Commodore John Barry Statue

Commodore John Barry Statue

On today’s anniversary of his death in 1803 at the age of 58, I chose to write about my bike ride to Franklin Square, at 14th Street and K Street in northwest D.C., (MAP) to see the local monument commemorating Commodore John Barry.  The monument consists of a statute of Barry standing on top of a base of pink marble with steps of pink granite. The base is adorned by the carved figure of a woman standing on the bow of a ship, with her raised right hand holding out an olive branch. Her lowered left hand holds a shield and sword steady at her side. To her right, an eagle standing on a branch of oak leaves gazes up at her.

The bronze statue by American sculpture John Boyle is near the western border of the square.  It was dedicated on May 16, 1914, and is part of a group of fourteen statues in D.C. known collectively as the “American Revolution Statuary.” These statues are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles, and are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Commodore John Barry Statue is not the only attraction in D.C. with a connection to Barry. The USS Barry Museum Ship, which currently lies moored at Pier 2 in the Anacostia River at The Washington Navy Yard (MAP), was also named after Barry.  It is one of four Navy vessels which were named for the commander.

John Barry was born on March 25, 1745, at Ballysampson on Our Lady’s Island, which is part of Tacumshin Parish in County Wexford, Ireland. The place of his birth had two very strong influences on his life. First, Wexford, at the southeasternmost part of Ireland, has always had a strong maritime tradition. And this tradition was instilled in Barry. Also, Barry learned at a very young age of the massacre of some 3,000 Wexfordians under an invading English force led by Oliver Cromwell in 1649, which led to a lifelong opposition to both oppression in general and the British in particular.

Barrry was 10 years old when his family immigrated to the American colonies after they were forced out of their home and off their land by a British landlord.  And his loyalty to his newfound adopted homeland became evident early on. Late in 1776, after the colonies had declared their independence from England, Barry was approached by an acquaintance who sympathized with the British, and offered a monetary bribe along with a commission in the Royal Navy and his own ship under Royal authority if he would turn his American ship over to the British. He indignantly refused because, in his own words, he “spurned the eyedee of being a treater.”

Barry presented an imposing and commanding figure. He was a burly and in shape man of 6’4″, with a ruddy-complexion who spoke in a commanding tone. In an era when most men stood only about 5’5″, Barry’s physical presence served him well throughout a career which took him from humble cabin boy to senior commander of the entire United States fleet after becoming America’s first commissioned naval officer, at the rank of Commodore, receiving his commission from President George Washington in 1797.

Barry is widely credited as “The Father of the American Navy,” although it is moniker which is shared with one of his contemporaries, Commander John Paul Jones. 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 to his adopted country and his fidelity to the nurturing of a permanent American Navy. Although frequently obscured by his Commander Jones, Barry is an unsung hero of the young American Republic and is indeed deserving of the byname, “Father of the American Navy.”

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