No offense to John Paul Jones and those who keep his memory alive but a headline on our photo spread celebrating his 274th birthday last Sunday cannot go without at least a word or two on behalf of another sailor who can also lay claim to being the “Father of the U.S. Navy.”
Jones is the more colorful and his stirring “I have not yet begun to fight” was an inspirational rallying cry for New Hampshiremen and other colonists taking on the world’s biggest navy, that of Great Britain. Jones rented a room in Portsmouth as his ship, the Ranger, was being built there.
John Barry apparently failed in the sloganeering department, but his contributions to the Navy’s founding were vast. He was the Navy’s first commissioned officer and first flag officer. He was also in command in the Revolution’s last sea battle and he trained many of the young officers who would go on to celebrated naval careers. (Commanding the USS Raleigh, the ship depicted on our state flag, Barry took three British ships as prizes in 1778.)
Some argue that John Adams, who as president oversaw the establishment of the permanent Navy, has a legitimate claim as its father. But Adams has had more than his share of the limelight.
Barry, an immigrant from County Wexford, Ireland, was a merchant shipmaster at the age of 21 and when war came, he outfitted the first continental fleet. He then commanded in numerous sea battles that bedeviled the “Rule Britannia” boys.
Victory, as the saying goes, has many fathers. America’s independence had many; and John Barry was surely among them.