Captain Barry And His Rowboats Win A Victory Over The British


THE heroes of our navy were not all Americans born. More than one of

them came from British soil, but a footprint on the green fields of

America soon turned them into true-blue Yankees. There was John Paul

Jones, the gallant Scotchman. And there was John Barry, a bold son of

green Erin.

I have told you the story of Jones, the Scotchman, and now I must tell

you that of Barry, the Irishman.

John Barry was a merchant captain who was made commander of the

Lexington in 1776. The next year he was appointed to the Effingham,

a new frigate building at Philadelphia. The British captured that city

before the ship was ready for sea, and the Effingham, the

Washington, and some other vessels were caught in a trap. They were

taken up the river to Whitehill, above the city, and there they had to

stay. Captain Barry, you may be sure, was not much pleased at this, for

he was one of the men who love to be where fighting is going on.

Soon orders came from the Navy Board to sink the Effingham. This made

Barry's Irish blood very hot. I fancy he said some hard things about the

members of the board, and swore he would do nothing of the kind. If the

British wanted the American ships let them come and take them. He had

guns enough to give them some sport and was disposed to try it.

When the members of the Navy Board heard of what he said, they were very

angry, and in the end he had to sink the ship and had to apologize for

his strong language. But time proved that he was right and the Navy

Board was wrong.

By this time Captain Barry was tired enough of being penned up, and he

made up his mind by hook or crook to get out of his cage. He was

burning for a fight, and thought that if he could get down the river he

might give the British a taste of his mettle.

So, one dark night he set out with four boats and twenty-seven men. He

rowed down the river past the ships in the stream and the soldiers on

shore. Some of the soldiers saw his boats, and a few shots were fired,

but they got safely past, and by daybreak were far down the broad


Barry kept on until he reached Port Penn, down near the bay, where the

Americans had a small fort. Here there was a chance for the work he

wanted, for across the river he saw a large schooner flying the British

flag. It was the Alert, carrying ten guns, and with it were four

transports laden with food for the army at Philadelphia.

This was a fine opportunity for the bold Irish captain. It took courage

to attack a strong English vessel with a few rowboats, but of courage

Barry had a full supply.

The sun was up, and it was broad day when the American tars set out on

their daring enterprise. The Alert had a wide-awake name, but it must

have had a sleepy crew; for before the British knew there was anything

wrong, Barry and his men had rowed across the stream and were clambering

over the rail, cutlass and pistol in hand.

The British sailors, when they saw this "wild Irishman" and his daring

tars, cutting and slashing and yelling like madmen, dropped everything

and ran below in fright. All that keep them there.

In this easy fashion, twenty-eight Americans captured a British ten-gun

vessel with a hundred and sixteen men on board. There had been nothing

like that in all the war.

The transports had to surrender, for they were under the guns of the

Alert, and Barry carried his five prizes triumphantly to Port Penn,

where he handed his captives over to the garrison.

And now the daring captain made things lively for the foe. He sailed up

and down the river and bay, and cut off supplies until the British army

at Philadelphia began to suffer for food.

What was to be done? Should this Yankee wasp go on stinging the British

lion? General Howe decided that this would never do, and sent a frigate

and a sloop-of-war down the river to put an end to the trouble.

Captain Barry, finding these water-hounds sharp on his track, ran for

Christiana Creek, hoping to get into shallow water where the heavy

British ships could not follow. But the frigate was too fast, and chased

him so closely that the best he could do was to run the schooner ashore

and escape in his boats.

But he was determined that they should not have the Alert if he could

help it. Turning two of the guns downward, he fired through the ship's

bottom, and in a minute the water was pouring into her hold.

The frigate swung round and fired a broadside at the fleeing boats; but

all it brought back was a cheer of defiance from the sailors, as they

struck the land and sprang ashore. Here they had the satisfaction of

seeing the schooner sink before a British foot could be set on her deck.

The war vessels now went for the transports at Port Penn. Here a battery

had been built on shore, made of bales of hay. This was attacked by the

sloop-of-war, but the American sharpshooters made things lively for her.

They might have beaten her off had not their captain fallen with a

mortal wound. The men now lost heart and fled to the woods, first

setting fire to the vessels.

Thus ended Barry's brave exploit. He had lost his vessels, but the

British had not got them. The Americans were proud of his daring deed,

and the British tried to win so brave a man to their side. Sir William

Howe offered him twenty thousand pounds in money and the command of a

British frigate if he would desert his flag. But he was not dealing now

with a Benedict Arnold.

"Not if you pay me the price and give me the command of the whole

British fleet can you draw me away from the cause of my country," wrote

the patriotic sailor.

Barry was soon rewarded for his patriotism by being made captain of an

American frigate, the Raleigh. But ill-luck now followed him. He

sailed from Boston on September 25, 1778, and three days afterward he

had lost his ship and was a wanderer with his crew in the vast forests

of Maine.

Let us see how this ill-fortune came about. The Raleigh had not got

far from port before two sails came in sight. Barry ran down to look at

them, and found they were two English frigates. Two to one was too great

odds, and the Raleigh turned her head homewards again. But when night

shut out the frigates she wore round and started once more on her former


The next day opened up foggy, and till noon nothing was to be seen. Then

the fog lifted, and to Barry's surprise there were the British ships,

just south of his own. Now for three hours it was a hot chase, and then

down came another fog and the game was once more at an end.

But the Raleigh could not shake off the British bull-dogs. At about

nine o'clock the next morning they came in sight again and the chase was

renewed. It was kept up till late in the day. At first the Raleigh

went so fast that her pursuers dropped out of sight. Then the wind

failed her, and the British ships came up with a strong breeze.

At five o'clock the fastest British frigate was close at hand, and Barry

thought he would try what she was good for before the other came up.

In a few minutes more the two ships were hurling iron balls into each

other's sides, while the smoke of the conflict filled the skies. Then

the fore-topmast and mizzen-topgallantmast of the Raleigh were shot

away, leaving her in a crippled state.

The British ship had now much the best of it. Barry tried his best to

reach and board her, but she sailed too fast. And up from the south came

the other ship, at swift speed. To fight them both with a crippled craft

would have been madness, and, as he could not get away, Barry decided to

run his ship ashore on the coast of Maine, which was close at hand.

Night soon fell, and with it fell the wind. Till midnight the two ships

drifted along, with red fire spurting from their sides and the thunder

of cannon echoing from the hills.

In the end the Raleigh ran ashore on an island near the coast. Here

Barry fought for some time longer, and then set his ship on fire and

went ashore with his men. But the British were quickly on board, put out

the fire, and carried off their prize. Barry and his men made their way

through the Maine woods till the settlements were reached.

In 1781 Captain Barry was sent across the ocean in the Alliance, a

vessel which had taken part in the famous battle of the Bon Homme

Richard and the Serapis. Here the gallant fellow fought one of his

best battles, this time also against two British ships.

When he came upon them there was not a breath of wind. All sail was set,

but the canvas flapped against the yards, and the vessel lay

"As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean."

The British vessels were a brig and a sloop-of-war. They wanted to fight

as badly as did Captain Barry, and, as they could not sail, they got out

sweeps and rowed up to the American frigate. It was weary work, and it

took them six hours to do it.

Then came the hails of the captains and the roar of cannon, and soon

there was a very pretty fight, with the Alliance in a dangerous

situation. She was too heavy to be moved with sweeps, like the light

British vessels, so they got on her quarters and poured in broadsides,

while she could reply only with a few guns.

Barry raged like a wild bull, bidding his men fight, and begging for a

wind. As he did so, a grape-shot struck him in the shoulder and felled

him to the deck. As he was carried below, a shot carried away the

American flag. A lusty cheer came from the British ships; they thought

the flag down and the victory theirs. They soon saw it flying again.

But the Alliance was in sore straits. She was getting far more than

she could give, and had done little harm to her foes. At length a

lieutenant came down to the wounded captain.

"We cannot handle the ship and are being cut to pieces," he said. "The

rigging is in tatters and the fore-topmast in danger, and the carpenter

reports two serious leaks. Eight or ten of our people are killed and

more wounded. The case seems hopeless, sir; shall we strike the colors?"

"No!" roared Barry, sitting bolt upright. "Not on your life! If the ship

can't be fought without me, then carry me on deck."

The lieutenant went up and reported, and the story soon got to the men.

"Good for Captain Barry," they shouted. "We'll stand by the old man."

A minute later a change came. A ripple of water was seen. Soon a breeze

rose, the sails filled out, and the Alliance slipped forward and

yielded to her helm.

This was what the brave Barry had been waiting for. It was not a case of

whistling for a wind, as sailors often do, but of hoping and praying for

a wind. It came just in time to save the Alliance from lowering her

proud flag, or from going to the bottom with it still flying, as would

have suited her bold captain the better.

Now she was able to give her foes broadside for broadside, and you may

be sure that her gunners, who had been like dogs wild to get at the

game, now poured in shot so fast and furious that they soon drove the

foe in terror from his guns. In a short time, just as Captain Barry was

brought on deck with his wound dressed, their flags came down.

The prizes proved to be the Atlanta and the Trepassy. That fight was

near the last in the war. At a later date Captain Barry had the honor of

carrying General Lafayette home to France in his ship.

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