Sea Stories

Commodore Barney

No old Triton who has passed his calms under the bows of the long-boat could say of Joshua Barney that he came into a master's berth through the cabin windows. He began at the rudiments, and well he understood the science. All his

predilections were for the sea. Having deserted the counting room, young Barney, at the age of twelve, was placed for nautical instruction in a pilot-boat at Baltimore, till he was apprenticed to his brother-in-law. At the age of fourteen, he was appointed second mate, with the approbation of the owners, and before he was sixteen he was called upon to take charge of his ship at sea, in which the master had died. This was on a voyage to Nice. The ship was in such a state that it was barely possible to make Gibraltar, where for necessary repairs he pledged her for L700, to be repaid by the consignee at Nice, who however declined, and called in the aid of the Governor to compel Barney to deliver the cargo, which he had refused to do. He was imprisoned, but set at large on some intimation that he would do as desired, but when he came on board, he struck his flag, and removed his crew, choosing to consider his vessel as captured. He then set out for Milan, to solicit the aid of the British Ambassador there, in which he succeeded so well that the authorities of Nice met him on his return to apologize for their conduct. The assignee paid the bond, and Barney sailed for Alicant, where his vessel was detained for the use of the great armada, then fitting out against Algiers, the fate of which was a total and shameful defeat. On his return home, his employer was so well satisfied with his conduct, that he became his firm friend ever after. He soon offered himself as second in command on board the sloop Hornet, of ten guns, one of two vessels then preparing for a cruise under Commodore Hopkins, for this was in the early part of the revolution. The sloop fell in with a British tender, which she might have captured, but for the timidity of the American captain. The tender, mistaking her enemy, ran alongside and exposed herself to much danger.--Barney stood by one of the guns as the enemy came near, and was about to apply the match, when the bold commander commanded him to desist. Barney, whose spirit revolted at such a cause, threw his match-stick at the captain, with such force that the iron point stuck in the door of the round-house. This, in a youth not seventeen, urged well for the pugnacity of the man. At the end of this cruise, he volunteered on board the schooner Wasp, in which he soon had a brush with the Roebuck and another frigate, and with the aid of some galleys in which he had a command, the enemy was forced to retreat, with more loss than honor. Barney for his good conduct in this affair, was appointed to the command of the sloop Sachem, with the commission of lieutenant before he was seventeen. Before the cruise, however, Captain Robinson took command of the Sachem, which soon had an action with a letter-of-marque of superior force and numbers. It was well contested, and nearly half the crew of the brig were killed or wounded. In about two hours the letter-of-marque struck.--The captors secured a valuable prize, in a cargo of rum, and also a magnificent turtle intended as a present to Lord North, whose name was marked on the shell. This acceptable West Indian, Lieutenant Barney presented to a better man than it had been designed for, for he gave it to the Hon. R. Morris. On the return of the Sachem, both officers were transferred to a fine brig of fourteen guns, the Andrew Doria, which forthwith captured the Racehorse, of twelve guns and a picked crew. This vessel was of the Royal Navy, and had been detached by the Admiral purposely to take the Doria. On this voyage a snow was captured, in which the Lieutenant went as prize master, making up the crew partly of the prisoners. Being hard by an enemy's ship, he discovered signs of mutiny among his crew, and shot the ringleader in the shoulder; a proceeding that offered so little encouragement to his comrades, that they obeyed orders, and made sail, but it was too late to escape. The purser of the frigate which captured him, was on a subsequent occasion, so much excited as to strike Barney, who knocked him down, and went further in his resentment than fair fighting permits, for he kicked him down the gangway. The commander obliged the purser to apologize to Barney. Having been captured in the Virginia frigate, which ran aground at the Capes, and was deserted by her commander, Barney, with five hundred other prisoners, was sent round, in the St. Albans frigate, to New York. As the prisoners were double in number to the crew, Barney, formed a plan of taking the ship, which was defeated or prevented by the treachery of a Frenchman. Barney was a prisoner at New York, for five months, after which he took the command of a schooner of two guns, and eight men, with a cargo of tobacco for St. Eustatia, for he was better pleased to do a little than to do nothing. He was however, taken, after a running fight, by boarding, by a privateer of four large guns and sixty men. His next cruise was with his friend Robinson, in a private ship of ten guns and thirty-five men, in which they encountered the British privateer Rosebud of sixteen guns and one hundred and twenty men. On the return, a letter-of-marque of sixteen guns and seventy men was captured. The Lieutenant had now prize money enough to be converted, on his return, into a large bundle of continental bills, which he stowed away in a chaise box, on taking a journey, but which he could not find when he arrived at his destination. He kept his own secret, however, and "went to sea again," second in command of the United States' ship Saratoga, of sixteen nine-pounders. The first prize was a ship of twelve guns, captured after an action of a few minutes. On the next day, the Saratoga hoisted English colors, and came along side a ship which had two brigs in company, then running up the American ensign, she poured in a broadside, while Lieutenant Barney, with fifty men, boarded the enemy. The immediate result was, the conquest of a ship of thirty-two guns and ninety men. The two brigs, one of fourteen and the other of four guns, were also captured. The division of prize money would have made the officers rich, but no division took place, for all but the Saratoga were captured by a seventy-four and several frigates. Lieutenant Barney was furnished with bed and board, on deck, and with him, bed and board were synonymous terms, but he was allowed to choose the softest plank he could find. In England he was confined in prison, from which he escaped, and, after various adventures, arrived at Beverly, Massachusetts, and, as soon as he landed, was offered the command of a privateer of twenty guns. On his arrival at Philadelphia, he accepted the command of one of several vessels, cruising against the enemies' barges, and the refugee boats, that infested the Delaware River and Bay. His ship was the Hyder Ally, a small vessel of sixteen six pounders. As a superior vessel of the enemy was approaching, Barney directed his steersman to interpret his commands by the rule of contraries. When the enemy was ranging alongside, Barney cried out, "Hard a-port." The helmsman clapt his helm the other way, and the enemy's jib-boom caught in the fore rigging, and held her in a position to be raked, and never was the operation of raking more suddenly or effectually performed. The British flag came down in less than half an hour, and the captors made little delay for compliments, for a frigate from the enemy was rapidly approaching. The prize was the General Marle, of the Royal Navy, with twenty nine pounders, and one hundred and thirty-six men; nearly double the force and metal of the captors. After the peace, Commodore Barney made a partial settlement in Kentucky, and became a favorite with the old hunters of that pleasant land. He was appointed Clerk of the District Court of Maryland, and also an auctioneer. He also engaged in commerce, when his business led him to Cape Francois during the insurrection, and where he armed his crew, and fought his way, to carry off some specie which he had secreted in barrels of coffee. On his return he was captured by a pirate, which called herself an English privateer. Barney, however, was a bad prisoner, and with a couple of his hands rose upon the buccaneers and captured their ship. In this situation it was no time for Argus himself to sleep, with more than an eye at a time. The Commodore slept only by day in an armed chair on deck, with his sword between his legs, and pistols in his belt, while his cook and boatswain, well armed, stood the watch at his side. On another occasion, he was captured in the West Indies, by an English frigate, where he received the usual British courtesies, and he was tried in Jamaica for piracy, &c. It is needless to say that, though in an enemy's country, he was acquitted by acclamation. This accusation originated with the commander of the frigate, who, however, prudently kept out of sight; though an officer in the same frigate, expressed at a Coffee House, a desire to meet Barney, without knowing that he was present, that he might have an opportunity to settle accounts with the rascal. The rascal bestowed upon the officer the compliments that were usual on such an occasion, and tweaked that part of his head that is so prominent in an elephant. We cannot follow the Commodore through his subsequent fortunes and adventures. In France he received the hug fraternal of the President of the Convention, and the commission of Captain of the highest grade in the Navy. He fitted out several vessels of his own to harass the British trade, in which he was very successful. He received the command of two frigates, which were almost wrecked in a storm, though he succeeded in saving them. In the last war, his services are more immediately in our memories.

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