Thursday, March 29, 2012

It was John Berry's Birthday and I missed it

Commodore Berry
I felt very bad this morning when I looked at my calendar and realized that it was John Berry's Birthday last Monday (the 26th) and I missed it. I know, right about now you are probably looking at your screen and saying: "Gary, who the hell is John Berry?". Well, that's a shame, especially if your a Navy loving Irish American. You see, John Berry is the Father of the United States Navy -and he was also born in Ireland. Well, never fear, I can save you from the depths of ignorance by telling you about this truly great man.

Few Americans are well-acquainted with the gallantry and heroic exploits of Philadelphia's Irish-born naval commander, Commodore John Barry. Obscured by his contemporary, naval commander John Paul Jones, 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 Jones for nautical skill and daring, but he exceeds him in the length of service (17 years) to his adopted country and his fidelity to the nurturing of a permanent American Navy. Indeed, 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.

John Berry Statue in Ireland
In the space of 58 years, this son of a poor Irish farmer rose from humble cabin boy to senior commander of the entire United States fleet. Intrepid In battle, he was humane to his men as well as adversaries and prisoners. Barry's war contributions are unparalleled: he was the first to capture a British war vessel on the high seas; he captured two British ships after being severely wounded in a ferocious sea battle; he quelled three mutinies; he fought on land at the Battles of Trenton and Princeton; he 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 the last naval battle of the American Revolution aboard the frigate Alliance in 1783.

Barry's name does not appear on the first list of Rank. Fortunately the Navy found more ships and posted a new list in which Barry was 7th out of 24. He commanded the Lexington, Raleigh, and Alliance. He and his crew of the Alliance fought and won the final naval battle of the American Revolution off the coast of Cape Canaveral on March 10, 1783. He was seriously wounded on May 29, 1781, while in command of Alliance during her capture of HMS Atalanta and Trepassey.

Captain Barry was given command of Lexington, of 14 guns, on December 7, 1775. The Lexington sailed March 31, 1776. On April 7, 1776, off the Capes of Virginia, he fell in with the HMS Edward and after a desperate fight of one hour and twenty minutes captured her and brought her into Philadelphia. That gave the British their first defeat by the American Navy and a very rude awakening to the new challenge. Barry continued in command of Lexington until October 18, 1776, and captured several private armed vessels during that time.

John Barry was once offered £100,000 British pounds and command of any Frigate in the entire British navy if he would desert the American Navy. Outraged at the offer, Captain Barry responded that not all the money in the British treasury or command of its entire fleet could tempt him to desert his adopted country.

Appointed senior captain upon the establishment of the U.S. Navy, he commanded the frigate United States in the Quasi-War with France. On February 22, 1797, he was issued Commission Number 1 by President George Washington, backdated to June 4, 1794. His title was thereafter "Commodore." He is recognized as not only the first American commissioned naval officer but also as its first flag officer.

Barry's last day of active duty was March 6, 1801, when he brought the USS United States into port, but he remained head of the Navy until his death on September 12, 1803, from asthma.

In his time, his exploits were followed closely by an adoring public that reveled in his victories over the mighty British Navy. He, and other heroic naval officers like John Paul Jones and Stephen Decatur, were the "rock stars" of their time. Towns and babies were named after them and whole cities threw grand parades and parties to honor them. Today John Paul Jones has over shadowed most of the others but their bravery, skill and devotion to America were a major contribution to the birth of this nation.

There, now you know who John Berry was. You're welcome. -Oh, and Happy Birthday, Commodore, sorry I was a little late.

Live Long and Prosper....

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