McInerney and O’Brien: The men who made it possible to remember a hero

ANNAPOLIS, May 8, 2014 —  On February 22, 1797, John Barry received commission number one in the United States Navy from George Washington, backdated to 1794, recognizing his outstanding contributions to the formation of this nation. He was granted the rank of commodore, providing him the distinction of being the first flag officer in the US Navy. And on May 10, 2014, Commodore John Barry will be honored at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis with a brand new memorial.

Born in County Wexford, Ireland, Barry and his family were forced to leave the Emerald Isle to flee the oppressive rule of the British. It was no wonder then, when the Colonists rose up against King George III that the Irish sailor wanted in on the fight.

John Barry commanded many successful actions, secured many British prizes, and ferried precious supplies to troops. His actions saw him decorated and given repeated commands, including the position of chief officer of the Navy until his death in 1803.

While the Commodore’s accomplishments speak for themselves, his heroism and bravery unapproachable, the effort to secure his legacy in US History, and more importantly Naval History was a daunting task unto itself.

Several years ago, two members of the Washington, D.C. Ancient Order of Hibernians set out to memorialize the memory of John Barry. Veteran monument builders and feather rufflers, they sought to have the memorial erected on the very grounds of the US Naval Academy. A task which many said, and insisted, could not be done, and should not be done.

It cannot be done, they said.

To John McInerney (left), and Jack O’Brien (right), “cannot be done” was never the right answer.

With Irish tenacity, the two men set out to secure the Commodore’s place in history once and for all. Along with the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the largest Irish Catholic fraternal organization in the US, and their chapters in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia, McInerney and O’Brien took on this project with a resounding and unflinching determination and resilience. No obstacle was insurmountable, no odds were too long, and no goal unachievable.

Through a network of politicians, retired and active admirals and captains, businessmen, and finally retirees with plenty of time to make calls, McInerney and O’Brien made progress. Despite all of the obstacles in their way, despite all of the roadblocks placed in front of them by those who did not wish to see this project through, they marched on, without being deterred, without being discouraged.

And there was much to be discouraged about.

Not only was the Navy originally, and somewhat along the way, intransigent on the matter of a new memorial, there was the financial aspect.

The AOH needed to raise $250,000, the price tag the Navy and the engineers quoted, in order to even consider building the memorial.

So McInerney and O’Brien went to the AOH, and the AOH went to the Emerald Society, Friends of Ireland, and every other Irish group in the area, and around the country, to raise money for this project. They passed out fliers at the Maryland Irish Festival, they set up informational booths at fairs, they took out advertising, and they created awareness.

Over the last several years, there was not an Irish bar in the D.C. Metro area that did not see a fundraiser for the Barry memorial project. Of course there were large donations, but the funding for this project for the most part came through small gatherings, with music, pints, dancing, auctions, and fun. They ranged from family events in Crofton, to late night bagpipe sessions in DC. Countless raffles, baskets of cheer, contests, and t-shirts all went into that final total.

And of course there is always shameless promotion. McInerney and O’Brien carried fliers about the project with them wherever they went, they were there at the festivals talking to total strangers, having conversations, and creating awareness. All the while at their side, the AOH provided the connections and the drive to help see this project through. Members spent countless man hours being where McInerney and O’Brien could not, helping to spread the word, volunteering at community service events to raise awareness.

The money was raised, through numerous small donations, bar and ball room contributions alike, through tireless and unwavering drive and effort, the money was raised.

Without the leadership of McInerney and O’Brien, and their energy, and the energy they inspired in others, this project would not have left port.

Saturday, their project is unveiled to the public, but sadly one of them will not be there to witness it. On the night of Tuesday, May 6 John McInerney quietly passed away in the company of his friends and family. His efforts and his endeavors in cementing the legacy of the Irish in American history is but a small portion of his legacy. His titanic spirit and his gentle soul are what will be remembered by his friends and his family, the projects he completed a testament to his will and drive.

But never fear, John was able to behold his project in its completion. He and Jack O’Brien stood proudly beside it after the construction was completed, gleaming and beaming with pride as the sum of so many years of effort lay before them, completed.

While John will not be there, Jack O’Brien, whose spirit and heart matches that of his departed friend, will be in attendance, and he is well deserved of praise. With an easy smile, and a hand shake, Jack O’Brien would have you collecting money for the Barry Memorial out of your hat, or passing out informational fliers to strangers at bars. Quick with a story, and with a tremendous heart, Jack O’Brien is a man that anyone would be lucky to call a friend.

If you have not guessed, I am one of those who McInerney and O’Brien managed to trick into plying money from unwitting bar patrons, or completely witting fair-goers. I had the pleasure of working with both of these men, and the AOH, in their efforts to see the Barry Memorial project come to fruition. Apologies if at times I sound biased, it is because I am. I wanted to make sure that the historical community, and the Irish-American community understand the efforts that these men, and all those involved, exerted in making sure this project was successful. And if that means I have to take a day off of writing about 2nd Amendment rights, then I would gladly do so.

While John McInerney has passed, and we will remember him, Jack is to be equally commended and celebrated for his contributions and his efforts to this project. He and John were the kings of this endeavor, a point that I have knowingly repeated, but cannot stress enough.

There are of course many I am failing to mention whom this project could not have done without. But for now, I would like to honor the men in the picture above, who provided the wind that filled the sails, and the spirit to see the journey through.

The event is on Saturday in Annapolis, and though I believe tickets are sold out, if you stick around long enough I am certain you can find us in nearest Irish bar to the Naval Academy. Please drop by, have a pint, and pick Jack’s brain about Commodore John Barry, he would love to talk to you

Commodore John Barry:

First Flag Officer of the United States Navy

Public Law 109-142

 By Joint Resolution of the United States Congress, and signed by the President of the United States, Public Law 109-142 recognizes and honors Commodore John Barry as the “first flag officer of the United States Navy.”  This action makes explicit in the public law of the United States what was already implicit in the historical record.  

The Commodore John Barry Joint Resolution was sent to the White House on December 19th, and Signed by the President of the United States on December 22nd.  In signing this Joint Resolution of the United States Congress, President George W. Bush has eclipsed even the good works of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, both of whom Proclaimed "Commodore John Barry Day" pursuant to Resolutions of Congress.

 Numerous times Members of Congress had 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 led a movement to properly honor Commodore John Barry.  It was after the change in House rules which accompanied the "Gingrich Revolution" of 1994/95 (eliminating new special "days" by resolution of Congress), that it became necessary to re-think the way in which Commodore John Barry's contribution to our freedom might best be enshrined in the public law of the United States, whence the resolution recognizing Commodore John Barry as the first flag officer of the United States Navy.  [Commodore John Barry Day, September 13th, remains a legal holiday in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and a legal observance in the State of New York.]

  The language of what would become Public Law 109-142 in 2005 was crafted with great care and much negotiation with the Naval Historical Center, in order that it might pass the strictest muster of historical accuracy.  Liam Murphy (Irish Brigade Association), and Dr. Michael J. Crawford, Ph.D., Head of the Early History Branch of the Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C., worked out the final language in 2002.  This was an essential step in that Congress would not act on language that did not have the prior approval of the Navy.

 In the 109th Congress the Honorable Peter King of New York introduced House Joint Resolution 38 on Saint Patrick's Day, the 17th of March 2005; which passed the House of Representatives on December 14th.  While identical resolutions, also introduced by Mr. King had passed the House of Representatives on previous occasions, they never received proper consideration in the United States Senate until the personal intervention of William Reynolds, Chief of Staff to Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who bird-dogged his boss’s identical Joint Resolution (S.J. Res. 21 – introduced in the Senate on July 26th), through the United States Senate (with six co-sponsors, and follow-on action on November 22nd), and then backstage-managed the acceptance and passage of the House Joint Resolution on December 16th.  H.J. Res. 38 was then presented to the President on December 19th

 The Ancient Order of Hibernians  and the Irish Brigade Association, generally, and Mike and Bridget Kearney (Queens County, New York AOH & LAOH) in particular, can share the honors with Congressman Peter King (Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security) and Adam Paulson of his staff and with 46 Co-Sponsors for the victories in the US House of Representatives.  On the Senate side the honors shared with Senator Arlen Specter and his 6 Co-Sponsors go to three Templar Knights, Liam Murphy (a retired naval officer, also AOH), Rear Admiral James Carey (a Hibernian and a former national President of the Naval Reserve Association) and most especially to Senator Specter's Chief of Staff, Bill Reynolds (Lieutenant Colonel, USMCR – recently returned from a combat tour of duty in Iraq with the Marines).   

 There were many other Hibernians, from the National President Ned McGinley of Pennsylvania on down, who played their parts, and played them well, over the years in the campaign coordinated by Mike and Bridget Kearney; neither was the AOH alone in this decade-long effort to see to it that Commodore John Barry was properly recognized by the United States.  The Irish Brigade Association, the Naval Reserve Association, the Sons of the Revolution, the Naval Militia Association and the Commodore John Barry Club are among those who also contributed.  Of particular note are: Rear Admiral J. Robert Lunney, past General President of the Sons of the Revolution (and a former national President of the Naval Reserve Association), who researched and wrote extensively on Commodore John Barry, and noted that Barry’s Commission No. 1 ranks from 4th June 1794; the late Sergeant Major Wally Doyle, Wexford Town Historian (Commodore John Barry Branch, ONE); Hibernian lobbyist Chris Litton; and Michael Stack of the Brehon Law Society in Philadelphia, who saw to it early on that the issue was brought to the attention of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and of the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation.  [When John Barry emigrated from Wexford (Ireland) to America he settled in Philadelphia, where he offered his services first to Congress and the Continental Navy during the American Revolution/War for Independence, and then to the new US Navy of President Washington under the Constitution of the United States, and where he is buried in Saint Mary’s Churchyard.]

 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. 

 Dr. Michael Crawford of the Naval Historical Center, Hibernian Historian John Ridge of Brooklyn and Sergeant Major Charlie Laverty (Irish Brigade Association), President of the New York Irish History Roundtable, all agree that the ultimate source of information regarding Barry is Gallant John Barry, 1745-1803: The Story of a Naval Hero of Two Wars by William Bell Clark (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1938); currently out of print, its reissue, with the addition of a copy of Public Law 109-142, would be a public service.  [Macmillan in New York has been acquired by Simon and Schuster.]

 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.  Public Law 109-142 is an important step in that direction. 

All of the many who worked on the Commodore John Barry resolution can justly feel a sense of accomplishment.  All of the 6 Senate and 46 House co-sponsors, and the President, are deserving of our thanks.  Real credit for the heavy lifting which finally bore fruit belongs with Congressman Peter King and Adam Paulson of his staff, with Mike and Bridget Kearney of the AOH and LAOH (whose mighty efforts, consistently, over the years provided the necessary staying power – Mike is the Commodore John Barry Chairman of the New York State Board, AOH), and with Senator Arlen Specter and his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel of Marines, William Reynolds.

 Recognizing Commodore John Barry as the first flag officer of the United States Navy. (Enrolled as Agreed to or Passed by Both House and Senate)



One Hundred Ninth Congress

of the

United States of America


Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday,

the fourth day of January, two thousand and five

Joint Resolution

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 not 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 command 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 to 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 for 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;

 Whereas 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 America in Congress assembled, That Commodore John Barry is recognized, and is hereby honored, as the first flag officer of the United States Navy.


Speaker of the House of Representatives.


Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate.

H.J. Res. 38/Public Law 109-142 
Recognizing Commodore John Barry 
as the first flag officer of the United States Navy. 
(Dec. 22, 2005; 119 Stat. 2657; 2 pages) 


Title: Recognizing Commodore John Barry as the first flag officer of the United States Navy.
Sponsor: Rep King, Peter T. [NY-3] (introduced 3/17/2005) Cosponsors (46)
 Rep Abercrombie, Neil [HI-1] - 9/20/2005
Rep Ackerman, Gary L. [NY-5] - 3/17/2005
Rep Allen, Thomas H. [ME-1] - 11/17/2005
Rep Andrews, Robert E. [NJ-1] - 9/27/2005
Rep Bishop, Timothy H. [NY-1] - 3/17/2005
Rep Brady, Robert A. [PA-1] - 3/17/2005
Rep Crowley, Joseph [NY-7] - 3/17/2005
Rep Delahunt, William D. [MA-10] - 3/17/2005
Rep Doyle, Michael F. [PA-14] - 10/17/2005
Rep Engel, Eliot L. [NY-17] - 3/17/2005
Rep Evans, Lane [IL-17] - 3/17/2005
Rep Filner, Bob [CA-51] - 9/20/2005
Rep Fitzpatrick, Michael G. [PA-8] - 6/7/2005
Rep Fossella, Vito [NY-13] - 3/17/2005
Rep Hinchey, Maurice D. [NY-22] - 5/25/2005
Rep Holden, Tim [PA-17] - 3/17/2005
Rep Holt, Rush D. [NJ-12] - 9/27/2005
Rep Israel, Steve [NY-2] - 3/17/2005
Rep Kelly, Sue W. [NY-19] - 9/28/2005
Rep Kennedy, Patrick J. [RI-1] - 10/7/2005
Rep Lowey, Nita M. [NY-18] - 5/12/2005
Rep Maloney, Carolyn B. [NY-14] - 3/17/2005
Rep Markey, Edward J. [MA-7] - 9/20/2005
Rep McCarthy, Carolyn [NY-4] - 3/17/2005
Rep McDermott, Jim [WA-7] - 5/23/2005
Rep McGovern, James P. [MA-3] - 9/20/2005
Rep McHugh, John M. [NY-23] - 3/17/2005
Rep McNulty, Michael R. [NY-21] - 4/28/2005
Rep Meehan, Martin T. [MA-5] - 3/17/2005
Rep Menendez, Robert [NJ-13] - 10/18/2005
Rep Michaud, Michael H. [ME-2] - 11/15/2005
Rep Moran, James P. [VA-8] - 10/7/2005
Rep Neal, Richard E. [MA-2] - 3/17/2005
Rep Pallone, Frank, Jr. [NJ-6] - 7/21/2005
Rep Pascrell, Bill, Jr. [NJ-8] - 9/21/2005
Rep Payne, Donald M. [NJ-10] - 3/17/2005
Rep Rothman, Steven R. [NJ-9] - 9/27/2005
Rep Ryan, Tim [OH-17] - 11/7/2005
Rep Simmons, Rob [CT-2] - 4/26/2005
Rep Smith, Christopher H. [NJ-4] - 5/3/2005
Rep Souder, Mark E. [IN-3] - 3/17/2005
Rep Sweeney, John E. [NY-20] - 11/3/2005
Rep Walsh, James T. [NY-25] - 10/18/2005
Rep Weiner, Anthony D. [NY-9] - 5/16/2005
Rep Wilson, Joe [SC-2] - 3/17/2005
Rep Young, C. W. Bill [FL-10] - 4/28/2005

Title: A joint resolution recognizing Commodore John Barry as the first flag officer of the United States Navy.
Sponsor: Sen Specter, Arlen [PA] (introduced 7/26/2005) Cosponsors (6)
 Sen Collins, Susan M. [ME] - 7/27/2005
Sen Corzine, Jon S. [NJ] - 7/26/2005
Sen Lautenberg, Frank R. [NJ] - 7/26/2005
Sen Lieberman, Joseph I. [CT] - 7/27/2005
Sen Schumer, Charles E. [NY] - 7/26/2005
Sen Snowe, Olympia J. [ME] - 7/26/2005

Questions: contact

Liam Murphy (914) 760-4525; or, 

Mike or Bridget Kearney (718) 746-3837


+Commodore John Barry+


"Not the value and command of the whole British fleet can lure me from the cause of my country."



“This is the Continental frigate ALLIANCE, in the service of the American Congress, John Barry commanding.”



The 36-gun frigate ALLIANCE is generally considered to have been the finest warship built in America during the War for Independence.  She was constructed at Salisbury, Massachusetts in 1777-78, and commissioned for service in early 1779.  John Barry commanded the ALLIANCE through most of the war.  ALLIANCE fired the last shot of the war in an engagement with two Royal Navy warships in March 1783. She was also the last ship of the Continental Navy to be decommissioned, in August 1785. During the war, ALLIANCE flew an ensign with seven white stripes, six red stripes, and thirteen eight-pointed stars.




Jeremiah O’Brien in Maine, and Wexford-born John Barry of Philadelphia, were among the first to strike blows for freedom at sea.  Both Barry and the somewhat less well-known O’Brien were merchant mariners in 1775.  Jeremiah O’Brien, whose father Morris had emigrated from Cork (settling in Kittery, Maine, where his sons were born), led the seizure of the first British warship to be lost to the Americans.  Captain Jeremiah O’Brien (1744–1818) was in command of the sloop UNITY when she captured HMS MARGARETTA in the first naval battle of the American Revolution, 12 June 1775.  Jeremiah and his five brothers, Gideon, John, William, Dennis and Joseph, were crewmembers of the sloop UNITY.  At the entrance to the harbor at Machias (a town then in Massachusetts, now in Maine), thirty-one townsmen armed with guns, swords, axes, and pitch forks captured the British armed schooner in an hour-long battle after the English commander had threatened to bombard the town for interference with the shipment of lumber to British troops in Boston, then under siege by the Massachusetts Militia and the American Continentals.  This battle is often considered the first time British colors were struck to Americans, even though UNITY was not formally a member of the Continental Navy.  Congress did not formally authorize the Continental Navy until 13th October 1775.  The United States Merchant Marine claims UNITY as one of its own, and this incident as their beginning.  The World War II Liberty Ship S.S. JEREMIAH O’BRIEN (now a memorial at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, California), is named for him. 


USS O'BRIEN has been the name of five United States Navy ships, in honor of Jeremiah O'Brien and his five brothers:


O’Brien (TB-30), a torpedo boat,  1900 – 1909; O’Brien (DD-51), an O'Brien-class destroyer (DD), 1915 – 1922; O’Brien (DD-415), 1940 - torpedoed in 1942;

O’Brien (DD-725), 1944 – 1972; O’Brien (DD-975), 1976 - 2004.


A privateer, Jeremiah O'Brien continued under a Letter of Marque from Congress as the captain of UNITY, renamed MACHIAS LIBERTY, for two years.  His brother John later commanded the Privateer HIBERNIA.  


John Barry plied his maritime trade a long way from the Maine woods, operating out of cosmopolitan Philadelphia (which was also the first seat of government of the Continental Congress), and ranging across the broad Atlantic.


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.  Four US Navy warships have been named for Commodore John Barry:


USS BARRY (DD-2) (1902-1920); USS BARRY (DD-248) (1921-1945);

USS BARRY (DD-933) (1956-1983); USS JOHN BARRY (DDG-52) (1992-  ). 

There was also the World War II Liberty Ship, SS JOHN BARRY.




With Irish-born Thomas FitzSimons, John Barry helped organize Washington’s famous Crossing of the Delaware, which led to the brilliant victory at Trenton in 1776; Barry also organized a force of volunteers and Marines, which he commanded, as well as participating, as an artillerist, in the Trenton-Princeton Campaign.  At the Battle of Princeton, FitzSimons led a company he had raised and trained.  FitzSimons, who then oversaw the construction of the defenses of Philadelphia, and of the Pennsylvania Navy, later served both in the Continental Congress and in the US Congress, as well as representing Pennsylvania in the Constitutional Convention.  John Barry played a crucial role in securing the “Keystone State” ratification of the Constitution. 


Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, American, 1816-1868
George Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851
Oil on Canvas; 12’ 2/5” x  21’ ¼”

Displayed in the American Wing

Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York City


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



Barry captured over 20 ships including an armed British schooner in the lower Delaware; he authored a Signal Book which established a set of signals used for effective communication between ships; and he fought and won the last naval battle of the American War for Independence in March 1783.  A most effective naval commander during the War for Independence, Commodore John Barry would later (1794) be selected by President George Washington build and command the USS UNITED STATES (sister ship of the USS CONSTITUTION – “Old Ironsides”, which is still in commission, in Charlestown, Massachusetts), and to be the senior officer of the new United States Navy (recognized in Public Law 109-142 as the first flag officer of the US Navy; four US warships have borne the name BARRY, and one Liberty Ship). 


[Recommended by Historian Dr. Michael Crawford of the United States Navy’s Naval History & Heritage Command, the best book on Commodore John Barry, as of 2005, was Gallant John Barry by William Bell Clark (1938).  See also: John Barry: An American Hero in the Age of Sail by Tim McGrath (2010).]


The Old Commodore “The Brave Old Ship Alliance”


Columbia’s friend! freed from this worldly coil

Now rests so heaven ordains from human soil,

A Patriot firm, through chequered life unblamed

A gallant veteran, for his powers famed,

Beneath his guidance lo! A Navy springs,

An infant Navy spreads its canvass wings,

Arising Nation’s weal, to shield, to save,

And guard her commerce on the dangerous wave.


Who e’re the Sage, his character shall scan,

Must trace those Virtues that exalt the man

The bold achievement and heroic deed

To honors fame the laurelled brave that lead!

Long for his merits and unsullied name

Dear to his friends and sanctified by fame

His clay cold relics shall his country mourn

And with her tears bedew his hallowed urn.

Come cheering hope celestial cherub come

Say that his virtues soar beyond the tomb,

Say that with Mercy in ethereal Guise,

His white robed spirits climbs yon opening skies.


Many ballads were written about “Jack” Barry, Commodore John Barry (1745-1803.  This one was written by William Collins, who wrote many ballads about the American Revolution / War for Independence including “Molly Pitcher” and “Moylan’s Men.”  The story and adventures of the Continental Frigate ALLIANCE is a well known part of American Naval History. 

The American Navy (i.e., George Washington’s Continental Navy, the various State Navies of the Revolution/War for Independence, and the successor United States Navy) has a special place in the hearts of the American people, and of the Irish people, as well.


Napoleon once said, “Defeat is an orphan; Victory has a thousand fathers.”  So, the Navy having been an important part of the achievement, and later defense, of American Independence, there are a myriad of virtual candidates for the title “Father of the American Navy.”  I say virtual candidates, because this was not in the minds of the patriotic American mariners who joined their destiny to the defense of the Public Liberty and the achievement of the Independence of the United States; however, for various reasons, different people, over the years, have promoted different candidates for this posthumous honor.  Msgr. Leo Gregory Fink in Barry or Jones?, while recognizing the great contributions of Scotland’s John Paul Jones, makes a stronger case for Ireland’s John Barry.  My suspicion is that historian (and President) Theodore Roosevelt, a great admirer of John Paul Jones (in truth we should all be great admirers of John Paul Jones), given the rather narrow field presented by the good monsignor, would come down on the side of the Captain of the BONNHOMME RICHARD.  With the wisdom of Solomon, the United States Post Office, in 1936, issued a one cent stamp featuring both Barry and Jones.



However, the matter has been explained with great clarity by Rear Admiral Joseph F. Callo, US Naval Reserve (Retired), author of the definitive book on Jones, John Paul Jones: America’s First Sea Warrior (published by the Naval Institute Press, and recipient of the 2006 Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Naval Literature from the Naval Order of the United States).  On a number of occasions, including at a Naval Reserve Association mess night, held in 2009 at the United States Merchant Marine Academy at King’s Point, New York, Admiral Callo (American naval scholar from The Bronx, Sicilian father / Irish mother) has very clearly put the matter to rest. 


Citing George Washington's Secret Navy: How the American Revolution Went to Sea by James L. Nelson, Admiral Callo made the case that there might have been no American Navy for Hopkins, Barry, Jones or anyone else to join, only for the wisdom, imagination, sagacity and initiative of General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental forces.  James Nelson makes, and documents, the point that, in 1775 General George Washington secretly armed a handful of small ships and sent them to sea against the world’s mightiest navy. 

The ensign known as the Washington's Cruisers Flag was first flown by two floating batteries, placed by the Americans in the Charles River during the siege of Boston.  Later it was also flown by a number of small armed vessels of "The United Colonies of North America," commissioned under Washington's authority as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.  The artistic rendition of the tree and the exact wording of the motto varied from flag to flag.  In April 1776, the Massachusetts legislature made this flag official for the naval forces of the state.  A similar flag, with no motto, is still the official ensign of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.


America’s first commander-in-chief -- whose previous military experience had been entirely on land -- nursed the fledgling American Revolution through a season of stalemate by sending troops to sea.  Mining previously overlooked sources, James L. Nelson’s swiftly moving narrative shows that George Washington deliberately withheld knowledge of his tiny navy from the Continental Congress for more than two critical months, and that he did so precisely because (as a former Member of Congress from Virginia) he knew Congress would not approve.  “George Washington's Secret Navy” has received the Rodney Houghton Award, given by the National Maritime Historical Society for the best article of the year in its popular Sea History Magazine.  This particular article was an excerpt from the book telling the story of naval battle that took place in Machias, Maine, in 1775, the "Lexington and Concord of the Sea." [See my earlier comments re Jeremiah O’Brien.]   George Washington's Secret Navy is also the 2009 recipient of the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Naval Literature, presented by the Naval Order of the United States to the author "who by his published writings has made a substantial contribution to the preservation of the history and traditions of the United States Navy."  The Morison Award is one of the top honors in the United States given to maritime authors.  Past recipients have included David McCullough and Patrick O'Brian.  Nelson’s work further buttresses the earlier case made by Chester G. Hearn in George Washington's Schooners: The First American Navy


All of that said, George Washington, the Father of His Country, should also be recognized as the necessary and true Father of the American Navy.  Finally, at the request of the State of Rhode Island, and others, the Continental Congress acted on 13 October 1775, and authorized the fitting out of a “swift vessel to carry ten carriage guns” and formed a committee to oversee this task, as well as to find additional vessels and bring in an estimate of the expense.  Congress was catching up with Washington’s vision.  This legislation marked the “official” launching of the American (Continental) Navy. 

But the story doesn’t end there.  Like Al Smith said, “Let’s look at the record.”  While the scholars cited above have made a most convincing case for George Washington as the Father of the American Navy, the fact still remains that Washington, the Virginia planter and soldier who outwitted or outfought the best that England could throw at him, did not go to sea.  There is another opinion which we should seek in the placement of heroic captains in the pantheon of American naval heroes, and that is the opinion of the Father of the American Navy, himself.  


When George Washington, in the process of becoming the Father of His Country, ascended to the Presidency of the United States, under the new Constitution of the United States, he had to re-invent a number of wheels to make the new government viable.  Among the problems which he inherited was the fact that, after the achievement of Independence, Congress (under the Articles of Confederation), in its “wisdom,” had decided that the United States no longer needed a navy!  So, they had sold off the ships and paid off all of the sailors and naval officers (many of whom returned to the American Merchant Marine), as well paying off the Marines.  On 1 August 1785 the financially strapped Congress auctioned off the last remaining Continental Navy vessel, ALLIANCE, for $26,000.  Yet, only two years later, the new Constitution (1787) very clearly stated that, among the many duties of the President, is Commander-in-Chief of the army and the navy (Art. II, sec. 2).  Based on his experience as, among other things, Father of the American Navy of the Revolution / War for Independence, the President of the United States had to appoint someone to re-create a navy. 


The man chosen by President George Washington to stand up the new United States Navy was Commodore John Barry.  Barry was Commissioned as Captain, United States Navy, and placed Number 1 on the lineal list, with a date of rank of 7 June 1794.  In 2005, the United States Congress, by Joint Resolution, recognized Commodore John Barry as the First Flag Officer of the United States Navy; this was signed into law by the President of the United States on 22 December 2005, becoming Public Law 109-142, which should put a tin hat on a lot of things. 


The official recognition, by statute, of Commodore John Barry as the first Commodore flag officer of the United States Navy has made explicit in the Public Law of the United States, what was already implicit in the historical record and in the records of the United States Navy.  Its greatest utility will be a guide (or perhaps a footnote) for future historians.  Congress had set a sort of precedent for this kind of action a few years earlier 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.  In Barry’s case, the recognition does not give him seniority over any Admirals, but does establish his seminal, and functional, leadership role as Commodore of the fledgling United States Navy.  Barry’s recognition as the first flag officer of the US Navy was also important in that Congress had not yet formally created the “one-star” Commodore grade by the time of Barry’s death, 13th September 1803.


Commodore John Barry

By Gilbert Stuart (1801)


John Barry was born on Good Friday, 1745 (the same year as the decisive charge by the Irish Brigade at the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745, where the Irish battle cry was “Cuimnidh ar Luimneach agus ar Feall na Sasanach!” (Remember Limerick and the English Treachery); it was also “The ‘45”, the year that “Bonnie Prince Charlie” landed in Scotland in an attempt to regain the throne for his father, James III, the legitimate king).  In 1745, on the Gregorian calendar, Good Friday was the 16th of April.

 Barry was born in the farming hamlet of Ballysampson, Tacumshin Parish in the Barony of Forth in County Wexford (Loch Garman) at the southeastern extreme of the eastern Province of Leinster in Ireland.  He would be the eldest of at least six children.  Shortly after, the family removed to Rosslare Parish, just south and east of Wexford harbor, where he spent his formative years, manifesting a strong inclination to follow the sea.  Ireland had suffered a number of “famines” under English rule over the years, and some effects of the famine of 1739 were still evident.  To stay home in Ireland was poverty (or worse), and the inability, as a Catholic, to acquire the means of self-improvement.  Some half-million, or more, Irish emigrated, either to the Continent, or to America, during the first half of the 18th century, many as Wild Geese, seeking to join the armies (or, in some cases navies) of England’s enemies, or potential enemies.  This townland beside the sea had an ancient tradition of seafaring, but, like the rest of Ireland was suffering both under the Penal Laws, and under the various Navigation Acts - designed to give special advantage to the mercantile economy and industrial might of England.  But no laws could prevent seamen of ambition and ability like Barry from the lure of the sea, which he followed (thanks to his father’s encouragement and his uncle’s connections), beginning at the age of ten, as a cabin boy on a merchantman.  William Bell Clark in Gallant John Barry: 1745 – 1803, states that the young John Barry carried “with him hatred of the oppressors and memory of the misery and want of his childhood…”  

 John Barry thrived in the maritime life, and by the time he was full grown, a strapping, powerful 6’4”, he had risen in the profession to be a mate, well respected in America’s leading city of Philadelphia.  Although religious prejudice was not unknown in the New World, in most places, especially in Pennsylvania, is was mild compared to the persecution found under direct English rule in the “British Isles.”  Clark points out, that, “Throughout his later career Barry suffered at no time from it, which would imply a personality powerful enough to overcome the bigotry of the age.”  There is an apocryphal story, noted by Clark, that Barry served, in 1764, as a mate on a ship carrying Charles Carroll of Carrollton from London to Maryland.  In 1766, a Philadelphia ship-owner named Denny entrusted his only vessel, the newly re-named sixty-ton schooner Barbadoes, to a 21-year old, now Master Jack Barry – something which, in itself, speaks volumes.  Barry never disappointed those who placed trust in him.   

 After the commencement of hostilities in 1775, Captain Jack Barry offered his services to Congress in the cause of American Liberty.  Once Congress had awakened to the necessity of a Navy, Barry’s last merchant command, the Black Prince, was purchased from its owner, Robert Morris, and Barry was asked to re-rig and outfit the ship, renamed Alfred, for war.  John Barry was commissioned a Captain in the Continental Navy on 7 December 1775.

 John Barry, however, was to have command of a new ship, the EFFINGHAM.  While waiting on his ship to be finished he and his good friend Thomas FitzSimons joined and fought with Washington in the ice and cold at battles of Trenton and Princeton (previously detailed above). Washington’s epic victory at Trenton would resonate throughout the country and reinvigorate the flame of Liberty.

 Barry's victories at sea (beginning 7 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. 

Captain John Barry was assigned by Congress to command the Brig LEXINGTON in March 1776.  As Captain of the LEXINGTON, Barry was the first to raise the Stars and Stripes, “Old Glory” in American home waters.  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, in addition to being the basis of the flag of Nova Scotia).]  


Later, in command of the Continental frigate ALLIANCE, 36-guns, Barry fought many actions.  On one occasion he encountered two Royal Navy ships, HMS ATLANTA and HMS TREPASSEY in a furious four-hour sea battle on 28 May 1781.  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 to continue fighting the ship, 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).  In the ALLIANCE Barry could outrun any ship too powerful to outfight.  Twice he carried Lafayette across the ocean, and John Adams once. 

 Many an English Captain, in addition to Captain Edwards of the HMS ATLANTA, came to rue hearing the call:

 “This is the Continental frigate ALLIANCE, in the service of the American Congress, John Barry commanding.”


Fighting Tops Continental Frigate ALLIANCE 28 May 1781

Original Art by Colonel of Marines Charles Waterhouse


 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 Admiral 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, also won the last sea battle of that war, against the HMS SYBILLE on 10 March 1783.

 When the Pennsylvania Assembly could not get a Convention quorum for the essential adoption vote, John Barry organized the "compellers", so-called because they sought out and compelled the attendance of enough delegates, in order that the “Keystone State” might ratify the Constitution of the United States.  It is no accident that the statue of John Barry stands before that same “Independence Hall” in Philadelphia. 

It is worth repeating that, when, under the new Constitution, Congress authorized the funding for 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 7th June 1794, was delivered, personally, by Washington, to his fellow-member of the Society of the Cincinnati, on Washington’s Birthday, 22nd February 1797. 

 It was Commodore John Barry who supervised the building of his own flagship, the USS UNITED STATES, and commanded that first United States Navy, one of whose ships, "Old Ironsides", the USS CONSTSTUTION (sister-ship of the USS UNITED STATES), is still in commission, and may be visited at the US Naval Station in Charlestown, just north of Boston, Massachusetts. 


Flagship of Commodore John Barry

United States Navy


John Barry served as the senior officer of the United States Navy, with the title of `Commodore' (in official correspondence), under Presidents Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.  As Commander of the first United States Naval Squadron under the Constitution of the United States, John Barry was a Commodore, with the right to fly a broad pendant, which made him a flag officer.  In this sense the Naval Historical Center agreed that Commodore John Barry was the first flag officer of the United States Navy; after a twelve-year-long campaign, led by the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, with a lot of support from the Naval Reserve Association, the Irish Brigade Association, and others, in 2005, succeeded in having Commodore John Barry recognized as such in Public Law 109-142.



During a visit to New York some 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 was a gift of the United States.  Sword in hand, Barry overlooks Wexford harbor from atop a granite monument in his native Ireland (it is also featured on a postage stamp – above).  President John F. Kennedy paid a formal visit in 1963 to the John Barry monument at Crescent Quay in Wexford.  A different statue of Commodore John Barry stands in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, symbolically pointing the way to the future of his adopted country.   A statue dedicated to Barry also stands in Franklin Square (Washington, D.C.).  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.

 It was the ships built under 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. 

 On 31 October 1767, John Barry married Mary Cleary, who died in 1774. On 7 July 1777, he married Sarah Austin, daughter of Samuel Austin and Sarah Keen of New Jersey.  Barry had no children, but he helped raise Patrick and Michael Hayes, children of his sister, Eleanor, and her husband, Thomas Hayes, both of whom died in the 1780s.  In addition to a number of co-lateral descendants, there is a Commodore Barry Park in Brooklyn, Barry Hall at the US Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point and John Barry Hall at Villanova University.  There are also a number of schools and a townland named for him.  John Barry died at Strawberry Hill, in present-day Philadelphia on 13th September 1803, and was buried in the churchyard of Old St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in his adopted hometown, Philadelphia.

 Numerous times have Members of Congress proposed that Commodore John Barry Day, 13 September, 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.  Commodore John Barry Day is a legal holiday in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (the Commodore John Barry Bridge, over the Delaware River, connects Pennsylvania and New Jersey); it is a legal observance in New York State. 

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, 13 September, 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.  The 1992 National Convention of the Naval Reserve Association also resolved in favor of legislation making September 13th "Commodore John Barry Day".  President Ronald Reagan proclaimed 13 September 1982 as "Commodore John Barry Day," and President George H.W. Bush similarly proclaimed 13 September as "Commodore John Barry Day" in 1991 and 1992, pursuant to Resolutions of Congress. 

 [Barry was born on Good Friday, 1745; he died on 13 September 1803.  While the date of his birth may not have been generally known when he died (it was discovered, subsequently, by scholarly examination of a family Bible), the quality of his life, both public and private, does not argue against, in the same manner as with saints, marking the day of his passage to his eternal reward.] 



Continental Navy Jack

Still in use in the US Navy


Though called the First Navy Jack, this flag was probably used as an ensign. It was hoisted in the fall of 1775 by Commodore Esek Hopkins as he took command of the Continental Navy forces in the Delaware River.  The stripes, rattlesnake, and motto were all widely employed as symbols of the Patriot cause. A flag with a field of thirteen alternating red and white stripes was flown by the Sons of Liberty.




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.  Four US Navy warships (DD = Destroyer) have been named for Commodore John Barry:

USS BARRY (DD-2) (1902-1920); USS BARRY (DD-248) (1921-1945);

USS BARRY (DD-933) (1956-1983); USS JOHN BARRY (DDG-52) (1992- ). 

There was also the World War II Liberty Ship, SS JOHN BARRY.





Derek Warfield, do scrí


William Bell Clark. Gallant John Barry: 1745-1803,

 The Story of a Naval Hero of Two Wars (1938)


McGrath, Tim.  John Barry: An American Hero in the Age of Sail (2010)


Very Rev. Leo Gregory Fink. Barry or Jones?


Martin I.J. Griffin. Commodore John Barry


Joseph Gurn. Commodore John Barry, Father of the American Navy


“Captain Jeremiah O’Brien and the Machias Liberty” by Lieutenant Commander M.D. Giambattista, US Navy, in United States Naval Institute Proceedings (February 1970).


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