Honoring Our Patriot
Commodore John Barry
“Father of the American Navy”
Few Americans are well-acquainted with the gallantry and heroic exploits of Philadelphia’s Irish-born naval commander, Commodore John Barry. 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 John Paul Jones for nautical skill and daring, but he exceeds him in the length of service (17 years). 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.
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.
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. He was head of the United States Navy until his death on September 12, 1803.
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Website last updated: October 2020