Barry, John (1745-1803) (DNB00)

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BARRY, JOHN (1745–1803), commodore in the Unites States navy, was born in Ireland, at Tacumshane, county Wexford. It seems probable that he went to sea at a very early age, and having been engaged in a voyage to New England, he chose to remain there. He is said to have settled in Philadelphia about the year 1760, and to have acquired wealth as master of a merchant ship. His interests were thus all American, and at the outbreak of the revolutionary war he offered his services to congress. In February 1776 he was appointed to command the Lexington brig, of 16 guns, 4-pounders, in which he had the good fortune to meet the English tender Edward off the Capes of Virginia on 17 April. The Edward, nominally an English man-of-war, was a small vessel hastily and scantily equipped to suppress smuggling, and was quite incapable of any effective defence against even the Lexington: she therefore appears in American annals as the first ship of war captured by the American navy. Barry's exploit was rewarded by his appointment to command the Effingham frigate, of 28 guns, then building at Philadelphia, which ship, however, was burnt by the English before she was ready for sea, in May 1778. A few months later Barry was appointed to the Raleigh, of 32 guns, and sailed from Boston on a cruise on 25 Sept. He was almost immediately sighted by the 50-gun ship Experiment, commanded by Sir James Wallace, who put an end to the Raleigh's cruise within two days after its commencement. Barry, finding escape impossible, ran his ship on shore, hoping to get his crew landed and to set her on fire. Before this could be accomplished, however, she was taken possession of by the Experiment's boat, was with some trouble got afloat, and added to the English Navy, in which the name has been perpetuated (Beatson, Naval and Military Memoirs, iv. 380). Barry had escaped on shore, and the young American navy having been crushed almost out of existence, he served with the army for the next two years.

Early in 1781 he was appointed to the Alliance frigate, of 32 guns, which had just returned from a very remarkable cruise round the coast of Great Britain as one of the squadron commanded by Paul Jones. Under Barry her voyage was more commonplace. She sailed for France in February, carrying Colonel Laurens, the new representative of the States at the court of Versailles. She left Lorient, on the return voyage, on 31 March, captured a couple of English privateers, and on 29 May two small ships of war, the Atalanta and Trepassy, in the engagement with which Barry was severely wounded in the shoulder by a grapeshot.

Notwithstanding the very great disparity of force, the capture of two English men-of-war was felt to be a great moral victory, and Barry was received with an outburst of popular favour. His wound, however, prevented him from accepting any immediate employment, and before he was quite well the war had virtually come to an end. When in 1794 the United States navy was reorganised on something like its present footing, Barry was placed at the head of the list as commodore, a distinction he kept till his death, at Philadelphia, on 13 Sept. 1803.

[Ripley and Dana's New American Cyclopædia; Cooper's History of the Navy of the United States, vol. i.]

J. K. L.