By Nicky Rossiter
“This is the ship Alliance,
From Philadelphia town;
She proudly bids defiance
to England’s king and crown.
As captain of the deck I stand
To guard her banner true;
Half Yankee and half Irishman,
What tyrant’s slave are you?”
– from Jack Barry by William Collins
The Scots claim John Paul Jones as ‘Founder of the American Navy’, but in Ireland we know that John Barry is the acclaimed ‘Father of the American Navy’. John Barry, sometimes called ‘Jack Barry’, was born on a small-holding at Ballysampson, Tacumshane, about 10 miles from Wexford town.
The year was 1745 and the Wexford of that era was a growing port. In fact, Barry is said to have first put to sea from Wexford on board a ship skippered by his uncle. In 1759, Barry was 14 years old as he sailed out of Wexford harbour bound for America.
Having crossed the Atlantic, he was to settle in Philadelphia where he found employment as a seaman. Over the next few years, Barry sailed on trading ships plying along the American coast and to the West Indies.
In 1766, the 22-year-old Wexford-man became skipper of the schooner, Barbados. Through hard work and good seamanship, Barry then became a shipowner. His first craft was a sloop, later replaced by a bigger ship, Black Prince.
With the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War against Britain, Barry presented his ship to Congress.
In April of 1776, John Barry provided the rebel forces with one of its greatest morale boosters in a gloomy year. As captain of an ancient brigantine named Lexington, the wily Irishman lured the British navy ship, H.M.S. Edward, to within hailing distance before engaging her in a running battle.