Joshua Barney was born in Baltimore County and began his career at sea at a young age, sailing on merchant ships. He then served for the Continental Navy during the American Revolution.
At the start of the War of 1812, he commanded the fist privateer Clipper, the Rossie, to sail out of Baltimore and captured nearly 18 British vessels at the value of one and a half million dollars.
In spring 1813, the British began plundering in the Chesapeake Bay to divert American attention from British possessions in Canada. On July 4, 1813, Barney proposed to Secretary of the Navy William Jones to build a flotilla of gunboats and row barges to battle the British. Jones agreed to Barney's proposal and gave him a commission as Commodore.
Initially Barney’s flotilla consisted of eight barges and galleys built for the navy at Baltimore, some city barges, and other vessels to be supplied by the navy. He added to this by purchase and construction. The British, meanwhile, increased their presence in the bay and also built barges. When informed of the British activities, Barney’s reaction was, “I am anxious to be at them.” At the end of May 1814, the flotilla of eighteen vessels sailed from Baltimore, intent on attacking the British fort on Tangier Island, Virginia. The British forced Barney into the Patuxent River, where he fought two battles with the British on St. Leonard's Creek in June. At the end of the second battle, Barney was able to escape and sail his flotilla up the Patuxent.
A British invasion force arrived in the Chesapeake Bay in mid-August 1814. The expedition's first objective was to capture or destroy Barney's flotilla. A British squadron forced the flotilla high up the Patuxent. Under orders to avoid capture from Secretary Jones, Barney's sailors blew up the flotilla east of Upper Marlboro near Pig Point on August 22nd. Barney and his men subsequently played a brave and significant role in the Battle of Bladensburg on August 24. Barney, in command of about 400 U.S. Marines and sailors, held off the British as they swept toward Washington, DC. Eventually outflanked, Barney's men were forced to surrender, having suffered two killed and several wounded, including the commodore who was severely wounded in the thigh. Paroled from capture, Barney spent the rest of the war at his farm near Elk Ridge (now Elkridge). The effects of his wound led to his death in 1818.
Excerpts from Geroge, Christopher T. "Maryland Online Encyclopedia," and Heidler, David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler, “Encyclopedia of the War of 1812.” Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1997, pp 476-477.
Taylor, Blaine, "Maryland's Gutsy Seadog: Joshua Barney, Part One," Sea Classics, February 2012, pp. 34-41; 64-65.
Taylor, Blaine, "Joshua Barney: Maryland's Famous Sea Dog and the War of 1812," Sea Classics, March 2012, pp. 34-40; 44-45.
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Joshua Barney embodies the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission's theme of Courage: Marylanders have exhibited extraordinary courage, even when faced with overwhelming odds, in defense of our freedoms. Learn more about the Commission and its mission, goals, and themes.