Commodore Barry Club of Brooklyn
Research Paper Contest


Kristin Gnoza
“Commodore Barry: Inspiring Leader”
Fontbonne Hall Academy

While going into years where their characters define them, young people require models not just from today’s world but from that of our forefathers. Individuals throughout history may not have lived in our time, but their souls and the principles they lived by are immortal. As distant as they are from today’s young adults, their characteristics will be relevant as long as disposition is valued. Some may look at obvious, famous figures as their source of inspiration, and for good reasons. Rather unsung heroes, however, provide just as much of an example for people, as seen throughout Commodore John Barry’s life. Though his story is not told enough, his constant exemplification of ingenuity, leadership, and dedication to others’ needs prove pertinent to those transitioning into adulthood today.
Creativity is a magnificent gift that often is underappreciated. However, many people who have this talent cannot properly utilize it. As officer in the Continental Navy, Barry was able to use his visionary abilities to help the country that adopted him. Even in the early Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet, months after he was given his position, his resourcefulness proved effective: when one ship was heavily damaged, his orders to make a fuse of gunpowder and for the crew to abandon ship tricked the British into believing they won. As they boarded the ship, this exploded and the new navy was established as a force to be reckoned with. Later, his tactics led to him being the first officer to capture a British war vessel. In 1780, in order to improve communication between ships, Barry wrote his own signal book to be used. Without the creativity that led him to these actions, the new country would not have been near as successful or respected on the sea. Even after the war, his ideas of Navy Department and government operated navy yards were put into place. Barry’s use of this gift is the perfect example of how vital our use of our talents can be. If used correctly, as in his case, those around us can succeed along with ourselves. Sometimes, our ideas can be a catalyst for our victories, as seen in the Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet. Our intelligent thoughts can be put into practice, like the Navy Department and government yards. Some may disregard creativity, but its application- whether it be through a navy officer or a high schooler- can make the world of difference.
Leadership is easy to speak of; actually being a leader is a difficult task. Any person can say they can lead, but few are truly worthy of doing so. Throughout his career, Commodore 
Barry proved more than fit for this title. As seen through his actions influenced by his clever and creative nature, he had to take risks. His gunpowder fuse on the abandoned ship could have failed. His signal book could have been ineffective. His ideas for navy yards and a Department of the Navy might have been shot down by others. However, the fact that he took these opportunities highlights the true courage needed to have leadership skills. Barry’s loyalty was another sign of a pure leader. He was known to have great concern for his men. His fidelity to America was challenged when offered one-hundred thousand pounds to command a British frigate; Barry responded to this offer by saying neither the entire British treasury nor command of the whole navy could make him desert the American navy. These abilities led to him being recognized as a true leader and gave him more chances to use this ability. In 1794, he was selected as senior Captain of the Federal Navy and in 1797, Barry became the first commissioned naval officer in the United States, taking the title of commodore. In this position, he was so respected that even with military spending cuts under President Jefferson, Barry kept his position. Without his proven ability to lead, he would not have had this opportunity. Many young people strive to be leaders, though they may not know how. Yet, Commodore Barry proved in his career that simple courage and loyalty can lead to great opportunities to show leadership.
It is easy to have a caring nature, but far too few people display this. In a world where hate divides us, compassion and protection of others is the only solution. Following his sister and brother-in-law’s deaths, Commodore Barry’s nephews, Patrick and Michael Hayes, went from their native Ireland to America to live with their uncle. Though he did not have any biological children, Barry raised the two as his own. Patrick even became a seaman himself, heavily influenced by his uncle, and inherited Barry’s estate. This care for others can be seen in the Commodore’s life in the navy, too. Though his own salary wasn’t much, he petitioned for back pay for his navy. During the war, they were already underfunded and did not have enough supplies even when they proved how strong they were. His fight for what he and others deserved show a willingness to help others that is to be admired. Though we may not be in the same circumstances Commodore Barry experienced, his response to these situation in which he acted with compassion is the perfect model of how to react to those in need of assistance. As long as there are people in need, caring attitudes will be required, so the relevance of this characteristic never dies.
Everyone willing to develop their character needs people to look at as models for their personality and behavior. While it’s easy to pick people from the present, the best figures are those that have already shaped our world. Times change and different issues influence society, but certain characteristics live on and will always be important. Throughout the life of Commodore John Barry, he proved to be a model for even young people in decades and centuries to come. If even a few more people could develop his ingenuity, leadership, and concern, a great change could be made for the world.


Gavin Cogan
Commodore Barry’s Legacy
Westfield High School, Westfield, NJ

One can look to Commodore John Barry for inspiration, and I am the latest generation of my family who has modeled his life based on Barry’s legacy of service. 

Barry, a man of humble origins, rose to the top of his field to become “the Father of the American Navy”. He won many battles, organized and was in charge of the United States Navy, set the record for fastest day of sailing in the 18th century, and befriended George Washington.

From his early life on, Barry was met with hardships; as a child, his family was evicted from their small farm in County Wexford. After making a name for himself as a sailor, his wife, Mary Cleary, sadly died at the young age of 29. A few years later his brother, Patrick, disappeared at sea. Experiencing severe grief over the loss of both his wife and brother, Barry strived further, letting nothing stop him.

Commodore Barry was best known for his role in the American Revolutionary War. At the start of the war, Barry assembled the first group of ships in the American Navy. These ships engaged in many battles with British ships. Barry’s own ship was the first American ship to capture an enemy ship. In one battle, Barry’s ship, the Alliance, was attacked by two smaller British ships, and although the Alliance was at a considerable disadvantage due to a lack of wind, and though she sustained a large amount of damage, Barry prevailed. Barry was hit in the shoulder by a cannon shot and was incapacitated. After Commodore Barry was brought below deck the ship had no one to properly lead it against the British. When asked if they should surrender, Barry refused and returned to the helm, and proceeded to defeat both enemy ships against all odds. He captured both ships’ crews, but treated them humanely and with mercy and respect.

Commodore John Barry was exemplary man of steadfast determination and who exhibited the trait of perseverance, even in the face of the harshest adversity. When his family was forcibly evicted from their farm by the British, rather than allowing himself to remain in poverty, Barry pursued the life of a sailor, and he saw himself rising through the ranks. When the United States was on the brink of war, Barry rose to the occasion as a leader. Despite being severely wounded in battle, Barry still pushed on and led his ship to victory. 

A large part of determination is bravery, a trait exhibited by Commodore Barry. It took great bravery and fortitude for Barry to lead a ragtag group of sailors and merchants against what was then the world’s greatest navy. In many situations where the odds favored the British ships, Barry still fought and won. He paved the way for American sailors to fight the British by being the first American sailor to capture a British enemy ship. In another battle, outnumbered, outgunned, and disadvantaged by the lack of wind, Barry exhibited exemplary bravery when he commanded his ship, despite severe injuries sustained by cannon fire in the face of death, and undeterred by the odds that were against any chance of success, captured both enemy ships. 

While he was known for his incredible leadership and heroic acts at war, Barry was also a very empathetic and merciful man. He gave funds supporting the families of sailors who had died at sea. He was a member of the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick, an organization dedicated to doing charitable acts. Even in battle, Barry would spare the lives of captured enemies and he is known to have treated them very well. In death, it was written of him by Dr. Benjamin Rush that “his habits of War did not lessen in him the peaceful virtues which adorn private life.”

In today’s world, these traits are more valuable than ever. We live in a world where people expect instant gratification, seek the easy route, and saddest of all, look out for themselves first. When met with opposition, people tend to give in, rather than fighting and striving toward a personal goal or toward the greater good. Barry dedicated himself to sailing and fighting for his adopted nation. Today, few people are willing to put forth such dedication.  

I have been lucky enough to grow up surrounded by people who exhibit these traits that Commodore Barry exemplified: dedication, bravery and generosity. My grandmother, an avid member of the Lady’s Ancient Order of Hibernians Staten Island Division 1, received the Commodore Barry Award for her dedication to the group. She has been a constant inspiration to me and has always reminded me of the legacy of my Irish heritage. Her father, like Barry, selflessly took up arms against an oppressive and tyrannical British government. I am proud to know that my great-grandfather, Padraig Kilkelly, fought for Ireland in the Easter Uprising of 1916. Though he was imprisoned and deported, like Commodore Barry, he exhibited the same bravery and dedication to his cause. He continued to fight against British rule. He rose to become the leader of a flying column of the IRA in Clare and Galway. 

More recently, my father showed me that the legacy of Commodore Barry, my great-grand father and my grand-mother carried through to the next generation. Shortly after we moved to Westfield, my father heard of a local man who was in desperate need of a kidney donation. Perhaps because it was during mass, or perhaps because of the legacy of mercy and dedication to a noble cause, my father volunteered to donate his kidney to this stranger. Declining the numerous opportunities he had to back out, he kept his commitment, saving the life of a father of four. This act of courage and selflessness was on par with the Commodore himself. For this he won the 2016 Irish Echo Community Champions Giving for Living Award. 

 Being surrounded by such inspirational people has instilled me with these same values. I’ve become a very empathetic person over the years. I always feel the need to help people around me, and people often confide in me about their troubles. I’ve also picked up a Barry-like sense of determination, winning National Championships with my marching band and rising through the ranks in my crew team where I have become the unofficial older brother to the younger members of the team who have come to me as a mentor in rowing and as a trusted advisor with their problems. I always keep in mind that I have a powerful legacy of service and giving to live up to. Like Barry, I have taken to the water. I only hope that I have the ability to continue to live up to his legacy, as have the previous generations of my family. 



Commodore John Barry, was a man from humble beginnings, who would grow to make his mark in history. Barry was born in a modest thatched cottage in 1745 at Ballysampson on Our Lady's Island, in County Wexford, Ireland. His father, was a poor tenant farmer. The whole family was evited by the British and forced to move to another village. This would alter the path of his life. He would one day come to be known as the “Father of the American Navy”. A title bestowed upon him, not by those who came to admire him later, but by those who knew him and worked alongside him. Though Commodore Barry possesses many interesting characteristics, three traits stand out to me over the others. He was a strong leader, loyal, and kind. These are the characteristics, I feel, exemplify him the most.  

Commodore Barry was a strong leader. When the Revolution began he was given the important task of outfitting the first continental Navy ships. He was to oversee rigging, piercing gun ports, strengthening bulwarks, procuring powder and canvas for the new warships and loading provisions. When this was completed he was rewarded with what he desired most. This was a Captain’s commission in the Continental Navy. Along with this commission would be the command of his first warship, which was named the brig Lexington. Barry also single-handedly suppressed three ship mutinies. As a disciplinarian, he was firm though fair. Despite the amount men leaving and going about the business of pirateering, he was able to still raise crews. He was religious, and began each day with prayer. Perhaps this aided in keeping his crew focused and together, keeping their faith strong when they were feeling weak.  

Commodore Barry was very loyal to America. Sometime in late 1776 Barry was approached by possibly his brother in law, or maybe a member of the Cadwalader family. These people sympathized with the British. They offered Barry a bribe if he would turn over the Effingham (a ship) to them. They offered him 20,000 pounds British sterling, plus a commission in the Royal Navy. He was also promised his own ship under Royal authority if he would do this. He indignantly refused. In his own words, he said, "spurned the eyedee of being a treater”. He was true to his Country and was not swayed by promises of money and prosperity. He was loyal to his country, his leaders, his crew and to himself. This is a quality that not all possess. Many would have easily been tempted to take the bribe. It was the easy way out, and came with a great deal to desire. It takes a strong person, with great loyalty to turn down such an offer. This was just a part of who John Barry was.  

Commodore Barry was also kind. Although he experienced tragedy in his life, he still pushed forward and cared for the well-being of others. Barry’s young wife died soon after they were married, which was especially difficult because he was at sea when it happened. Soon after that his brother Patrick disappeared at sea. He remarried and took in the children of his sister who had passed away. He raised them as his own. He also started charities that gave took care of families of seamen as well as orphans.  

In conclusion, Commodore John Barry was a simple man, who came from nothing. He was determined to make something of himself, and did. He never forgot where he came from and always made sure that those around him were taken care of. He earned his place in history, for not only his being a great leader and seamen, but for being a person who stood for what is great about being an American. Commodore John Barry was truly a man for all ages.