Commodore John Barry (1745-1803) a native of County Wexford, Ireland was a Continental Navy hero of the American War for Independence.  Barry’s many victories at sea during the Revolution were important to the morale of the Patriots as well as to the successful prosecution of the War.  When the First Congress, acting under the new Constitution of the United States, authorized the raising and construction of the United States Navy President George Washington turned to Barry to build and lead the nation’s new US Navy, the successor to the Continental Navy.  On 22 February 1797, President Washington conferred upon Barry, with the advice and consent of the Senate, the rank of Captain with “Commission No. 1,” United States Navy, effective 7 June 1794.  Barry supervised the construction of his own flagship, the USS UNITED STATES.  As commander of the first United States naval squadron under the Constitution, which included the USS CONSTITUTION (“Old Ironsides”), Barry was a Commodore with the right to fly a broad pennant, which made him a flag officer. 



Commodore John Barry
By Gilbert Stuart (1801)

John Barry served as the senior officer of the United States Navy, with the title of “Commodore” (in official correspondence) under Presidents George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  The ships built by Barry, and the captains selected, as well as the officers trained, by him, constituted the United States Navy that performed outstanding service in the “Quasi-War” with France, in battles with the Barbary Pirates and in the War of 1812.  Significantly, and by joint resolution of Congress, pursuant to Public Law 109-142 (signed by President George W. Bush on 22 December 2005), John Barry was formally recognized, in the Public Law of the United States, as the first flag officer of the United States Navy.

In 1777, commanding the Continental Brig LEXINGTON, John Barry was the first to raise “The Stars and Stripes” in home waters.   In battle, Barry was both effective and humane.  He gave us our first victory on the high seas.  Commanding the Continental Frigate ALLIANCE, Barry captured two British warships after being severely wounded in a ferocious sea battle (28 May 1781). 

The “Betsy Ross” design, based on an Act of Congress (14 June, 1777)
13 Stars and 13 Stripes


Commodore John Barry was one of six foreign-born heroes of the American War for Independence chosen to be represented in the museum in the base of the Statue of Liberty (Lafayette, France; John Paul Jones, Scotland; von Steuben, Germany; Kościuszko, Poland; General Stephen Moylan, Ireland; Commodore John Barry, Ireland). John Barry was an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati.  The Commodore John Barry Memorial, just inside the “Barry Gate,” was dedicated at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, 10 May 2014.

The initial New York Council, Navy League of the United States Commodore John Barry Book Award for American Maritime Literature was awarded to Tim McGrath for John Barry: An American Hero in the Age of Sail (2010) on 10 June 2014, fittingly at Fraunces Tavern ® in New York City, where Washington bade farewell to his officers in 1783.  The dinner was preceded by a reception, sponsored by the Naval Historical Foundation and by the National Maritime Historical Society, in the “Flag Gallery” of the Fraunces Tavern Museum.  [See also: William Bell Clark. Gallant John Barry: 1745-1803, The Story of a Naval Hero of Two Wars (1938); Rear Admiral Joseph F. Callo. John Paul Jones: America’s First Sea Warrior (2006); George C. Daughan. If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy – From the American Revolution to the War of 1812 (2008).] 

Tim McGrath also has articles on John Barry in Naval History (U.S. Naval Institute,, "I Passed by Philadelphia with Two Boats," June 2009 Volume 23, Number 3; and, “Two Captains at Breakfast,” August 2013 Volume 27, Number 4 (John Barry and John Paul Jones were both personal, and professional, friends).  In a most interesting way, Tim McGrath has captured Commodore John Barry, former American Merchant Captain, in the context of his times, and in his contributions to the achievement and defense of the Independence of the United States.  

John Barry died on 13 September 1803; he is buried in Saint Mary’s churchyard in his adopted home of Philadelphia.  Commodore John Barry Day is a legal holiday in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and an official observance of the State of New York.


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Tags: Military History, Seafaring, United States

Comment by Jack Carey on September 14, 2014 at 12:25pm

Wreath was laid on the "Memorial of Commodore John Barry", yesterday at the United States Naval Academy, in his honor.  May he rest in peace..... and all that have given for their country.....

Comment by John Anthony Brennan on September 16, 2014 at 9:48am

An excellent slice of forgotten Irish history. 


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