of many immigrants who have defended American Liberty, Commodore John Barry was a native of the County Wexford in Ireland. Barry was born in 1745, the same year as the Irish Brigade victory at Fontenoy. As a Catholic and a nationalist in English-ruled Ireland during the dark days of the Penal Laws, there was little hope of equal opportunity, much less upward mobility or even basic civil rights for young Jack Barry. He and his family immigrated to America, settling in Philadelphia in 1760. For Jack Barry the call of the sea was irresistible. First shipping out as a cabin boy, by adulthood Jack Barry was Captain of his own ship in the American merchant marine before the beginning of the American War for Independence.

After the commencement of hostilities, Captain Jack Barry offered his services to Washington and Congress in the cause of American Liberty. Barry's victories at sea (beginning 7th April 1776) were many and important to the morale of the American people as well as to the successful prosecution of the war. On one occasion he sailed into Philadelphia with a prize ship loaded with overcoats, in time for those same coats to help Washington's army get through the cold of winter. Another mission safely delivered the gold from France, raised by popular subscription by the Roman Catholic clergy, to pay the French and American armies in the Yorktown campaign.

Perhaps his most unusual service came not at sea, but up on the Delaware River where Captain John Barry participated in General George Washington's victory at Trenton during Christmas 1776, serving actively as an artillery combatant.

Captain John Barry was assigned by Congress to command the LEXINGTON in March 1776. At the same time another great Celtic immigrant naval hero of the Revolution, John Paul Jones, native of Scotland, received his commission as an American Continental Navy Lieutenant. [After the war, Barry continued to make his home in the United States, while Jones eventually went on to become an Admiral and the premier hero of the Russian Navy (perhaps ironically, Saint Andrew's Cross is both the flag of the Russian Navy and the flag of Scotland).] Later, in command of the Continental frigate ALLIANCE, Barry fought many actions. On one occasion he encountered two Royal Navy ships, HMS ATLANTA and HMS TREPASSEY in a four-hour sea battle on 28th May 1780. After being severely wounded by grape shot, Barry was taken below for treatment, shortly after which enemy shot carried away the American ensign. The English began cheering, thinking that the Americans had struck. Barry demanded to be carried back on deck, had a new Continental ensign raised, and concluded the action, finally capturing both British ships (see Charles R. Smith. Marines in the Revolution: A History of the Continental Marines in the American Revolution, 1775 – 1783. Washington, D.C.: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1975).

During the American War for Independence, the English attempted to get Barry, who had proved himself to be a most effective combat commander, to switch sides, offering him a full Captaincy and a command in the Royal Navy. Captain John Barry rejected General Lord Howe's flattering offer to desert Washington and the Patriot cause, stating, "Not the value and command of the whole British fleet can lure me from the cause of my country." Captain John Barry, in command of the Continental frigate ALLIANCE, having successfully transported French gold to America to finance the War for Independence, also won the last sea battle of that war, against the HMS SYBILLE on March 10, 1783.

When the Pennsylvania Assembly could not get a quorum for the essential adoption vote, John Barry organized the "compellers", so-called because they sought out and compelled the attendance of enough delegates to assure the calling of the Convention to ratify the Constitution of the United States.

When, under the new Constitution, Congress authorized President Washington to create and operate a United States Navy, it was again to John Barry that George Washington turned, personally conferring upon him "Commission No. 1" as Captain, United States Navy. The Commission, dating from 14th June 1794, was delivered by Washington on 22nd February 1797. It was Commodore John Barry who built and commanded that first United States Navy, one of whose ships, "Old Ironsides", the USS CONSTSTUTION, is still in commission, and may be visited at the US Naval Station in Charlestown, just north of Boston, Massachusetts. John Barry served as senior officer of the United States Navy, with the title of "Commodore" (in official correspondence) under three Presidents, Washington, Adams and Jefferson.

During a visit to New York a few years ago, Sergeant Major Wally Doyle, the late Wexford town historian, spoke of the deep local affection for the US Navy in Wexford. Commodore John Barry's statue, a gift of the United States, overlooks Wexford harbor in his native Ireland. Another statue of Commodore John Barry stands in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, symbolically pointing the way to the future of his adopted country. Commodore John Barry is also recognized, with Cork-born General Stephen Moylan, in the Statue of Liberty museum in New York harbor as one of six foreign-born great leaders of the American War for Independence.

Numerous times have Members of Congress proposed that Commodore John Barry Day be a national observance. The Honorable Clare Gerald Fenerty of Pennsylvania, who was also a naval officer and John Barry orator, proposed this in the 1st Session of the 74th Congress. More recently, Congressmen Ben Gilman, Tom Manton, and Peter King of New York have led a movement to properly honor Commodore John Barry. The 1990 National Convention of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, meeting in Virginia, unanimously passed a resolution petitioning Congress to make Commodore John Barry Day, September 13, an annual national patriotic observance, like Flag Day, in order that all Americans might be better reminded of the immigrant origins of the United States and of the extraordinary contributions of immigrants to the defense of American Liberty from the earliest days to the present, from Bunker Hill to Flanders fields, to Makin Island, to the sands of Arabia. The 1992 National Convention of the Naval Reserve Association also resolved in favor of legislation making September 13th "Commodore John Barry Day". Then Naval Reserve Association National President Captain J. Robert Lunney, a published John Barry scholar, is also Past Commander of the New York Commandery of the Naval Order of the United States and current President of the Sons of the Revolution; he also holds the rank of Rear Admiral, serving as Judge Advocate General, New York Naval Militia. Numerous others have made this request, including the Naval Militia Association and the Irish Brigade Association. There is ample precedent in recent years for official United States recognition of Commodore John Barry. Commodore John Barry commemorative postage stamps have been issued by the United States, and once by Ireland. President Ronald Reagan proclaimed September 13, 1982 as "Commodore John Barry Day," and President George Bush similarly proclaimed September 13th as "Commodore John Barry Day" in 1991 and 1992 pursuant to Resolutions of Congress, introduced by Congressman Ben Gilman and co-sponsored by Congressmen Tom Manton, Peter King, Mike McNulty, and others.

Commodore John Barry is not just an Irish hero, although Barry was Irish-born; nor is Commodore John Barry just a Catholic hero, although Barry lived and died a devout Catholic; nor is Commodore John Barry just a naval hero, although William Bell Clark (Gallant John Barry. New York: Macmillan, 1938), Msgr. Leo Gregory Fink (Barry or Jones?) and Bob Lunney have made a most persuasive case for Commodore John Barry as the father of the US Navy. Commodore John Barry is a hero for all Americans ... for all America, since Barry's life exemplified the patriotic virtues to which Washington attached so much importance, to bring the blessings of Liberty to the present and to future generations of Americans.

To enshrine Commodore John Barry's place in the Public Law of the United States would assure the perpetuation of the recognition due to the man, to the naval service and to our immigrant origins. Such a measure will also merit the appreciation of Irish people throughout the world. Former Congressman the late Hamilton Fish, Jr., one of whose ancestors stood with Washington as the British surrendered at Yorktown, often pointed out that we owe a great debt for our Independence not only to the French, but to the Irish, both to those in the Irish Brigades of Spain and France who fought in North America and on the high seas, and, even more to those many who fought in the Continental forces. This is a matter of education and of justice. Honor demands that justice be done to the memory of Commodore John Barry, and, integrity demands that the people be educated as to the major significance of the role of such immigrants in the defense of American Liberty. For this purpose, the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America (led by Bridget and Mike Kearney) and the Irish Brigade Association observe Commodore John Barry Day, and commemorate his memory, most notably with ceremonies at the Maritime Industry Museum on the campus of the State University of New York Maritime College at Fort Schuyler every year.

The USS BARRY (DD-933) is the centerpiece of the naval museum at the Washington Navy Yard, and the new USS JOHN BARRY (DDG-52) carries the name of Commodore John Barry on the high seas today.

The movement for a national Commodore John Barry Day has been superceded by a movement, begun by Congressmen Tom Manton and Peter King in 1995, at the request of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, of the Sons of the Revolution, the Naval Reserve Association, the Irish Brigade Association and others, to have Commodore John Barry officially recognized as the first Commodore flag officer of the United States Navy. Congress set the precedent for this a few years ago with the recognition of George Washington, who had resumed his military rank upon his retirement from the Presidency, as the senior general officer of the United States Army, for all time. The recognition of John Barry as the first Commodore flag officer of the United States Navy, would merely make explicit in the public law of the United States what is already implicit in the historical record, and is necessary only because Congress had not yet formally created the one-star Commodore grade by the time of Barry’s death, 13th September 1803.

It was the ships built by Barry, and the officers recruited and developed by him, that constituted the United States Navy that would perform so magnificently in the wars with the Barbary Pirates and in America’s Second War for Independence. Commodore John Barry lies in Saint Mary’s Churchyard in his adopted hometown, Philadelphia.

The United States House of Representatives has recognized Commodore John Barry as the first flag officer of the US Navy, in House Joint Resolution 6, crafted with the assistance of the Naval Historical Center, and staffed through the House Armed Services Committee, after introduction by Congressman Peter King, passed the House on the 7th of October 2002. What is needed now is action by the entire Congress, to formally recognize Commodore John Barry as the first flag officer of the United States Navy.

All Hibernians should contact their United States Senators, and their Member of Congress, and impress upon them the importance of the recognition by Congress, before 13th September 2003, of Commodore John Barry as the first flag officer of the US Navy.

The above article was written by Liam Murphy, former Editor of the National Hibernian Digest

John Barry Kelly on Commodore Barry:

Commodore John Barry (1745-1803)
"Father of the American Navy"
by John Barry Kelly

Few Americans are well-acquainted with the gallantry and heroic exploits of Philadelphia's Irish-born naval commander, Commodore John Barry. Obscured by his contemporary, naval commander 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.

In the space of 58 years, this son of a poor Irish farmer rose from humble cabin boy to senior commander of the entire United States fleet. Intrepid In battle, he was humane to his men as well as adversaries and prisoners. Barry's war contributions are unparalleled: he was the first to capture a British war vessel on the high seas; he captured two British ships after being severely wounded in a ferocious sea battle; he quelled three mutinies; he fought on land at the Battles of Trenton and Princeton; he captured over 20 ships including an armed British schooner in the lower Delaware; he authored a Signal Book which established a set of signals used for effective communication between ships; and he fought the last naval battle of the American Revolution aboard the frigate Alliance in 1783.

Early Years

John Barry was born in a modest thatched cottage in 1745 at Ballysampson on Our Lady's Island, which is part of Tacumshin Parish in County Wexford, Ireland. Wexford, at the southeasternmost part of Ireland, has always had a strong maritime tradition. Yet Barry's father was a poor tenant farmer who was evicted by his British landlord. The family was forced to relocate to the village of Rosslare.

An imposing man, Barry stood close to 6'4", according to Admiral Preble who examined his Federal Navy uniform from the 1790s.

At Rosslare, the youth's uncle, Nicholas Barry, was captain of a fishing skiff, and the young man determined at an early age to follow his uncle to sea. Barry started out as a ship's cabin boy, and graduated from seaman to able seaman and ultimately, a Mate's rating. Barry grew to be a tall, muscular, well-respected seaman. A salient event which occurred in Barry's youth led to a lifelong enmity of oppression and the British. At a young age Barry learned of the massacre of some 3,000 Wexfordians under an invading force led by Oliver Cromwell in 1649.

His First Command

Barry's first command came in 1766 aboard the schooner, Barbadoes, sailing out of Philadelphia, which Barry adopted as his home port. Barry had good reason to make Philadelphia his new home. 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. Its growing population, which exceeded 30,000 by the start of the Revolution, hungered for imported goods brought in by ships piloted by captains such as Barry. Plying back and forth between Philadelphia and the West Indies, Barry gained his early skills of command at the helm of several merchant ships.

In the West Indies trade, Barry honed his nautical skills making at least nine round trips without a single mishap. Philadelphians came to like "Big John" Barry due to his reliability, personable nature and his success in the merchant shipping business. His next command, the Patty and Polly, was a small brigantine which he took on but a single voyage. Shortly after, Barry took command of the Industry, a 45-ton vessel which he described as a "good schooner."

By 1772, Barry's abilities as a shipmaster had come to the attention of one of Philadelphia's premier mercantile houses, Meredith and Clymer. Reese Meredith recognized Barry's ability by assigning him command of the vessel Peg, quite a plum for a young captain. About the time colonial difficulties with the mother country necessitated the convening of the First Continental Congress in 1774, Barry began a lifelong friendship and collaboration with the Revolutionary financier, Robert Morris. Barry's last pre-revolutionary sailing experience came in the service of Morris, who was a partner in Philadelphia's top merchant shipping firm, Willing, Morris and Cadwalader. Barry was assigned to their sleek 200-ton ship, Black Prince. It was aboard Black Prince on a return voyage from England that Barry made the amazing and unparalleled record of travelling 237 miles by dead reckoning in a 24 hour period — the fastest day of sailing recorded in the 18th century.

The Private Barry

In private life, Barry's world was twice darkened by tragic events. First was the premature death of his first wife, Mary Clary (or Cleary), whom he had married at Philadelphia's Old St. Joseph's chapel on October 31, 1767. Mary's death on February 9, 1774, at 29 years of age, grieved him all the more since he was at sea when her passing occurred. The second tragedy was the disappearance at sea of Barry's brother and fellow mariner Patrick Barry. Patrick's ship, the Union, a letter of marquee vessel, sailed from Bordeaux, France, in August of 1778, and was never heard from again.

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. Sarah, 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.


When Barry arrived back in Philadelphia on the Black Prince he was greeted with the word that the Colonies and Great Britain were at war. At the outset of the Revolution, Barry was given the singularly important task of outfitting the first Continental Navy ships which were put to sea from Philadelphia. His assignment included: overseeing rigging, piercing gunports, strengthening bulwarks, procuring powder and canvas for the new warships and loading provisions. Upon completion of his work, Barry was rewarded with what he most desired from the Marine Committee: 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.

In his first contest at sea, John Barry's cruiser Lexington had a successful one-hour battle with the British tender, Edward. Barry's own report to Congress of his fight conveys the atmosphere of excitement and exultation:

In sight of the Cape of Virginia
April 7, 1776
to the Marine Committee

Gentlemen: I have the pleasure to acquaint you, that at 1:00 p.m. this day, I fell in with the sloop, Edward belonging to the Liverpool frigate. They killed two of our men, and wounded two more. We shattered her in a terrible manner as you will see. I shall give you a particular account of the powder that was taken out of her, as well as my proceedings in general. I have the pleasure to acquaint you that all our people behaved with much courage. This victory had a tremendous psychological effect in boosting American morale, as it was the first capture of a British warship by a regularly commissioned American cruiser.

"The Eyedee of Being a Treater"

Late in 1776, Barry was given command of the 32-gun Effingham, one of three frigates then under construction in Philadelphia. During the building of Effingham, Barry was approached by an acquaintance, perhaps his Tory brother-in-law William Austin or a member of the Cadwalader family that sympathized with the British, and offered a bribe of 15,000 guineas in gold or 20,000 pounds British sterling, plus a commission in the Royal Navy if he would turn Effingham over to the British. Barry was promised his own ship under Royal authority but he indignantly refused. In his own words, he "spurned the eyedee of being a treater."

Horses are the backbone of a cavalry and needed hay to live. The problem of getting enough hay for their horses proved problematic to the British throughout the war.

With the 1777 British assault on Philadelphia imminent, Barry was forced to scuttle his new command, Effingham. Having to make do commanding only small craft, Barry carried out the boldest adventure of his career. His mission included the destruction of all British hay forage in the region, capture of enemy shipping in the Lower Delaware, and fighting off whatever came his way.

The Sailor Becomes a Soldier

While the Effingham was under construction, Barry volunteered his service to the Continental Army. He served with a company of Marines under the command of Philadelphia militia commander General John Cadwalader. Cadwalader was part-owner of the merchant shipping company that Barry had worked for before the war. His old employer selected Barry as his aide-de-camp. Thus the seaman became a soldier, and participated in the Battle of Trenton and led a spirited defense during the Battle of Princeton. General Washington chose Barry as his courier in conveying wounded prisoners through British lines and carrying a dispatch under a flag of truce to General Cornwallis.

Back to the Sea

On March 8, 1778, Barry attacked a British fleet with a tiny squadron of tubs — a plan made to order for the daring Irish commander. Barry took his mix of seven small craft, including rowboats, barges and longboats, and surprised two armed sloops as well as a fortified schooner capturing all three.

Show me the Money

Barry was on the active roll of American Navy until the end of his life. But he received little in the way of compensation from the always hard-pressed Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War. In fact, Barry petitioned the Congress for back wages after the War in the amount of $6,000. Barry's Navy was always fraught with problems ranging from lack of supplies and money to mutinous sailors or no sailors at all.

Barry also succeeded in destroying three ships, holding off a frigate and a ship-of-the-line and garnering vital British intelligence and valuable Engineers' entrenching tools. Washington sent Barry a letter commending him, stating "may a suitable recompense always attend your bravery."

A Raleigh Bad Show

The year 1778 saw Barry assigned to the 32-gun frigate Raleigh. Unfortunately, shortly after getting out of port in late September of that year the Raleigh was sighted by the superior British forces which included the frigate, Unicorn, and the ship-of-the-line, Experiment. A 48-hour northward chase ensued with Barry fighting the Unicorn steadily until the Raleigh's foretopmast cracked and he arrived in Maine's Penobscot Bay — unfamiliar waters where Barry had no knowledge of a safe harbor amongst the rocky shoals. Cornered on Wooden Ball Island in the rocky Maine inlets, Barry determined to save his crew and fire his ship rather than let the British take possession.

Barry saved two-thirds of his crew. But the perfidy of a traitorous American midshipman of English ancestry prevented the blowing up of the Raleigh and the complete escape of all hands. (Barry didn't want the ship to fall in the hands of the British.) Nevertheless, Barry successfully guided 88 of his men to safety in rowboats to Boston. The entire episode reflected on Barry's concern for the welfare of his crew and his stubborn refusal to surrender.


Colonial seamen in the Revolution often found it more lucrative to sign up with "pirates," private ship owners who raided British ships, rather than with the fledgling Continental Navy. The reason: money. When a pirateer captured a British ship, the booty belonged to that captain who divvied it with his crew. While Continental Navy men would also receive some share of the spoils if they caught a British ship, it was nothing compared to work in the private sector. Further, life in the U.S. Navy imposed much more discipline than the freewheeling freebooters.

The Brawny Barry

Obviously, Barry was a commanding figure. He appeared on deck a burly 6'4", well-built, ruddy-complexioned man of dignified carriage who spoke in a commanding tone. His handsome, Irish features were accentuated by a small mole located at the upper bridge of a Grecian nose and unusually inverted eyebrows. Hazel eyes glinted brightly and his determination was evidenced by a square, Irish chin. Barry was owner of a wry sense of humor and had to control a sudden Irish temper on occasion. His sheer physical size was an imposing sight in an era when most men stood about 5'5". His great strength was well known in naval circles especially after he single-handedly suppressed three ship mutinies and threw the mutinous ringleaders in the hold. As a disciplinarian, he was firm though fair. Barry was still able to raise crews, despite the mass exoduses to the pirateering business. Barry was a firm believer in Divine Providence and regularly opened his ship day with a Bible reading to his crew.

A Ferocious Fight


The frigate "Alliance" was Barry's favorite and the most popular ship in the Continental Navy. It was the one regularly commissioned ship afloat at the close of the Revolution In 1783.

Barry captured numerous British prizes during the Revolution and holds the record for prize money returns in a single voyage. His Continental commands included successively: the Lexington, 16 guns, the Effingham, 32 guns, the Raleigh, 32 guns, and the Alliance, 36 guns.

Barry's most renowned naval encounter occurred off the coast of Newfoundland on May 28, 1781. Barry's ship, the 36-gun frigate Alliance, took on two British ships, the sloop Atlanta, and the sloop, Trespassy. Barry's guns spoke first in the form of a well-directed broadside. Unfortunately, however, the Alliance soon lay becalmed in the water due to a lack of wind. The two smaller British ships were able to employ sweeps and maneuver close to the prow and stern of the Alliance. They thus were able to rake the Alliance from either end. Both ships inflicted considerable damage to the Alliance's rigs, spars, masts and sails due to her inability to make steerageway. Barry conducted a relentless defense from the quarterdeck until a hurtling projectile of canister shot (broken nails, metal fragments, and minnie balls) struck him in the left shoulder. He remained on deck bleeding from many wounds for twenty minutes, until, losing consciousness from loss of blood, he was escorted below deck to the cockpit for medical care by the ship's surgeon Kendall.

As the struggle increased in smoky intensity, the Alliance's colors (flag) were shot away. Barry's second in command, Lieutenant Hoysted Hacker, appeared before him as his wounds were being dressed and said, "I have to report the ship in frightful condition, Sir. The rigging is much cut, damage everywhere great, many men killed and wounded, and we labor under great disadvantage for want of wind. Have I permission to strike our colors?" Barry angrily replied, "No Sir, the thunder! If this ship cannot be fought without me, I will be brought on deck; to your duty, Sir." A new flag was raised using the mizzenbrail for a halyard, and the fight continued. Just as Hacker reached the deck, filled with renewed resolve, a bit of luck arrived in the presence of a gust of wind filling the Alliance's sails. Replying to her helm, the battered Alliance swung about. The whole starboard battery was employed with decisive effect. Fourteen 12-pound cannons were brought into the fray. After two successful broadsides, both the Atlanta and the Tresspassy struck their colors. The grueling battle had lasted nearly four hours and had cost the British two ships, 11 dead, including one of the two captains, and 25 wounded.

The surviving British commander, Captain Edwards, appeared on the deck of the Alliance for the customary surrender ceremony. He was led to Barry's cabin where the American commander's wounds had just been dressed. Edwards presented his sword. Barry received it, then returned it with the message, "I return it to you, Sir. You have merited it, and your King ought to give you a better ship. Here is my cabin, at your service. Use it as your own."

Barry prepared an official report of his double victory for the Board of Admiralty, which rejoiced in the success achieved. Barry's agent, John Brown, referred to the Board's reaction when he said, "Amidst their rejoicing it gives them pain to think that so Gallant and diligent an Officer should by a wound be prevented even for a Short time from rendering those Services which he hath always shown such an inclination and Ability to perform."

The Final Fight

Barry's final battle of the Revolution was also the last sea battle of the Continental Navy. On March 10, 1783, Barry was returning from Havana aboard the Alliance escorting the Duc de Lauzon, a transport carrying a shipment of 72,000 Spanish silver dollars destined for the Continental Congress. Off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Alliance fell in with the British frigate, the Sybil. In order to protect his escort and its precious bullion, Barry engaged the Sybil. A 45-minute exchange of gunfire ensued, with Barry directing his gun crews to superb results. The British vessel sheared off after experiencing severe punishment from the American crews who shattered her rigging, masts and hull.

After the War

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. 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.

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.

The epithet Father of the Navy first appeared with the publication of a biographical sketch in Nicholas Biddle's literary journal, Port Folio, in 1813.

The Father of the Navy

On February 22, 1797, President Washington called Barry to the President's Mansion at 190 High (Market) Street, to receive Commission Number One in the Navy which was dated June 4, 1794, the date of his original selection. The formal ceremony took place on Washington's birthday.

Barry outfitted and supervised the construction of the first frigates built under the Naval Act of March 27, 1794, including his own forty-four gun frigate the USS United States, which was to serve as his flagship. The United States slid into the water on May 10, 1797, under Barry's helm.

Commodore Barry

Barry held the courtesy title of Commodore from this period since he served as squadron commander of the fleet which assembled in the West India Sea. He commanded all American ships during the undeclared naval war with France (1798-1800) and personally captured several French merchantmen. Barry finished his active career as head squadron commander of the United States Naval Station in the West Indies at Guadaloupe (1798-1801). Perhaps most significantly he trained numerous future sea heroes who won fresh laurels in the War of 1812.

John Barry was so well-regarded during his lifetime that when President Jefferson retrenched the military establishment, Barry's services were retained.

Despite being so engaged with naval matters, Barry was active socially while on land. He was a member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, the Hibernian Fire Company, and the Order of the Cincinnati — the military brotherhood of officers of the Continental Army, Navy and Marines that General Henry Knox organized in 1783.

He also showed a philanthropic side. Early in his career as a young ship master, he joined the Charitable Captains of Ships Club, organized for the relief of widows and orphans of sailing men.

Champion of the Nascent Navy

Barry's contributions to the nascent navy were singular. He authored a Signal Book in 1780, which established a set of signals to be used for effective communication between ships voyaging in squadron formation. Barry also suggested the creation of a Department of the Navy with separate cabinet status from the Secretary of War. This was finally realized with the formation of the United States Department of the Navy in 1798. Barry's suggestions about establishing government-operated navy yards were also realized. So many of the heroes of the War of 1812 were trained under Barry's tutelage that he earned the sobriquet, "Father of the Navy."

The esteem in which Barry was held by his contemporaries can best be summarized by the words of his close friend and eulogist, Signer of the Declaration, Doctor Benjamin Rush, who wrote:

He fought often and once bled in the cause of freedom, but his habits of War did not lessen in him the peaceful virtues which adorn private life."

Barry's Death

Prematurely aged from an arduous life at sea, as can be evidenced by looking at an 1801 Gilbert Stuart portrait, Barry lived but 58 years. He died on September 12, 1803, at his country home "Strawberry Hill," some three miles north of Philadelphia, of a long-standing asthmatic affliction.

In placing Barry at the head of the Navy, George Washington stated he had special trust and confidence "in [Commodore Barry's] patriotism, valor, fidelity and abilities." Neither Washington, Barry's old friend, nor the Nation ever had reason to regret the selection of Barry as head of the Navy. Barry played a vital role in establishing the earliest traditions of the Navy: faithful devotion to duty, honoring the flag, and vigilant protection of the rights of the sovereign United States.

Barry's last day of active duty came on March 6, 1801, when he brought the USS United Statesinto port. He remained head of the Navy until his death on September 12, 1803, from the complications of asthma. On September 14, 1803, John Barry received his country's salute in a full military burial in Philadelphia's Old St. Mary's Churchyard. Such was the man, John Barry, a gallant mariner who served his Nation well and stood tall in the annals of American naval history.


Pennsylvania Vital Records, Vol. l, 1983

Commodore John Barry, Martin L.J. Glenn, 1903

Gallant John Barry, William Bell Clark, 1938

Who Was Who During the American Revolution Bobbs-Merrill, 1976

Webster's American Military Biographies, 1978

Who Was Who In The American Revolution, L. Edward Purcell, 1993

John Barry: Fighting Irishman, Barbara Everett, Amer. History Illus., 1977

Dictionary of American Biography

Command Under Sail: Makers of the American Naval Tradition (1775-1840), 1985

Bill Kelly can be reached at

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