JOSHUA BARNEY 1759 – 1818 By Maj. Henry Kenneth Bowers
Contributed by chhbmd (Charlie)
This article is about the Revolutionary War Captain Joshua
Barney written by a very good friend in the Sons of the American Revolution. - Charlie
Commodore Joshua Barney: distinguished American naval officer,
prominent for the services rendered to his country in the Revolutionary War of 1776—1783
and the War of 1812-1814; wounded in the land battle at Bladensburg defending
Washington D.C.; a freemason; a farmer; businessman; investor; with a strong
Baltimore County, Maryland family lineage and descendants.
His grandfather, William Barney, was living in Baltimore County by 1707. He died
19 March 1746, and was buried in the family graveyard in the Bear Creek Area of
Patapsco Neck in Baltimore County. He was married twice and had 12 children. His
oldest son, William, by the first wife Elizabeth Stevenson was born in
Baltimore County on 20 March 1718. William II continued the farming tradition on
the family tracts of land, and married Frances Holland Watts on January 26,
1743. He died in 1773 and is buried in the family graveyard. They had 6
children. A son, William S., was born on 28 December 1754 became a commanding
officer in the Marines and he was captured while on board an American frigate
the “Virginia". The 6th child of William II was Joshua Barney, one of fourteen
children. He was born on July 6, 1759 in Baltimore County.
When Joshua was ten years old, he was sent to live with his
older sister in Baltimore Town or Fell’s Point. Her husband was the ship
Captain, Thomas Drysdale, trading in the West Indies and Europe. Joshua went to
sea when he was about twelve & ½ years old in 1772. At this time many produces
were being imported and exported from the greater Baltimore area — Baltimore
Town, Fell’s Point, Jonestown, Elkridge, Joppa, etc.
Shipbuilding was a large industry. Wells, and David Stodder (who after the Revolutionary War built the
ship “Constellation”) were prominent shipbuilders, investors in trading and
merchants. They are just two of the wealthy citizens of Baltimore Town. This
brought many sailors and adventurers with their tales to the eager ears of many
youngsters who chose to go to sea. This also brought the young fraternity of
speculative masonry to Fell’s Point where the first lodge in Baltimore County
was warranted in 1770 by the Provincial Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and its
In 1774 when Joshua was at sea, his brother-in-law Captain Thomas Drysdale
became ill and died. Joshua took command of the storm damaged brig and completed
the voyage to the Mediterranean Sea where he sold the cargo of wheat. He
purchased the trade goods and sailed back to Baltimore. This was a time of
pirates operating in the Mediterranean Sea as well as the Caribbean Sea and
other parts of the world some were called Privateers.
In October 1775, the Continental Marine Committee fitted out at Baltimore two
cruisers to begin the American Navy. A Bermudan vessel was purchased, armed with
ten guns, named the “Hornet,” and placed under the command of Captain William
Stone with Joshua Barney as the second officer or Master’s Mate. He was only 16
years old. A crew had not yet been hired, and that duty of recruiting was
assigned to Barney. At this time, the new American Fleet arrived from
Philadelphia. It was the first Continental flag that had been seen in the United
Colony of Maryland. It was raised on the main mast to the music of drums and
fifes. Patriotism swelled. By the end of the day, Barney had enlisted a full
crew. Later, the “Hornet” and the “Wasp” eluded the British Navy patrolling the
mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and sailed to the Delaware where they joined the
fleet of Commodore Hopkins.
In February 1776 Commodore Hopkins’ Continental Fleet of 8 ships sailed south to
the West Indies. On the way, the tender “Fly” smashed into the “Hornet” causing
considerable damage. This fleet entered the port of New Providence and captured
the town bringing away the governor, several prominent citizens, and large
quantity of cannon's and other military stores. The Fleet returned to the
United Colonies where at Philadelphia Barney was transferred to the schooner
“Wasp,” mounting eight guns. Soon the “Wasp” captured a British tender in the
Delaware Bay. For Barney’s actions to date he was promoted to lieutenant in the
Navy of the United Colonies. Commodore Hopkins was dismissed from the United
Colonies Navy for not carrying out orders. Captain James Nicholson replaced
Hopkins on June 6, 1776. In the meantime, Captain Nicholson was placed in
command of the new frigate “Virginia” with 28 guns; built at Fell’s Point, and
with Lt. Joshua Barney second in command. Joshua’s brother, William, was in
command of the Marines assigned to the ship. On April 1, 1776 as the "Virginia”
tried to elude the British Navy at the mouth of the Chesapeake, the ship ran
aground on a sandbar, and before the British captured the “Virginia” Captain
Nicholson, with his papers, escaped in the ship’s barge. Lt. Barney, his
brother, and all personnel were captured.
On July 4, 1776, the United Colonies proclaimed their Declaration of
Independence from Great Britain! Lt. Joshua Barney, United States of America
Navy, was exchanged by the British. In August 1776, Barney was assigned to
serve on the sloop “Sachem.” For the next 2 to 3 years, Barney commanded several
armed merchantmen as privateers. In 1777, Robert Morris introduced Barney to
freemasonry and he became a member of Philadelphia Lodge #3. In 1778, another
Corps of Independents was raised in Baltimore Town by Count Pulaski.
Brittingham Dickeson held a commission in the Baltimore Town Militia. He lived
at 6 Philpot Street on Fell’s Point and was a Past Master of Masonic Lodge 415.
In 1780, as a First Lieutenant on board the “Saratoga,” a brig out of Baltimore
as a privateer, it fell prey to the British ship “Intrepid.” Barney spent nearly
a year as a prisoner in England at the Royal Navy Base at Plymouth until he
escaped. He spent about eight weeks in the costume of an English country
gentleman touring the West Country and London before slipping away across the
Channel to the Low Countries (in the company of a lovely Italian woman). There
he got aboard a ship going to America.
General George Washington attended the Provincial Military Masonic Lodge No.27
in the Maryland Line that was warranted with a Constitution and By-Laws on April
4, 1780 by the Provincial Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. In the 6
year period from April 1, 1777 to March 14,1783, as token from the actual
records, the licensed privateers which sailed cut of the Chesapeake Bay numbered
248, and this was while the British Navy was guarding the mouth of the Bay.
Likewise, a similar action was happening in the Delaware. Privateers were
financed by investors and speculators from the American Colonies, and
European countries as well. It was very profitable in the long term.
On April 8, 1782, Barney commanded the armed merchantman of 16 guns, “Hyder
Ally,” to protect a convoy leaving the Delaware. As the convoy entered the
Capes, Barney saw three British warships coming in from the Atlantic, so he sent
the convoy back while he attacked the sloop “General Monk.” The British frigate
and a brig stood off to watch the fight. In about 30 minutes, Barney captured
the “General Monk” and raised the British flag on both ships. The two remaining
British ship captains thought all was well in their favor and sailed away.
Barney brought his prize to Philadelphia and returned to take the convoy to sea.
The Pennsylvania Legislature awarded Barney a gold encrusted sword. The banker &
chairman of a committee of Congress, Robert Morris assigned new duties
to Barney. The first was to carry dispatches to Ben Franklin in France. While in
Paris, Ben Franklin introduced Barney to the Masonic Lodge of Nine Sisters where
he became an affiliated visitor. The captured British sloop, the “General Monk”
was repaired, made ready for war, and renamed the “George Washington”, which was
assigned to Captain Joshua Barney for the rest of the War. By 1784, all of the
warships of the United States of America were decommissioned.
Captain Barney, aged 25, engaged in seagoing commerce and farming. Then at age
37 from 1796 until 1802, he returned to sailing with distinction as a Commodore
in the French Navy in the West Indies.
In 1788, the citizens of tile U.S.A. voted for George Washington to be President
of this new Country. The votes were counted on April 6, 1789, and on April 16th
he left Mt. Vernon to go to New York City. Deputations met him all along his
route. Joshua Barney escorted him into Baltimore where his carriage was
accompanied by a cavalcade of citizens a greeting of ringing bells and salvos
of David Stodder’s Militia Artillery. Stodder was the Worshipful Master of the
Masonic Lodge #15 of Fell’s Point. The Masonic Grand Lodge A.F.& A.M. of
Maryland, the Provincial Masonic Lodge#15 now known as Lodge #3 A.F.&A.M., a
subordinate lodge of the Grand Lodge A.F.& A.M. of Maryland, led the procession
to the Fountain Inn where a welcoming committee composed of Joshua Barney, James
McHenry, Nicholas Rogers, Paul Bentalou, John Bankson, R. Smith, Isaac Griest,
O.H. Williams, Thorogood Smith, William Clemm, and John Swann presented George
Washington with an address, and a sumptuous banquet. The next day Mr. Washington
was escorted by Joshua Barney and Captain Nicholas Ruxton Moore with his Militia
to Wilmington, Delaware. On the 19th of May 1789 Mrs. Martha Washington with her
family were escorted by Barney in a sumptuous fashion to Baltimore and again to
On September 8, 1790, President Washington and his wife, escorted by Captain
Joshua Barney arrived here in Baltimore from Philadelphia on their way to Mt.
Vernon. On their entrance into town, they were received and saluted by a federal
discharge from Captain Stodder’s Artillery Company. On Thursday, he was
entertained by a company of merchants at an elegant entertainment prepared at
Mr. Grant’s Tavern. On Wednesday, October 10, 1792, President Washington and the
First Lady returning from Mt. Vernon stopped in Baltimore town where they
were escorted by Mr. Barney on their way back to Philadelphia. Another dinner
at Mr. Grant’s amid the discharge of artillery of Captain Stodder’s Company.
Barney’s family included two wives, successively, and ten children. He was in
his 40’s when he wrote his memoirs with vivid descriptions of his sea battles.
His daughter-in-law, Mary Chase Barney, whose father, Samuel Chase, had been a
signer of the Declaration of Independence, and later a Federal Justice of the
Supreme Court, wrote a biography of Joshua Barney after his death. One of his
homes is located in the town of Savage in present day Howard County, Maryland.
His farm was on both sides of the Little Patuxent River.
From 1803 until 1812 Joshua Barney again engaged in seagoing commerce and
farming. In May 1812, he sold all his property in greater Baltimore Town and
retired to his farm at Savage.
Baltimore and the other ports of Maryland shipped great tonnage of merchandise
- the fourth largest port in the new United States of America Very much trading
was being done with England and with her enemies at war — France, Spain, and
Holland. England treated the U.S.A. as her independent colony by stopping our
merchant ships and our warships to confiscate cargo and to impress our seamen,
which the English claimed were British subjects. The financial loss by American
commerce suffered greatly one so did Joshua Barney and his partners. In 1806
over, 3000 of our seaman who had been impressed complained to Congress “in just
one year.” Congress declared WAR against Great Britain on June 18, 1812. Again,
the 53 year old Captain Barney went to war as a successful commander of privateers.
In 26 naval combats, in both Wars, he was nearly always victorious.
The British gunboats were ravishing the Chesapeake Bay and its shores for
supplies, so Maryland built and supplied 18 gun barges and placed Commodore
Barney in command. He was successful in capturing and chasing the enemy down the
Bay until the large British Fleet arrived. Barney’s flotilla retreated far up
the Patuxent River to St. Leonard’s Creek and other creeks where all barges were
scuttled and burned. He and his crews took the guns and supplies up to
Bladensburg to join the defense of Washington, D.C. During the ensuing battle,
Commander Barney’s Artillery did considerable damage to the invading British
army and delayed it from the capture of Washington, D.C. until President
Madison and his entourage escaped. Barney and his flotilla men remained at their
cannons until captured at the points of British swords. He suffered a severe leg
wound when his horse was killed. Commodore Barney was paroled immediate, as the
British perceived him to he a true hero. Barney insisted that his flotilla men
also be paroled. At this battle, the U.S. troops did suffer 70% of the casualties.
A few years later the 59 year old, Barney decided to move to his vast domain of
wilderness — 50,000 acres with good title in Kentucky. So, in the fall of 1818
he and his family traveled by carriage, wagons, and horseback over the trail now
called the National Road through Cumberland, Maryland to the Redstone Fort now
called Brownsville, Pennsylvania. There he bought a flatboat with a cabin on it,
hired a crew, and floated downstream to Fort Pitt, now called Pittsburg,
Pennsylvania, at the beginning of the Ohio River. This trip was 57 miles of low
water with swirling currents, rocks, and frequent portages. The strain caused
illness and Barney died in Pittsburgh on December 1, 1818. He was given a great
funeral by the townspeople and all the dignitaries. He was buried in the
Presbyterian Churchyard; later his grave was moved into a large cemetery park
and is marked with a large impressive gravestone.
A fitting monument for so great a hero and man as was citizen and Commodore
Joshua Barney, a real Maryland Patriot!
In Joshua Barney’s will he stated that his son, Major William Bedford Barney,
was to get the musket ball after it was removed from his thighbone before burial.
Joshua Barney was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati. In honor of his
services, he received a ceremonial sword from the City of Philadelphia; a
ceremonial sword from the City of Baltimore; and a ceremonial sword from the
City of Washington, District of Columbia.
This research leads me to believe that Captain Joshua Barney became a good
friend of David Stodder of Fell’s Point, used his shipyard, and became a member
of the Masonic Lodge No.15 of Fell’s Point, Baltimore, Maryland.
Researched and, assembled by Maj. Henry Kenneth Bowers using resources as
follows and other notes:
1. Baltimore County Families 1659—1759
By Robert W. Barnes, Genealogical Publishing Co. 1989.
2. Commodore Joshua Barney
By William Frederick Adams, Springfield Pub. 1912
3. History of Maryland, Vol.11
By J. Thomas Scharf, Tradition Press, PA. 1879 reprinted 1967
4. Collier’s Encyclopedia, Vol.3, p.633 Published 1963
5. The 1812 War Cry, Vol.19 No.2, September 1992
Pub. The General Society of The War of 1812
6. Sails and Oars, Vol.2 No.2
A newsletter about the Chesapeake Flotilla Project.
7. Joshua Barney
By Ralph D. Paine; The Century Co. 1924
8. Why The Name Washington Lodge?
A talk by Richard Gawthrop, P.M. Washington Lodge No.3 A.F.& A.M. 1945
Edited by Charles H. Hill, Secretary, Nicholas Ruxton Moore Chapter MDSSAR March 8, 2006 for: Format, spelling, and punctuations only.