Barry, John, 1745-1803

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Commander of the first ship in the Continental Navy, Barry is considered "the father of the American Navy."

From the description of John Barry Collection, 1791-1908. (New-York Historical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 479527939

American naval officer; b. Co. Wexford, Ireland.

From the description of Papers, 1782-1803. (Rosenbach Museum & Library). WorldCat record id: 145506919

Continental and U.S. naval officer and shipowner.

From the description of John Barry papers, 1770-1801. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 84401748

John Barry (1745-1803), often credited as the Father of the American Navy, served the Continental Navy and the United States Navy for seventeen years. He and his descendents, particularly his nephew Patrick Hayes and his grand-nephew Patrick Barry Hayes, became prominent members of Philadelphia society, serving as seamen, merchants, businessmen and politicians.

Barry was born in Ireland on December 7, 1745. While living in Rosslare, Barry began serving as cabin boy on his uncle Nicholas Barry’s fishing boat and quickly rose in rank to serve as mate.

Taking advantage of Philadelphia’s religious tolerance towards Catholics and the maritime tradition of the city, Barry adopted Philadelphia as his home town and captained merchant ships sailing between Philadelphia and the West Indies.

At the start of the revolution, Barry was “given the singularly important task of outfitting the first Continental Navy ships which were put to sea from Philadelphia … includ[ing] overseeing rigging, piercing gun ports, strengthening bulwarks, procuring powder and canvas for the new warships and loading provisions,” (Kelly). Barry served as an officer in the Continental Navy, commanding the Lexington from December 7, 1775 to October 18, 1776. While waiting for a new ship (the Effington ) to be built, he served in the Continental Army and saw action in the Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton. Barry returned to sea in 1778 and commanded, for a few months, the Raleigh which was captured by the British in September. During the capture, he saved two thirds of his men and afterwards, gave his famous “Defense of the Raleigh .” Finally, he served as commander of the Alliance . He was wounded on May 29, 1781, during the capture of HMS Atlanta and Trepassey in what was to be the final naval battle of the Revolution off the coast of Cape Canaveral on March 10, 1783.

From 1787 to 1789, Barry returned to captaining merchant ships and was involved in opening commerce with China and the Orient on the ship Asia .

In 1789, the “Constitution of the United States … empowered Congress to provide and maintain a Navy,” (Naval Historical Center) but did not act on that power until 1794, when, the procurement and manning of six frigates was authorized. At the time that the United States Navy was established, Barry was appointed senior captain. On February 22, 1797, George Washing gave him Commission Number 1 in the United States Navy, making him Commodore Barry. He supervised the construction of the Navy’s first frigates.

During the Quasi-War with France from 1798 to 1800, Barry commanded the frigate United States . From 1798 to 1801, he served as head squadron commander of the United States Naval Station in the West Indies at Guadalupe. On March 6, 1801, he retired from active duty, but remained head of the Navy until his death on September 12, 1803.

Barry was known to be “intrepid in battle [and] humane to his men as well as adversaries and prisoners,” (Kelly). He was a member of the Charitable Captains of Ships Club, the Hibernian Fire Company, the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and the Order of the Cincinnati. He also authored a signal book in 1780 which established “a set of signals to be used for effective communication between ships voyaging in squadron formation,” (Kelly). He also contributed to the future of the United States Navy by training many sailors who served in the War of 1812.

Barry married Mary Clary (or Cleary) on October 31, 1767. She died at the age of 29 on February 9, 1774. On July 7, 1777 he married Sarah (Sally) Keen Austin. They had no children. Sarah’s nephews Michael and Patrick Hayes came to Philadelphia from Ireland and Patrick Hayes traveled with Barry on the trade voyages to the Orient from 1787 to 1789.

Patrick Hayes (1770-1856) was born in Ireland on October 9, 1770 and immigrated to Philadelphia around 1786 after the deaths of his parents. He served as a merchant sailor, particularly on the Asia, sailing with John Barry to the Orient; as director of the Marine Insurance Company; as Harbor Master for the Port of Philadelphia from 1839 to 1842; and as Master Warden for the Port of Philadelphia from 1843 to 1849. He died in Philadelphia on August 30, 1856 at the age of 85.

Patrick Hayes married Elizabeth Keep on April 8, 1795 and was the father of John Barry Hayes, Sarah Barry Hayes, Thomas Hayes, Isaac Austin Hayes and Patrick Barry Hayes (1809-1863). Patrick Barry Hayes lived and worked in Brazil before returning to Philadelphia, the city of his birth, to serve as United States Appraiser at the Custom House. He also served as the Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. On November 6, 1855, he married Elizabeth Hickman and was the father of Elizabeth Barry Hayes. He died on May 26, 1863.


Kelly, John Barry. "Commodore Barry." (accessed July 7, 2011).

Naval Historical Center. "The Establishment of the Department of the Navy." (accessed July 7, 2011).

Much has been written about John Barry, notably the book John Barry: An American Hero in the Age of Sail, written by Tim McGrath, who used this collection extensively for his research.

From the guide to the Barry-Hayes papers, Bulk, 1778-1861, 1723-1875, (Independence Seaport Museum, J. Welles Henderson Archives and Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Kessler, John, 1761-1840. Rough statement of what I furnished at request of Mrs. Barry to enable the editor of the Port Folio to better sketch out the life of Comm. [odore] Barry : manuscript / by J. Kessler, 1813. Princeton University Library
referencedIn The Naval History Society Collection, 1721-1995 (bulk 1781-1936) © 2011 New-York Historical Society
creatorOf Truxtun, Thomas, 1755-1822. Autograph letter signed : U.S. Ship President, to Commodore Barry, 1801 Jan. 17. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn Autograph File, B, ca.1500-1976. Houghton Library
referencedIn Laurens, John, 1754-1782. John Laurens papers, 1777-1781. South Carolina Historical Society
creatorOf Barry, John, 1745-1803. John Barry Collection, 1791-1908. New-York Historical Society Library
referencedIn Samuel Coates account and memoranda books, 1785-1830, 1785-1830 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Barnes, John S. (John Sanford), 1836-1911. Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection, 1756-1931. New-York Historical Society Library
referencedIn Barry-Hayes family. Papers, 1723-1875 (bulk 1778-1862). Independence Seaport Museum
referencedIn Coates, Samuel, 1748-1830. Account and memoranda books, 1785-1830. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Records of District Courts of the United States. 1685 - 2009. Admiralty Case Files
creatorOf Talbot, Cyrus, b. 1774. Autograph letters signed (2) : Marcus Hook, to Commodore John Barry, 1800 Jun. 12 and 27. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn Alliance (frigate). USS Alliance ledger, 1782-1783. Historical Society of Pennsylvania
creatorOf Barry-Hayes papers, Bulk, 1778-1861, 1723-1875 Independence Seaport Museum, J. Welles Henderson Archives and Library
creatorOf John Barry letters and miscellany, 1783, 1794, 1797, 1799, 1800 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Preston, Matthew. Letter, November 29, 1779. Naval War College, Henry E. Eccles Library
creatorOf Barry, John, 1745-1803. John Barry papers, 1770-1801. Library of Congress
creatorOf Barry, John, 1745-1803. Papers, 1782-1803. Rosenbach Museum & Library
referencedIn Austin family. Correspondence, 1776-1801. Rosenbach Museum & Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Alliance (frigate) corporateBody
associatedWith Alliance (Ship) corporateBody
associatedWith Austin family. family
associatedWith Barnes, John S. (John Sanford), 1836-1911. person
associatedWith Barry-Hayes family. family
associatedWith Coates, Samuel, 1748-1830. person
associatedWith Colson, Nathaniel, fl. 1674. person
associatedWith Cooper, James Fenimore, 1789-1851. person
associatedWith Great Britain. Royal Navy corporateBody
associatedWith Griffin, Martin I. J. (Martin Ignatius Joseph), 1842-1911. person
associatedWith Hayes, Engerer & Co. corporateBody
associatedWith Hayes, Patrick, 1770-1856 person
associatedWith Hayes, Patrick Barry, 1809-1863 person
associatedWith Howe, Richard Howe, Earl, 1726-1799. person
associatedWith Kessler, John, 1761-1840. person
associatedWith Laurens, John, 1754-1782. person
associatedWith Naval History Society, corporateBody
associatedWith Peggy (Sloop) corporateBody
associatedWith Preston, Matthew. person
associatedWith Raleigh (Ship). corporateBody
associatedWith Talbot, Cyrus, b. 1774. person
associatedWith Truxtun, Thomas, 1755-1822. person
associatedWith United States. Continental Navy. corporateBody
associatedWith United States (Frigate) corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Navy corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
West Indies
Philadelphia (Pa.)
United States
United States
Ship's papers--18th century
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783
International trade
Ship's papers--19th century
Naval officers


Birth 1745-03-25

Death 1803-09-13




Ark ID: w6xh02sh

SNAC ID: 34448498