John Barry, an officer in the Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War and later in the United States Navy, dies on September 13, 1803 in present day Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He comes to be widely credited as “The Father of the American Navy,” a moniker he shares with John Paul Jones and John Adams, and is appointed a captain in the Continental Navy on December 7, 1775. He is the first captain placed in command of a U.S. warship commissioned for service under the Continental flag.
Barry is born on March 25, 1745, in Tacumshane, County Wexford. When his family is evicted from their home by their British landlord, they move to Rosslare on the coast, where his uncle works a fishing skiff. As a young man, Barry determines upon a life as a seaman and he starts out as a ship’s cabin boy.
Barry receives his first captain’s commission in the Continental Navy on March 14, 1776, signed by John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress. Barry is a religious man and begins each day at sea with a reading from the Bible. He has great regard for his crew and their well being and always makes sure they are properly provisioned while at sea.
During his naval career Barry commands the USS Delaware, USS Lexington, USS Raleigh, and USS Alliance.
On February 22, 1797, he is issued Commission Number 1 by President George Washington, backdated to June 4, 1794. His title is thereafter “commodore.” He is recognized as not only the first American commissioned naval officer but also as its first flag officer.
Appointed senior captain upon the establishment of the U.S. Navy, he commands the frigate USS United States in the Quasi-War with the French Republic. This ship transports commissioners William Richardson Davie and Oliver Ellsworth to France to negotiate a new Franco-American alliance.
Barry’s last day of active duty is March 6, 1801, when he brings USS United States into port, but he remains head of the Navy until his death.
(Pictured: Portrait of Commodore John Barry, US Navy, by V. Zveg, 1972, from the 1801 portrait by Gilbert Stuart.)