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John Barry: An American Hero in the Age of Sail [Paperback]

Tim McGrath

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Book Description

20 Oct 2011
John Barry: An American Hero in the Age of Sail is the first comprehensive biography of this legendary officer in over seventy years. Son of a hardscrabble Irish farmer from County Wexford, Barry was sent to sea as a child and arrived in Philadelphia during the restless decade before the American Revolution. Volunteering to fight for the Continental cause, Captain Barry captured the first enemy warship taken by a Continental vessel and fought the last battle of the American Revolution, a successful engagement off Florida. With peace came a historic voyage to China, where Barry helped open trade with that reclusive empire. President George Washington named Barry as the first commissioned officer in the new United States Navy In 1794. Drawn from primary source documents from around the world, John Barry by Tim McGrath is an exciting and masterful biography of one of America s most distinguished heroes.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Westholme Publishing, U.S. (20 Oct 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594161534
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594161537
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.8 x 23.5 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,399,123 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

TIM McGRATH is an executive in a Philadelphia area firm. His articles have appeared in Naval History magazine.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars John Barry: truly an unknown American hero! 29 Jun 2010
By Jeff Mobley - Published on
I have just finished reading this book, and although I have never written a book review before I feel compelled to write a few lines of praise about "JOHN BARRY: An American Hero in the Age of Sail". The history of the American Navy at sea during the Revolutionary War is a subject I know little about, except for, of course, John Paul Jones. This book is very well researched by Tim McGrath; it may be his first book but I hope it is not his last. The writing is superb and the descriptive naratives of raging storms at sea as well as numerous sea battles engaged in by Barry are [honest to God] suspenseful and literally kept me on the edge of my seat. [Historical biographies do not normally affect me in this fashion.] The fact that the first sea battle, as well as the last, of the Revolutionary War at sea was won by an American Navy vessel captained by John Barry says much about this unknown hero. However, Barry was very well known, in his day, for his sailing and fighting prowess and, in fact, was appointed by President George Washington as the first commissioned officer in the new United States Navy.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Forgotten Father 1 Aug 2010
By Gerard J. St John - Published on
This book raises the question, "Who was the Father of the American Navy?" It also tells us something about the American Navy and its development in turbulent times. The biography makes a strong case for the proposition that Commodore John Barry was indeed "The Father of the American Navy."

The strength of this book is its extensive detail of the life of a little known hero of the American Revolution. The book also offers great detail on the ships of wood, the men of iron who manned them, and the tin men who often decided their fates based on political favoritism.

The reader follows Barry from the time that he left Wexford, Ireland as a cabin boy and worked his way up to captain of a merchant ship owned by Robert Morris, a Philadelphia businessman who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. During the Revolution, Barry not only commanded fighting ships, but also he was responsible for rigging many of the merchant ships that were being converted to combat vessels. At one point, Barry even fought on the ground, with Washington's army at Princeton. After the Revolution, Barry divided his time between a commercial venture to China, and continued efforts to promote a full-time American Navy. In this latter effort, Barry trained and selected for promotion a number of young naval officers, who later became the admirals who were the core of the full-time navy.

The reader cannot help but learn a great deal about the history of naval operations during the American Revolution, the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, and the intricacies of commerce with China. On the other hand, one gets the sense that the author tries too hard to paint John Paul Jones as a self-promoter. There is no question but that Jones was enamored of his own exploits, but there is no need to keep repeating that fact. It becomes distracting. Also somewhat distracting were some over-reaching descriptions of some of the buildings in 18th Century Philadelphia as "palatial." Moreover, as one who knows a bit about Philadelphia, I was confused about some of the locations described in the book. For example, Barry's house was said to be at 186 Chestnut Street, but reference was often made to it being at "10th & Chestnut Streets." Those locations are different. They are eight blocks apart.

It is an excellent book - and the author makes his point; John Barry is the Father of the American Navy.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fresh Look at an Old Naval Name 6 Aug 2010
By john barry kelly - Published on
Tim McGrath's new take on the life and times of early Naval hero, John Barry is an exciting venture into the bygone days of wooden ships and iron men in the formative period of American Naval history. His subject is of particular interest to me, as I am a collateral descendant of Commodore Barry and have read almost all the out of print portrayals of this great and good man. The reason I praise this biography is for its crisp, action packed, colorful and detailed narrative that puts you back into a critical juncture in America's past and brings to life both well known and not so known personalities we need to know. His command of the subject matter is assured, although there are a few, and precious few, historical errors which will be corrected in the second edition. For example, the last officer who served under John Barry was not James Barron but Rear Admiral Charles Stewart who outlived Barry by 66 years dying in 1869. The President's House in Philadelphia was on 6th not 8th St on Market Street. All in all, I found the story well told, especially the gripping naval battles, with the reader right at Barry's side. If you are looking for great insight into 18th Century America as seen from John Barry's quarterdeck then this is a good place to start. Well researched, with good documentation and supporting bibliography, Tim McGrath has reanimated a lively American hero who deserves to be better known. .
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A real iron man commanding America's first wooden ships 19 Jan 2013
By Phred - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Ahead of this review are 10 solid five-star votes. Each review presents a more or less solid case for marking this as an "I love it" book. I share their enthusiasm and only demur my fifth star because biography does not succeed as an in-depth critical analysis. It is said that most biographers tend to lose their objectivity towards their subject. It is possible that biographer Tim McGrath never intended for this to be a fully objective biography. In my case four stars also reflects the inability to give 4 ½ stars.

In 2012 we tend to prefer the antihero or to know that candidates for heroic standing always had clay feet. Mr. McGrath's John Barry, whatever his weaknesses may have been, they are not included in this story. What this book is about is a real-life rags to- if not riches than to prominence, by a great leader, warrior, American patriot and family man.

John Barry would begin his life a younger son in an impoverished Irish family. He would be sent to the American colonies to join a successful seagoing relative. Through family influence he would gain a working birth aboard a merchantman and quickly established himself as a reliable sailor, leader, and ultimately merchant captain in demand. He would befriend the financier,future civilian leader of the colonial Navy and fellow Irishman, Robert Morris. As one of Morris's captains Barry would make several successful merchant cruises.

When it became clear that the colonies would be fighting to gain their independence from England, Barry would be among the first to offer himself to command such ships as the colonial Navy could provide. Initially it would be his skills as an administrator that the Navy would tap. As such he would be instrumental in the fitting out and construction some of America's first fighting ships. Ultimately he would be given command of his own ships and with them he would bring America some of their first naval victories. Also, much to Barry's frustration he would sail in support of American diplomatic efforts with France.

McGrath makes a very strong case that Commodore Barry was also important in his ability to identify, train, and motivate America's next generation of naval leadership. During much of his service Barry depended on his continuing friendship with Robert Morris. As the so-called Agent of Marine Morris was vital in funding and administering what would become the U.S. Navy. However by the end of Barry's career Benjamin Stoddard would be his boss as Sec. of the Navy. The relationship between these two would never be as warm and indeed Sec. Stoddard would conclude prematurely if not ultimately correctly that Barry was passed his prime. Even so Sec. Stoddard would frequently appoint "Barry's boys" to important captaincies in the Navy that would fight the Barbary Pirates.
John Barry would continue the family's tradition by providing money, a place to live and opportunities to work for not only members of his Irish family but for the children of his second wife's extended family. This aspect of John Barry the citizen is also important because some of his wife's family were notorious royalists, supporters of England against their native America.

In John Barry: an American in the Age of Sail, Tim McGrath presents a very readable and very well documented biography. In doing so, he helps to remind us that we are a nation with heroes in our heritage. There was one area where John Barry was too much a man of his time, McGrath does not hide the fact that Barry was a slave owner would be to his death. In his will he would provide for the manumission of his two household slaves. There is no evidence that they were ever actually set free. This is the only blemish on John Barry's history reported in this biography.

McGrath reminds us that there are several candidates for the title Father of the American Navy. We are reminded that whatever claim John Paul Jones has to that title, much of that claim is based on Jones's notorious self-promotion. Reading as something like an "in-your-face" burn McGrath points to John Paul Jonese's permanent enshrinement at the United States Naval Academy and reminds you that John Paul Jones is forever alone. John Barry on the other hand lived out his life with the support of a loving family and is buried alongside them. In raising the issue of who is the father of the American Navy McGrath nominates John Barry but does not make a concluding argument.
Because this is a well-documented biography it has a greater value than the expression casual biography would suggest. Alternately it lacks the critical analysis and thorough discussion of historical context that would lift it to a position with more serious, academic scholarship. My decision to stay with four stars and not to round up from 4 ½ is because I believe Mr. McGrath wished to achieve a more scholarly and less "popular" type of history book.

If the expression wooden ships and iron men stirs any part of the salt in your veins this book is for you. John Barry was one of the iron men commanding America's wooden ships. Tim McGrath has given us a biography worthy of this most worthy heroic American.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A forgotten hero in a heroic age. 16 Oct 2010
By John V. Higgins - Published on
A fine biography that also looks at the context. Reading good accounts of the time leads to the realization that the patriots were not all Gods, heroes and wise men. Barry deserves to be known as the "Father of the Navy". He served admirably throughout the war, despite not being paid (like many other patriots) and his "boys", men who had served under him and he recommended, went on to serve brilliantly in the undeclared naval war with France, against the Barbary pirates and in the War of 1812. I wish more of our countrymen would read in American history before popping off with their ignorant opinions.
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