Joshua Barney

Joshua Barney (6 July 1759 – 1 December 1818) was an American Navy officer who served in the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War. He later achieved the rank of commodore in the United States Navy and also served in the War of 1812.[1]

Joshua Barney
Born(1759-07-06)6 July 1759
Baltimore, Province of Maryland
Died10 December 1818(1818-12-10) (aged 59)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Allegiance United States
Service/branch Continental Navy
 French Navy
 United States Navy
Years of service1776–1792/1802-1818 (USA)
1792-1802 (France)
RankUSN commodore rank insignia.jpg Commodore (USA)
Captain (France)

Early life and familyEdit

He was born in Baltimore.

He went to sea in 1771 at the age of 12.[2] In 1775, he served as second-in-command to his brother-in-law aboard a merchant ship bound for Europe; after his brother-in-law died, he assumed command and sailed the ship to Nice.[2]

Barney married twice, and had children with both wives.[2] While on his way to Kentucky, where he planned to retire, he died in Pittsburgh.[1] His widow Harriet settled in Kentucky with their three children.[2]

His grandson Joseph Nicholson Barney was also a United States Navy (and Confederate States Navy) officer.

Revolutionary WarEdit

Barney served in the Continental Navy beginning in February 1776, as master's mate of Hornet where he took part in Commodore Esek Hopkins's raid on New Providence. Later he served aboard Wasp and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant for gallantry in the action between Wasp and a British brig, the tender Betsey. While serving on Andrew Doria he took a prominent part in the defense of the Delaware River.[1][3]

Barney was taken prisoner and exchanged several times. In 1779, he was again taken prisoner and imprisoned in Old Mill Prison, Plymouth, England, until his escape in 1781.[1] He wrote an account of this in The Memoirs of Commodore Barney, published in Boston in 1832.

Battle of Delaware BayEdit

In April 1782, he was put in command of the Pennsylvania ship Hyder Ally, in which he captured the more heavily armed warship HMS General Monk in the Battle of Delaware Bay.[2][4] He was given command of Monk (renamed General Washington) and sailed for France with dispatches for Benjamin Franklin, returning with news that peace had been declared.[1] The ship also carried a party of Austrian naturalists under the leadership of Franz Jozef Maerter and including Franz Boos.[5]

At the conclusion of the war, Barney was admitted as an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati in the state of Pennsylvania and later transferred to the Maryland Society.[6]

Barney then joined the French Navy, where he was made commander of a squadron.[1]

Service in the French NavyEdit

Between 1796 and 1802 Joshua Barney served as a captain in the French Navy.[7] Between 7 June and 17 October 1796 he was captain of the French frigate Harmonie. He sailed her from Rochefort to ferry weapons and ammunition to Cap-Français. He then cruised in the Caribbean between Havana and Chesapeake Bay, returning to Cap-Français on 17 October.[8][9]

War of 1812Edit

Chesapeake Bay FlotillaEdit

At the outbreak of the War of 1812, after a successful but unprofitable privateering cruise as commander of the Baltimore schooner Rossie, in which he captured the Post Office Packet Service packet ship Princess Amelia, Barney entered the US Navy as a captain, and commanded the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla, a fleet of gunboats defending Chesapeake Bay. He authored the plan to defend the Chesapeake, which was submitted to Secretary of the Navy, William Jones and accepted on August 20, 1813. The plan consisted of using a flotilla of shallow-draft barges, each equipped with a large gun which would be used in large numbers to attack and annoy the invading British, then retreating to the safety of shoal waters abundant in the Chesapeake region. Barney was commissioned as a captain in the United States Navy on 25 April 1814.[10]

On 1 June 1814, Barney's flotilla, led by his flagship, the 49-foot (15 m) sloop-rigged, self-propelled floating battery USS Scorpion, mounting two long guns and two carronades, were coming down Chesapeake Bay when they encountered the 12-gun schooner HMS St Lawrence (the former Baltimore privateer Atlas), and boats from the 74-gun third rates HMS Dragon and HMS Albion near St. Jerome Creek. The flotilla pursued St Lawrence and the boats until they could reach the protection of the two third rates. The American flotilla then retreated into the Patuxent River where the British quickly blockaded it.

The British outnumbered Barney by 7:1, forcing the flotilla on 7 June to retreat into St. Leonard's Creek. Two British frigates, the 38-gun HMS Loire and the 32-gun HMS Narcissus, plus the 18-gun sloop-of-war HMS Jasseur blockaded the mouth of the creek. The creek was too shallow for the British warships to enter, and the flotilla outgunned and hence was able to fend off the boats from the British ships.

Battles continued through 10 June. The British, frustrated by their inability to flush Barney out of his safe retreat, instituted a "campaign of terror," laying waste to "town and farm alike" and plundering and burning Calverton, Huntingtown, Prince Frederick, Benedict and Lower Marlboro.[10]

On 26 June, after the arrival of troops commanded by United States Army Colonel Decius Wadsworth, and United States Marine Corps Captain Samuel Miller, Barney attempted a breakout. A simultaneous attack from land and sea on the blockading frigates at the mouth of St. Leonard's creek allowed the flotilla to move out of the creek and up-river to Benedict, Maryland, though Barney had to scuttle gunboats No. 137 and 138 in the creek. The British entered the then-abandoned creek and burned the town of St. Leonard, Maryland.[10]

The British, under the command of Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane then moved up the Patuxent, preparing for a landing at Benedict. Concerned that Barney's flotilla could fall into British hands, Secretary of the Navy Jones ordered Barney to take the flotilla as far up the Patuxent as possible, to Queen Anne, and scuttle it if the British appeared. Leaving his barges with a skeleton crew under the command of Lieutenant Solomon Kireo Frazier to handle any destruction of the craft, Barney took the majority of his men to join the American Army commanded by General William Henry Winder where they participated in the Battle of Bladensburg. Frazier scuttled all but one of the vessels of the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla, which the British captured.[10]

Battle of BladensburgEdit

During the Battle of Bladensburg, Barney and 360 sailors and 120 Marines defended the national capital—fighting against the enemy hand-to-hand with cutlasses and pikes. The battle raged for four hours, but the British eventually defeated the Americans. The defenders were forced to fall back after nearly being cut off, and the British went on to burn the Capitol and White House.[11] Barney was severely wounded, receiving a bullet deep in his thigh that could never be removed.[12]

During the battle, President James Madison personally directed the Marines led by Barney. (Prior to the battle, Madison had narrowly avoided capture.) This battle is one of only two instances of a sitting president exercising direct battlefield authority as Commander-in-Chief, the other being when George Washington personally crushed the Whiskey Rebellion.[13]


Commodore Barney died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on 10 December 1818 en route to Kentucky, from complications related to the wound he received at the Battle of Bladensburg.[1] His remains rest in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh.[14]

Namesakes and honorsEdit

Four US Navy ships were named for him:

In Washington, D.C., both Barney Circle (a neighborhood on Pennsylvania Avenue, SE) and Commodore Joshua Barney Drive, NE, are named in his honor.

Barney Square, the main drill area between the barracks facilities at the United States Merchant Marine Academy is named in honor of this American Merchant Mariner turned Naval Hero.

There are several sites in Prince George's County that commemorate Commodore Barney. A replica of a gunboat of Barney's Chesapeake Bay Flotilla today sits in Bladensburg Waterside Park,[16] the Battle of Bladensburg Monument,[17] and Fort Lincoln Cemetery hosts the Battle of Bladensburg Commodore Joshua Barney Monument.[18]


The Maryland Historical Society was granted an antique pistol with a folding bayonet, a spyglass and the journal of War of 1812 from descendant Anne Helm Galvin for the exhibit "In Full Glory Reflected: Maryland in the War of 1812."[19]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Joshua Barney". Naval History and Heritage Command. Retrieved August 16, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e Len Barcousky (July 22, 2012). "Joshua Barney, naval hero in two wars for independence, will be honored in Pittsburgh". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  3. ^ Barney, Mary (1832). A Biographical Memoir of the Late Commodore Joshua Barney From Autographical Notes and Journals in Possession of His Family, and Other Authentic Sources. Gray and Bowen.
  4. ^ General Monk was the captured Rhode Island privateer General Washington.
  5. ^ Ignaz von Born to Benjamin Franklin, 21 November 1783; Benjamin Franklin, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin: Volume 41: September 16, 1783, through February 29, 1784, Yale University Press, 2014, p.214.
  6. ^ Metcalf, Bryce (1938). Original Members and Other Officers Eligible to the Society of the Cincinnati, 1783-1938: With the Institution, Rules of Admission, and List of the Officers of General and State Societies. Virginia Military Institute: Shenandoah Publishing House, Inc., Strasburg, Virginia. p. 44.
  7. ^ Hamilton et al. (1974), footnote on p.326.
  8. ^ Fonds Marine, p.153.
  9. ^ Fonds Marine, p.178.
  10. ^ a b c d Shomette, Donald (1982). Shipwrecks on the Chesapeake. Centreville, Maryland: Tidewater Publishers. pp. 87–93. ISBN 0-87033-283-X.
  11. ^ "Battle of Bladensburg Historical Marker".
  12. ^ Collum, Richard Strader (1890). History of the United States Marine Corps. Philadelphia: L.R. Hamersly & Co. pp. 55–58.
  13. ^ Ellis, His Excellency, George Washington, 225.
  14. ^ War hero Commodore Joshua Barney honored at Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 4, 2012
  15. ^ "Commodore Barney". United States Navy, Naval Historical Center. Retrieved 2008-01-30.
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Around the Region". The Baltimore Sun. 31 January 2015. p. 4a.


This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.
  • Marquis Who's Who, Inc. Who Was Who in American History, the Military. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1975. ISBN 0837932017 OCLC 657162692

External linksEdit