Joshua Barney was born to sail the seas. Between 1771 and 1782, he served as an apprentice aboard a pilot boat; a second mate on the unarmed brig Sidney; a Master’s Mate on the ten-gun sloop Hornet; a first mate on the four-gun schooner Wasp; and a lieutenant aboard the ten-gun sloop Sachem, the fourteen-gun brig Andrea Doria, the twenty-eight-gun frigate Virginia, the sixteen-gun Saratoga, the forty-gun frigate South Carolina, and the six-gun brig Charming Polly. Each commission had its own harrowing experiences and brushes with death.
His leadership was tested three times: when Captain Drysdale of the Sydney died at sea, when Captain Robinson was seriously wounded after the battle with the British brig Two Friends, and when Captain Nicholson abandoned the Virginia after she ran aground. His seamanship was tested twice: once off the coast of Gibraltar with his ship leaking like a sieve, and the other during a furious gale amidst breakers and shoals off the American coast. His courage was tested three times: when he was captured while serving aboard the Thomas by the HMS Perseus (he was paroled), when he was captured while serving aboard the Virginia by the HMS Emerald and sent to the New York prison ship St. Albans (he was exchanged), 1 and when he was captured while serving aboard the Charming Polly by the HMS Intrepid and sent to Old Mill prison in Plymouth, England (he escaped). 2 In 1775, he sailed aboard the Hornet with Commodore Hopkins’ squadron to New Providence in the Bahamas and in 1776 he was aboard the Andrea Doria that sailed to St. Eustatius and received for the first time the ritual salute extended to a vessel of a sovereign nation entering a foreign port. Few in a state or the Continental Navy could surpass his daring, yet it was not until the spring of 1782 that his reputation became established.
In 1782 the Delaware River and Bay were filled with loyalist privateers who preyed upon the merchantmen sailing into and out of Philadelphia. Their success in large part was due to the protection offered to them by the presence of several of His Majesty’s ships of war. The merchants of Philadelphia petitioned the State of Pennsylvania for protection.
On April 9, the Pennsylvania Legislature determined to equip a war vessel … for the purpose of cruising these waters. Twenty-five thousand pounds were appropriated, and authority was granted to borrow twenty-five thousand pounds more if necessary … Francis Gurney, John Patton, and William Allibone were appointed commissioners to secure the necessary vessels. 3
The merchants, unwilling to wait for slow moving legislation, decided to fit out and arm a vessel. They chose the 100-ton sloop Hyder-Ally, owned by fellow merchant John Willcocks. They borrowed funds from Robert Morris’s Bank of North America. Morris was not only the Superintendent of Finance but also the Agent of Marine for the Continental Congress. In 1776, he was chairman of the Committee of Safety and a member of the Marine Committee that promoted Joshua Barney from first mate of the schooner Wasp to the rank of lieutenant in the Continental Navy. In fact, he personally informed Barney of the promotion on June 20:
The Committee have heard of you good behavior, Mr. Barney, during the engagement with the enemy in the Delaware, and have authorized me to offer you this letter of Appointment as a Lieutenant in the Navy of the United States. I will add, for myself, that if you continue to act with the same bravery and devotion to the cause of our country on future occasions, you shall always find in me a friend ready and happy to serve you! 4
Morris was also a friend of Daniel Smith, the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Commissioners for the Defense of the Delaware. Morris recommended that Joshua Barney be promoted to the rank of captain in the Pennsylvania State Navy and granted command of the armed ship. The recommendation was approved and Barney accepted his commission on April 3. 5 He oversaw all of the Hyder-Ally’s preparations and on April 7, Capt. Joshua Barney aboard the Hyder-Ally, along with the twelve-gun sloop General Greene and ten-gun sloop Charming Sally, escorted a five-ship merchantmen convoy to Cape May at the mouth of the Delaware Bay. 6 Once the convoy was safely clear of the bay, the Hyder-Ally was to remain in the area and offer protection to any other American merchantmen in need, but on no account was she to put to sea.
On April 8, while lying in wait of a fair wind, the convoy was discovered by the frigate HMS Quebec captained by Christopher Mason, the sloop HMS General Monk captained by Josiah Rogers, and the brig Fair American. The General Monk was originally a Pennsylvania privateer named the George Washington that Admiral Arbuthnot had captured in September of 1781 and renamed.
Barney immediately ordered the convoy to head back into the bay under the protection of the Charming Sally, while the Hyder-Ally and General Greene provided cover. The Fair American gave chase to the convoy, the Quebec with a deep draft avoided the shoals and blocked the opposite side of the bay’s mouth at Cape Henlopen, and the General Monk engaged the Hyder-Ally. The General Greene ran aground and could offer no support to the Hyder-Ally. The Fair American and Charming Sally soon thereafter also ran aground, the former on the sandy flats off Egg Island and the latter on the Over-falls shoal. The Hyder-Ally carried sixteen 6-pounders with a crew of 110; the 250-ton General Monk carried twenty 9-pounders and four 6-pounders with a crew of 136. 7 The firepower of the General Monk was nearly double that of the Hyder-Ally and she had twenty-five percent more men. Barney, undeterred, ordered all guns loaded but the gun ports to remain closed. Once within firing range the Hyder-Ally opened her gun ports and fired a broadside of “grape, canister, and round shot, all did their appointed duty.” 8 They damaged the main mast and shredded many of the General Monk’s sails. As the ships approached each other, quietly he gave his men the following orders:
If I direct you to prepare for boarding, you are to understand me as meaning that you are to remain at your guns, and be ready to fire the moment the word shall be given, If, on the contrary, I order you to give him a broadside, you are to consider me as calling for the boarders, and to hold yourselves ready to board as soon as we can gain a proper position. 9
Barney then went to his helmsman and said, “I am going to shout out my next order for the benefit of the enemy but follow my next order by the rule of the contrary.” Rogers assumed that Barney did not intend to put up a fight and that the Hyder-Ally was willing to surrender so the remaining merchantmen could escape.
After the Hyder-Ally drifted one quarter of a ship length in front of the General Monk, Barney shouted to his helmsman loud enough for his opponent Captain Rogers to hear, “Hard–a-port your helm – do you want him to run aboard of us?” 10 As directed, his helmsman did the opposite. As he had predicted, Captain Rogers also yelled “Hard-a-port.” The General Monk was on the starboard side of the Hyder-Ally. Rogers’ plan had been to get behind the Hyder-Ally and fire at its undefended stern. With Barney’s helmsman turning the ship hard to starboard, the ships collided. The General Monk’s ”jib boom caught in the fore-rigging of the Hyder-Ally.” Neither ship could go forward or backward. 11 Barney then gave the order to “prepare to board” loud enough again for Captain Rogers of the General Monk to hear, and in turn, Rogers ordered all of his men on deck to repel the Americans. Within moments the Americans poured a deadly fire from repeated broadsides and marines stationed atop onto the deck of the General Monk. With the rigging entangled, it took Barney’s men but a minute to lash the ships together. Once completed, Barney shouted, “Fire Broadsides!” at which point his men began to board the General Monk. Some of his men were given the task of cutting her shrouds and running rigging; this prevented the handling of what was left of the sails. Barney, after boarding, went to the captain’s quarters where he found the ship’s book of signals. He thought it might become useful if the Quebec returned. 12
The hand-to-hand fighting was fierce and bloody. It lasted for close to thirty minutes before a midshipman, the one remaining sailor with any rank not dead or wounded, struck the British colors. The General Monk suffered twenty men killed and thirty-three wounded; the Hyder-Ally suffered four killed and eleven wounded.13 Not until the battle was over did Barney realize that he suffered a flesh wound on the side of his head, a bullet hole in his hat, and another hole in his jacket. A prize crew of thirty-five was put aboard the General Monk; their first job was to prepare the ship so that it could sail. As they repaired the rigging and sails some of them noticed that the main sail had over 360 holes shot through it. 14
Concerned that the thirty-two-gun Quebec might set sail for the ships, Barney ordered the British flag to be flown from the General Monk’s mast and the Hyder-Ally to be tied to her stern; both would signify that the General Monk had been victorious. He then sent a message using the confiscated signal book to the Quebec confirming the victory. This bought Barney and the two ships enough time to return to the safety of the bay and widen the distance between them and the Quebec before she discovered the actual fate of the General Monk.
When Barney reached Chester, he found all of the merchantmen from the convoy safely anchored. Not wishing to be delayed, he sailed the General Monk accompanied by Hyder-Ally to Philadelphia. He wanted to make sure that all of the wounded, both American and British, received the proper care as soon as possible.
A gentleman near the wharf described the scene of their arrival:
I was then in Philadelphia, quite a lad, when the action took place. Both ships arrived at the lower part of the city with a leading wind, immediately after the action, bringing with them all their killed and wounded. Attracted to the wharf by the salute the Hyder-Ally fired, of thirteen guns, which was then the custom, one for each State, I saw the two ships lying in the stream, anchored near each other. In a short time, however, they warped into the wharf to land their killed and wounded, and curiosity induced me, as well as many others, to go aboard each vessel … The General Monk’s decks were in every direction besmeared with blood, covered with the dead and wounded, and resembled a charnel house … 15
Barney personally secured for Captain Rodgers a comfortable room in the home of a Quaker woman who cared for him until he fully recovered.
John Dickinson, Governor of the State of Pennsylvania, awarded Capt. Barney a gold-hilted sword for his brilliant and courageous action. “The sword was small with mountings on chased gold; the guard on one side had a representation of the Hyder-Ally, and on the other side the General Monk, the sails of each ship set in the action and the latter ship in the act of striking her flag.“ 16 The Supreme Executive Council of the State of Pennsylvania purchased the General Monk, renamed her the General Washington, refitted her and placed her under his command. 17 The George Washington, captained by Joshua Barney, would be the only American war ship in commission when the Treaty of Paris was ratified on January 14, 1784; six months later, she would be decommissioned and sold.
Capt. Joshua Barney was just twenty-three years old when the Hyder-Ally battled the General Monk.
1 Mary Barney, ed., A Biographical Memoir of the Late Commodore Joshua Barney: From Autobiographical Notes and Journals (Boston: Gray and Bowen, 1832), 70-75.
2 Ibid., 80-90.
3 Edgar S. Maclay, A History of American Privateers (D. Appleton and Company, 1899), 179.
4 Michael I. Weller, Commodore Joshua Barney: The Hero of the Battle of Bradensburg (Washington DC: Records of the Columbia Historical Society, 1911), 80.
5 Samuel Hazard, ed., Register of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Wm. F. Geddes, 1832), 9:132.
6 Charles Frederick Lincoln, Naval Records of the American Revolution (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1906), 348.
7 Charles W. Goldsborough, The United States’ Naval Chronicle (Washington City: James Wilson, 1824), 1:30.
8 Barney, A Biographical Memoir, 114.
9 Goldsborough, The United States’ Naval Chronicle, 31.
10 Barney, A Biographical Memoir, 114.
12 Thomas Williams, American Brave: Story of Admiral Joshua Barney (Bloomington, IN: Author House, 2014), 152.
13 Maclay, A History of American Privateers, 184.
14 H. Niles, ed., The Weekly Register, “13 November 1813,” Vol. VI (Baltimore: Franklin Press), 180.
15 Maclay, A History of American Privateers, 185.
16 Williams, American Brave, 154.
17 Pennsylvania Archives, Series 1, Vol. IX (1782), 531-32, Fold3.com.