Commission Number One United States Navy
February 22, 1797: At the Presidential Mansion in Philadelphia, President George Washington formally presented Irish-born John Barry with Commission Number One in the newly formed United States Navy. With the commission, backdated to the time of the original appointment, June 7, 1794, Washington formally reaffirms his trust in Barry's leadership to establish the Navy under the Constitution.
Barry directed the construction of the Navy's first frigate, USS United States, which he commanded. He trained many of the Navy's first officers, including the heroes of the War of 1812. Barry would later command a naval squadron as Commodore. In 2005 Congress recognized Commodore John Barry as the first flag officer of the Navy. (Public Law 109-142) He was the first uniformed head of the Navy under Presidents George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson until his death in 1803.
John Barry was born in 1745 in County Wexford, Ireland, went to sea at age 9, and at age 15 immigrated to Philadelphia. A great hero during the Revolution, Barry was later designated to lead the United State Navy at its establishment under the Constitution. A natural warrior and gifted
leader, Barry devoted three decades of service and leadership as a founding father of his adopted country.
During the Revolution - On March 14, 1776, Barry accepted a captain's commission in the Continental Navy and command of the brig Lexington. He won one of our first victories at sea on April 7, 1776 by capturing the English tender Edward. In all, Barry captured 20 English ships generating over $3 million at auction for the Continental Congress. Commanding the Alliance in May 1781, though seriously wounded and weakened by profuse loss of blood, Barry returned to deck to rally his sailors to victory by capturing two English ships near Nova Scotia. In March 1783, Barry won the last sea battle of the war near Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Barry served at Valley Forge - There he fought with the Continental Army while serving as aide to Colonel John Calwalader with his brigade of Pennsylvania Associators and a contingent of Continental Marines, where he helped rally the troops with General Washington to secure victory at the 1777 Battle of Princeton.
After the Revolution - After the war, John Barry served as a merchant marine captain. He led an important inaugural trade voyage to China. Later, in 1794 he accepted President Washington's appointment as the first commissioned
naval officer under the United States Constitution.
Legacy - John Barry's courageous life reflected the highest ideals of "duty, honor and loyalty." English Admiral Lord Howe offered Captain Barry a bribe of 15,000 guineas in gold and a captain's commission in the Royal Navy to desert his country is liberty and freedom. Barry refused the bribe. John Barry answered "that he had devoted himself to the cause of his country, and not the value and command of the whole British fleet could seduce him from it."
After a lifetime of heroic service, the Navy's first commander died at his home in Philadelphia on September 3, 1803 at age 58. Commodore Barry is buried in Philadelphia's Old Saint Mary's Catholic Churchyard. Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence declared in Barry's eulogy: "He was born in Ireland, but in America was the object of his devotion and the theater of his usefulness... His habits of war did not lessen his Virtues as a Man nor as his piety as a Christian."
Board of Admiralty Seal
The Continental Congress adopted the first American Navy Seal on 4 May 1780 for the Board of Admiralty, the progenitor of the United States Navy Department. This seal was affixed to the commissions of naval officers.
[Embedded in the sidewalk as you
approach the memorial:]
May 10, 2014