The Father of the American Navy

The Story of Virtue and Honor!

On this day, September 13, 1803, the man many consider the Father of the American Navy, dies. John Barry, of Wexford, Ireland, was a Revolutionary War hero who refused to betray his adopted country even when bribed by the British. This is his story.

The British Navy ruled the seas. Nobody messed with them! During the Revolutionary war, the States didn’t have much of a Navy, but they more than made up for this deficiency with enthusiastic, patriotic private shipowners. Congress authorized these to “distress the enemies of the United States by sea or land.” They weren’t paid for their services; they worked on commission being allowed to keep and sell anything they captured from British ships.

These patriots sailed up and down the Atlantic destroying hundreds of enemy ships. Massachusetts and Pennsylvania had about five-hundred ships each engaged in this service.

Who’s the first person that comes to mind when you think of the beginning of the U.S. Navy? I’ll bet you thought about John Paul Jones. That would be natural. Jones was an American hero who made great exploits on behalf of his country, and he has received the most press. Countless unsung patriots were accomplishing great things. Some estimates say there were about seventy-thousand brave men engaged in the American cause on the seas. Each one had a story. I wish I knew them all. But we don’t have the time or the documentation to tell everyone’s story. But there are some we can tell.

Our story is about a man who can also rightfully claim the title, “The Father of the American Navy.” He’s John Barry. Have you ever heard of him? His statue stands outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Captain John Barry was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1745, and he eventually made his way to the colonies. When the war for Independence broke out, Barry willingly offered his services to his adopted country. Captain John was an imposing figure standing 6 foot 4, thus earning the nickname, Big John. Imposing as he looked and as fierce as he was in battle, he was very personable and charming. Barry was a loved man, like all of us Irishmen ;).

Barry’s exploits were terrific. He cruised up and down both sides of the Atlantic, engaging the British in fierce battles and was the first to capture a British ship. Barry lost ships, was wounded in action several times, yet each time he got back in the game, winning many more prizes.

The British, being frustrated by Barry’s exploits, appealed to their former citizen with an offer that most men wouldn’t have the virtue to refuse. To return his allegiance to the motherland, the British promised Barry $100,000.00 and the command of his own frigate. Very tempting offer! Think about how much money that was in the 1770s! What would you have done?

What did this Irishman do? He replied without hesitation and indignantly:

“Not the value and command of the whole British fleet can seduce me from the cause of my country!”

Wow! Barry doesn’t give the bribe a second thought! Barry continued his faithful service seeing the war through till its glorious end, even fighting in the last naval battle. Talk about going all the way!

Captain John Barry’s service to our country didn’t end with the war; he helped our newly formed government get established. President George Washington appointed Barry as a Captain in the reorganized Navy. Barry oversaw the building of the famous frigate, United States, and took command of it when it put to sea in 1794. Barry, for three years, defended his country in the Naval War with France, from 1798 to 1801. He continued to serve his country in other capacities until he was incapacitated with an illness which took his life.

Captain Barry died on this day, September 13th, 1803, in Philadelphia. President JFK, when visiting Ireland, honored Barry by laying a wreath at his memorial in Wexford.

What do you think of John Barry?

If you wish to listen to the podcast of this #OTD story of John Barry, please click the following link: