Commodore John Barry
Commodore John Barry, “The Father of the American Navy”

The Commodore John Barry Scholarship was established in 2020 by IWP Chairman John Lovewell and his wife Cynthia.

This $10,000 per year scholarship is one of the first three scholarships that were established as a part of IWP’s Great Statesman Scholarships program.

Commodore John Barry is known as “The Father of the American Navy.” Cynthia Lovewell is a direct descendant of Commodore John Barry’s family. In 2019, one of IWP’s main classrooms was named in his honor.

Commodore John Barry, “Father of the American Navy”

Summary

Commodore John Barry, known as the Father of the American Navy, outfitted the United States’ First Continental Fleet during the American Revolution and fought through the war’s final naval battle, although his service did not cease as a consequence of the war’s end. His journey from a 21-year-old merchant shipmaster to a senior naval officer is a legacy of American values: steadfast integrity, devoted work ethic, and drive to fulfill intrinsic responsibility.

Biographical Information

Commodore John Barry was the first-ever commissioned officer of the U.S. Navy. He began as a cabin boy on a merchant ship and eventually worked his way up to commander of the Navy’s young fleet through grit, embodied leadership, and courage.

Barry was born in 1745 at the port of Tacumshane, Ireland. His father was a farmer who worked the land of a British landlord, but Barry’s early interests drove him to follow in his uncle’s footsteps as a seafarer. As a cabin boy, he developed navigational skills using mathematics, astronomy, and meteorology. Throughout his time in the industry of maritime trade, Barry also developed the knowledge and technical skills to repair ships. He brought these skills with him to Philadelphia, where, at the age of 15, he worked in the developing American merchant industry. By the age of 21, Barry was widely considered to be a master seaman, leading him to acquire his own ship, the Barbados.

John Barry became well-known by the age of 30 for his experience with the maritime trade route between Philadelphia and the West Indies. After hearing the news of America’s intent to break the chains of Britain’s colonial rule, Barry sold his merchant ship, the Black Prince, to the war effort. He was tasked with outfitting the ship to be capable of battle. The Black Prince was renamed Alfred, and Barry added a new title to his own name: captain. Captain Barry was subsequently awarded command of the warship Lexington. He and the crew of the Lexington were responsible for the first maritime capture of the American Revolution by defeating a British ship known as Edward off the Capes of Virginia on April 7, 1776, and with it igniting American morale.

Barry continued to serve as a successful captain throughout the Revolution. His most renowned victory occurred during his time commanding a 32-gun frigate known as the Alliance. On May 29, 1781, the Alliance fought against the HBMS Atlanta and Trepassey. The Alliance had taken heavy fire, and its flag had been shot down. Barry had suffered multiple shrapnel injuries, rendering his left arm in critical condition. Barry continued to command his ship until his loss of blood resulted in a loss of consciousness.

The captain was taken below deck where his wounds were dressed. Before long, Barry’s second-in-command, Lt. Hoysted Hacker, joined him with a message:

“I have to report the ship in frightful condition, Sir. The rigging is much cut, damage everywhere great, many men killed and wounded, and we labor under great disadvantage for want of wind. Have I permission to strike our colors?”[1]

To this, Barry responded, “No, Sir, the thunder! If this ship cannot be fought without me, I will be brought on deck; to your duty, Sir.”[2]

The captain’s return to the deck brought with it a gust of wind in the Alliance’s sails and the raising of a new flag to indicate the fight was not over. For 4 hours, the Alliance fought until the Atlanta and Trepassey struck their colors. The Alliance had emerged victorious over both ships. Barry would continue to command the Alliance through the final naval engagement of the Revolution.

Barry returned to his trade as a merchant after the Revolution until Congress passed the Naval Act of 1794, officially forming the U.S. Navy. Congress chose Barry as the Navy’s first commissioned officer, a role that required overseeing the construction of the Navy’s first six frigates. This accomplishment was commemorated by President George Washington, who awarded Barry a certificate that designated him as Commission Number One.

His service continued through America’s Quasi-War with France where his new ship, the USS United States became more than a warship. Barry used his new frigate as a hands-on training facility to replicate the way he learned his trade for the crew. Many of the officers trained on the USS United States would become successful commanders themselves during the War of 1812. This established Commodore John Barry as a mentor in addition to an exceptional military leader and solidified his legacy as the Father of the American Navy.

Among many other naming honors bestowed on Commodore Barry’s legacy, four U.S. Navy ships have been named in his memory:

USS Barry (DD-2) (1902–1920)
USS Barry (DD-248) (1921–1945)
USS Barry (DD-933) (1956–1983)
USS Barry (DDG-52) (1992–present)

Barry Hall at the United States Merchant Marine Academy is also named in honor of the American Merchant Mariner turned Naval Hero John Barry.

USS BARRY (DDG-52)
Above: The current USS BARRY (DDG-52). Photographer’s Mate Airman Rob Gaston (RELEASED).

               [1] Devon Hubbard Sorlie, “Navy Legend: John Barry Also Called ‘Father of U.S. Navy’,” The Sextant, September 11, 2015, accessed June 19, 2020, https://usnhistory.navylive.dodlive.mil/2015/09/11/navy-legend-john-barry-also-called-father-of-us-navy/

               [2] Sorlie, “Navy Legend: John Barry Also Called ‘Father of U.S. Navy.’”

Commodore Barry Dedication
John Lenczowski with Cynthia and John Lovewell at the dedication of the Commodore John Barry Room in 2019.