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Barney, Joshua

Barney, Joshua

BARNEY, JOSHUA. (1759–1818). Naval officer. Born in Baltimore on 6 July 1759, Barney went to sea at the age of eleven, taking command of his first ship at fifteen. In October 1775 he enlisted in the Continental navy, serving on the Hornet and the Wasp. Serving with distinction in a number of engagements, he was commissioned a lieutenant and executive officer of the Sachem in June 1776. After again displaying heroism in battle, he was transferred to the Andrea Doria, which captured two British privateers in December; one of them was put under Barney's command. The British seized this ship and put Barney ashore at Charleston. By March he was back aboard the Andrea Doria, which took part in the defense of Philadelphia and was burned by the Americans to prevent its capture by General Howe's troops. Returning to Baltimore, Barney was given command of the new frigate Virginia, which ran aground as it attempted to elude the British blockade. After a brief period as a prisoner of war in New York City, Barney became a privateer, making several successful voyages over the next three years. In October 1780, at the age of twenty-one, he returned to the navy as lieutenant of the Saratoga. The same month he was given command of a captured British privateer, which was quickly retaken by the British; Barney was then confined to Mill Prison in England. Escaping, Barney crossed the Atlantic and made his way to Philadelphia in March 1782. Given command of the Pennsylvania ship the Hyder Ally, Barney won a notable victory over the General Monk on 8 April 1782, the latter being renamed General Washington, with Barney in command until the war's end.

After the Revolution, Barney became a successful businessman and a supporter of the Constitution. In 1794 President Washington nominated him one of the six captains of the new navy, but Barney declined after learning he was ranked third on the list. After a few more years in trade, he took a position as commodore in the navy of revolutionary France, serving until 1802, when he returned to Baltimore. At the beginning of the War of 1812, he put to sea as captain of the privateer Rossie, capturing eighteen prizes valued at $1.5 million in just three months. He spent the rest of the war commanding a small fleet charged with defending the Chesapeake from the British. When the British finally attacked in August 1814, Barney had to burn his ships, marching his men to meet the British at Bladensburg. In the ensuing battle, only Barney's 500 sailors and marines held their positions, the militia fleeing in panic all around them. In 1818 he decided to move to Kentucky but became sick on the way and died at Pittsburgh on 1 December.


Norton, Louis A. Joshua Barney: Hero of the Revolution and 1812. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2000.

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