John Barry – The Godfather of the Modern U.S. Navy

In 1784, right after the Treaty of Paris was signed that ended the American Revolution the Continental Congress disestablished both the Army and the Navy. The few remaining ships of the Continental Navy were sold and the Army turned over its weapons to the state militias. The decision was primarily a budgetary move justified by the fact that the country didn’t believe it had any enemies.

Independence meant that American merchant ships no longer had the protection of the Royal Navy. The French, now that we were independent, refused to provide protection.

Our ships were being harassed on the high seas. In the Mediterranean, pirates operating from the North Coast of Africa attacked our ships. Royal Navy frigates stopped American merchant vessels on the high seas and impressed, a nautical word for seized sailors who they believed were British citizens or “deserters” from the Royal Navy.

When French Revolution began in 1789, the Congress decided to stop making payments on loans the French government made during our war against England. Its rationale was that the French government changed and we owed Louis XVI’s government money, not the revolutionaries who were running France after Louis was dethroned. The French reacted by seizing our merchant ships as partial payment of the debt.

March 4th, 1789 is the first date this country operated under our current Constitution. Article 1, Section 8 specifically gives the Congress the power to levy and collect taxes and via Sections 12 and 13 of Article 1, it has the power “to “raise and support Armies” and “to provide and maintain a Navy.”

However, it was not until March 27th, 1794 that the Congress decided to create a Navy when it passed the Navy Act of 1794. The bill authorized the building of six frigates as well as to pay for the sailors and Marines to man them. The question was, who was going to lead the Navy.

John Barry, who distinguished himself as a captain of the Raleigh, Lexington and the Alliance was selected as its leader. During the American Revolution, John Barry was offered £100,000 and command of any ship if he would join the Royal Navy. The Irish born Barry hated the British with a passion and said there was not enough money in the British treasury to cause him to desert.”

He received Naval Officer Commission #1 from George Washington and set about to recruit and train the men to man the six frigates. John Rodgers, William Bainbridge, Stephen Decatur, Isaac Hull, David Porter, Oliver Hazard Perry and many more all came into the U.S. Navy under Commodore Barry and who distinguished themselves during the War against the Barbary Pirates and the War of 1812. These men, under Barry’s leadership, created the foundation of the modern U.S. Navy. Four ships have been named for Barry, the latest is the U.S.S. Barry (DDG-52), an Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer commissioned in 2014.

The Navy phrase for accomplishing a task with excellence is “Well Done.” It is very appropriate to describe John Barry’s career.

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