Commodore Joshua Barney (USN)

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Joshua Barney

Birthdate: (59)
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Death: December 1, 1818 (59)
Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, United States
Place of Burial: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of William Barney II and Frances Holland Watts
Husband of Harriet Barney (Coale) and Anne Bedford
Father of Adalee Barney; Elizabeth Barney; Joshua Jr. Barney; William Bedford Barney; John Barney and 4 others

Managed by: Amy Marie Vennemeyer
Last Updated:

About Commodore Joshua Barney (USN)

A Patriot of the American Revolution for PENNSYLVANIA with the rank of Captain. DAR Ancestor # A006521

Commodore Joshua Barney served in United States Navy during the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Commodore Barney died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 10, 1818 enroute to Kentucky, from complications related to the wound he received at the Battle of Bladensburg.

He was made a Freemason in the Lodge of the Nine Sisters, Paris, France in 1799 (although other sources state that he was raised in Lodge No. 3, Philadelphia, Pa. on May 17, 1777, and still another lists him as a member of No. 3 on May 1, 1777). He was a visitor of Lodge No. 2, Philadelphia on June 16, 1780.

There are several articles and books about him; see for history and many other references.

Joshua Barney (6 July 1759 – 1 December 1818) was a commodore in the United States Navy, born in Baltimore, Maryland, who served in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

Revolutionary War

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 on the Wasp and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant for gallantry in the action between the 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.

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

Battle of Delaware Bay

In 1782, he was put in command of the Pennsylvania ship, Hyder Ally, in which in April he captured HMS General Monk, a warship that was much more heavily armed than the Hyder Ally. He was given command of the Monk and sailed for France with dispatches for Benjamin Franklin, returning with news that peace had been declared. After the Revolution Barney joined the French Navy, where he was made commander of a squadron.

War of 1812

Chesapeake Bay Flotilla

At the outbreak of the War of 1812, after a successful but unprofitable privateering cruise as commander of the Baltimore schooner Rossie, 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.

On June 1, 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 74s. 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 June 10. 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.

On June 26, after the arrival of troops commanded by U.S. Army Colonel Decius Wadsworth, and U.S. Marine 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.

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 remarkable flotilla could fall into British hands, Secretary of the Navy Jones ordered Barney to take his squadron as far up the Patuxent as possible, to Queen Anne, and scuttle the squadron 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, which the British captured, of the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla.

Battle of Bladensburg

During the Battle of Bladensburg, Barney and 500 Marines and flotillamen made a heroic defense of the national capital—fighting against the enemy hand to hand with cutlasses and pikes. The battle raged for four hours but eventually the British defeated the greatly outnumbered 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. Barney was severely wounded, receiving a bullet deep in his thigh that could never be removed.

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 having occurred when George Washington rode out and personally crushed the Whiskey rebellion.


Commodore Barney died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 10, 1818 enroute to Kentucky, from complications related to the wound he received at the Battle of Bladensburg.

Namesake and honors

Four US Navy ships were named for him:

USS Commodore Barney, a Civil War ferryboat

USS Barney (TB-25), a torpedo boat built at the Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine in 1900

USS Barney (DD-149), a Wickes-class destroyer, built at Cramps’ Shipbuilding in Philadelphia, launched 5 Sep 1918

USS Barney (DDG-6) was a Charles F. Adams guided missile destroyer, built at New York Shipbuilding in Camden, New Jersey, launched 10 Dec 1960.

A replica of a gunboat of Barney's Chesapeake Bay Flotilla today sits in a waterside park in Bladensburg.

A traffic circle on Pennsylvania Ave., SE, in Washington, D.C. is named for Barney.

A road, Commodore Joshua Barney Drive, NE, in Washington, D.C. is named for Barney.

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Commodore Joshua Barney (USN)'s Timeline

July 6, 1759
Baltimore, Maryland, United States
December 7, 1781
Age 22
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
January 23, 1782
Age 22
Age 25
December 21, 1787
Age 28
Age 30
December 1, 1818
Age 59
Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, United States