Commodore Joshua Barney (1759-1818) & the U.S. Chesapeake Flotilla

The most famous naval officer in Maryland waters during the war was Captain Joshua Barney, born on his fathers’s upper Bear Creek farm in Baltimore County on July 6, 1759. At seventeen years of age he began his naval career among various vessels during the Revolutionary Wa on board the schooners Hornet, Wasp, Sachem, frigate Virginia and the sloop of war Saratoga.

In 1794 while accompanying U.S. Ambassador James Monroe to France, Barney entered the French naval service which gave him a captain’s commission and made him commander of a squadron – thus the title of commodore. In 1800 he resigned and returned to America. In June 1812 he became one of the first sea captains to receive a privateer commission out of Baltimore for his private armed schooner Rossie. His first and only cruise of the war was very sucessful returning to his home in Elkridge, Anne Arundel County.

On July 4, 1813, Barney submitted a plan for the defense of the Chesapeake to conists of a fleet of gunboats, barges and a schooner. On August 20 he was commissioned a captain in the U.S. Flotilla service – that became known as the U.S. Chesapeake Flotilla. In April 1814 the flotilla sailed south from Baltimore to the lower Maryland on the Patuxent region to defend the Chesapeake tidewater.

For the next four months, Barney engaged the British own flotilla barges in a series of naval skirmishes that summer at Cedar Creek and upon St. Leonard’s Creek, then in the Patuxent River, where at Pig Point, knowing the British superior numbers and unable to navigate further upriver, Barny ordered the flotilla to be “blown to atoms” to prevents its capture.

On August 24 his five hindred sailors marched overland to defend the Capitol at the Battle of Bladensburg making a heroic but futile stand against an overwhelming British army and were the last, along with the U.S. Marines to leave the battlefield. The American defeat left the road to Washington undefended, the British entered the city and burned it.

At Bladensburg Barney was severely wounded and was paroled that day upon the field by none other than Rear-Admiral George Cockburn, RN, Barney’s nemesis and the co-arsonist of the Washington. The musket ball remained in his thigh as he recuperated on his Elkridge farm. Four years later while traveling west near Pittsburg, Barney died on December 1, 1818  and was buried in  Pittsburg Cemetery.

Sources: A Biographical Memoir of the Late Commodore Joshua Barney by Mary Barney (Boston: Gray and Brown, 1832): Flotilla: The Patuxent Naval Campaign in the War of 1812 by Donald G. Shomette (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010).

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Published in: on March 17, 2011 at 3:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

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