Franklin Square is a memorial and a park dedicated to Commodore of the U.S. Navy John Barry. Barry had a distinguished record during the American Revolution and is often referred to as The Father of the American Navy for his efforts to convince Congress to build and maintain a modern fleet during the Federalist Era.
Barry was born in a thatched cottage in 1745 in County Wexford, Ireland. This
southeastern section of Ireland has always had a strong maritime tradition.
Barry’s father was a poor tenant farmer who was evicted by his British landlord
and the family moved to Rosslare. It was there that Barry followed his uncle to
sea, starting out as a ship’s cabin boy, and gradually becoming an experienced
moved to the United States where his first command came in 1776 on the schooner
Barbados, out of Philadelphia, which
Barry adopted as his home port. By sailing back and forth between Philadelphia
and the West Indies, Barry acquired command skills at the helm of several
merchant ships. He made at least nine round trips without a mishap and
Philadelphians called him “Big John” due to his reliability, personable nature
and his success in the merchant shipping business. IN 1772, Barry’s skills came to the attention of
Philadelphia’s largest merchant shipping firm Willing, Morris and Cadwalader,
and Robert Morris himself, a Revolutionary financier. Barry was assigned to
captain the Black Prince, their 200
ton ship in which he ultimate made a record of traveling 237 miles over a
24-hour period – the fastest sailing recorded in the 18th century.
Barry arrived back in Philadelphia he learned that the colonies and Great Britain
were at war. Barry was given the task of outfitting the first Continental Navy
ships which were put to sea from Philadelphia. His assignment included
overseeing rigging, piercing gunports, strengthening bulwarks, procuring power
and canvas for the new warships and loading provisions. Upon completion of his
work, the Continental Congress Marine Committee gave him a Captain’s commission
in the Continental Navy dated March 14, 1176, signed by the President of the
Congress, John Hancock. Along with
his commission was the command of the warship brig Lexington.
his first contest at sea, the Lexington
had a successful one-hour battle with a British tender. Then late in 1776 Barry
was given command of the 32-gun Effingham,
then under construction in Philadelphia. While it was under construction, Barry
volunteered his service to the Continental Army.
He served as an
aide-de-camp with a company of Marines under the command of Philadelphia
militia commander General John Cadwalader, a part owner of the merchant
shipping company Barry worked with before the way. General Washington chose Barry as his courier in
conveying wounded prisoners through British lines and carrying a dispatch under
a flag of truce to General Cornwallis.
March 1778 Barry went back to sea and attacked a British fleet with a tiny
squadron of tubs. He succeeded in destroying three ships, holding off a frigate
and a ship-of-the-line and garnering vital British intelligence and valuable
Engineer’s entrenching tools. Washington sent Barry a letter commending him on
his bravery. He was assigned to
the 32-gun frigate, Raleigh, which
was cornered in a Maine cove by the British. Barry refused to surrender and was
able to save his crew.
1781 Barry was commanding the 36-gun frigate Alliance when it took on two British ships, the sloops Atlanta and Trespassy off the coast of Newfoundland. The two smaller ships were
able to use sweeps and maneuver close to the prow and stern of the Alliance. Wounded, Barry returned to the deck to continue the fight.
The British sloops had managed to severely damage the Alliance. Unwilling to surrender his colors, Barry determined to
fight on. Suddenly, a gust of wind caused the battered Alliance to swing about.
Its whole starboard battery was employed bringing 12 12-pound cannons into the
right. After two successful broadsides, the two sloops struck their colors and
final battle of the Revolution was also the last sea battle of the Continental
Navy. On March 10, 1783, Barry was returning from Havana aboard the Alliance with a shipment of 72,000
Spanish silver dollars for the Continental Congress. Off the coast of Cape Canaveral,
Florida, the Alliance engaged in a
battle with the British frigate Sybil.
A 45 minute exchange of gunfire ensured. Barry directed his gun crews with
superb results. The British vessel sheared off after receiving severe punishment
from the American crew who shattered her rigging.
the war was over, Barry resumed the maritime trade and opened commerce with
China and the Orient. On February
22, 1797, President George Washington called Barry to his mansion at 190 High
(Market)Street to receive Commission Number One in the Navy dated June 4, 1794.
Barry held the courtesy title of Commodore from that period. His contributions
to the navy were significant. He authored a Signal Book in 1780 which
established a set of signals to be used for effective communications between
ships voyaging in squadron formation. Barry also suggested the creation of a
Department of the Navy with a separate cabinet status from the Secretary of
War. This was finally realized in
1798. Barry’s suggestions about establishing a government-operated navy yards
were also realized. So many of the heroes of the War of 1812 were trained under
Barry’s tutelage that he earned the nickname “Father of the Navy.”