Commodore John 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

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

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

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

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

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

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


BarryStatueSeptember 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,

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

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