Commodore Joshua Barney’s Personal Objects Gifted by Descendants To The Maryland Historical Society

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Dating to War of 1812 period, these objects shed new light on Barney’s activities

Boarding Pistol with bayonet, owned by Joshua Barney, early 19th century, MdHS 2014 Gift of Anne Helm Galvin, John Bonnycastle Helm, Sarah Boykin Hardy, Archibald Hardy IV, and Mason Bonnycastle Hardy

Personal objects belonging to War of 1812 Hero Commodore Joshua Barney have been gifted to the Maryland Historical Society by Barney’s descendants. The objects, which include Barney’s pistol, his spyglass, his personal journal, and hundreds of letters and documents, will serve to broaden understanding of Barney's activities between 1812 and 1814 as well as his relationship with his family.

“The Maryland Historical Society is very honored to be receiving this important gift,” says Maryland Historical Society President Burt Kummerow, “This priceless material related to a great 1812 hero is one of the very best legacies to come out of the Bicentennial.” The objects are currently on view in the In Full Glory Reflected: Maryland in the War of 1812 exhibition at the Maryland Historical Society (201 W. Monument St, Baltimore, MD, 21201).

“I knew that the items we would be donating would be handled in the best possible way if they were given to the Maryland Historical Society to take care of for future generations,” says Anne Helm Galvin, descendant of Commodore Joshua Barney. “My relatives and I strongly feel that these artifacts are part of American history and need to be shared with future generations so Barney and other Defenders of the War of 1812 are given proper credit for their efforts.”

About Joshua Barney

Born in Baltimore, Joshua Barney (6 July 1759-1 December 1818) was a hero of both the American Revolution and the War of 1812. He first went to sea at age 13 and by his teens, Barney had become popular throughout the country for his exploits, having been captured three times, held on a notorious prison ship and escaped his captors—twice. Impressed by Barney’s achievements, the French hired him to run their West Indies Squadron in the 1790s. But Barney’s most important adventures came with the War of 1812, first as commander of the legendary Baltimore privateer Rossie, which preyed on British shipping.

In 1813, greatly outnumbered by the Royal Navy, Barney presented a plan to Secretary of the Navy William Jones for the defense of the Chesapeake Bay. It involved a flotilla of, small, inexpensive barges, expertly rowed by veteran mariners in the Bay’s shallow waters with the support of nearby land forces. Constantly pestering their muscle-bound enemy, this ‘Mosquito Fleet’ served as a disruption to the mighty British. In 1814, Barney became Commodore of the US Chesapeake Flotilla.

Frustrated by their inability to quell Barney, the British instituted a ‘campaign of terror,’ destroying the towns of Calverton, Huntingtown, Prince Frederick, Benedict, Lower Marlboro and St. Leonard.

Worried that Barney’s fleet could fall into British hands, Secretary of the Navy Jones ordered Barney far upriver, and to scuttle his vessels if threatened. That Barney did, and, with 360 sailors and 120 Marines now fighting on land, he participated in the pivotal Battle of Bladensburg. Barney was wounded in the battle and would succumb to his injuries four years later.

Noteworthy Objects

  •     Pistol (pictured at top): An unusual European boarding pistol with its folding bayonet, it descended in the Barney family and may have been purchased by Barney from a local gun dealer or even given to him after the Revolutionary War.
  •     Spyglass: Made by Adams of Fleet Street, which was one of the most famous scientific instrument workshops in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century London. This spyglass bears the Adams mark on its eye piece. It is likely Barney bought this for himself on one of his trips to England.
  •     Wallet: When it arrived at the museum, letters and documents written by Barney himself had long been stored in the wallet. Their contents date to the period of the War of 1812
  •     Barney’s Commission to Captain of the Flotilla in the Service of the United States, Signed by President James Madison, April 25, 1814

Other objects include a decanter, a flagon, a Masonic Apron, made of silk, and a trunk made in China, 19th century.

“Some of the personal letters in this large collection, written in the midst of the conflict, are very touching,” says Burt Kummerow,

The objects had been on loan to the Maryland Historical Society through the Star Spangled Spectacular celebration. They were gifted to the museum on December 31, 2014. They will be on view in the In Full Glory Reflected: Maryland in the War of 1812 gallery through 2015.

“In 2012, my family took a ‘War of 1812’ vacation to discover more about the war and to visit first-hand the places that Joshua Barney had been and participated in during the war,” says Anne Helm Galvin, “We followed the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail and visited every place we could find that Barney may have been associated with at the time. But I was also on a quest to find the place where my brother, cousins and I could donate the items that had been handed down to us that belonged to the Commodore.

“We wanted to stand on the banks of St. Leonard's Creek and see where the flotilla scuffled with the British,” Galvin continues, “We wanted to see where the Battle of Bladensburg occurred and look out to where his troops took a stand before the capture and burning of Washington. Of course, we visited Fort McHenry and Baltimore.

“On our last day, I insisted that we visit the Maryland Historical Society so we could see Barney's portrait. Up until this point, I was not really feeling encouraged as to where the items should donated. Nothing had felt like the right place yet. When we walked in the MDHS and saw his portrait and other items prominently on display along with those of the other defenders, I knew we had found the home for his belongings. We have always felt that Barney was sort of a forgotten hero but the MDHS showed us that this is not true.

“My family is confident that Commodore Barney's personal belongings have come home by being at the MDHS. We look forward to seeing what is found through his personal papers and the research done on the various items. But we are happiest knowing that they will be taken care of for generations to come and that many will learn about the fascinating life of Joshua Barney.”

About The Maryland Historical Society

Founded in 1844, The Maryland Historical Society Museum and Library occupies an entire city block in the Mount Vernon district of Baltimore. The society's mission is to "collect, preserve, and interpret the objects and materials that reflect Maryland's diverse cultural heritage." The Society is home to the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner and publishes a quarterly titled "Maryland Historical Magazine." Visit

For more details, contact Marketing Director Laura Rodini at lrodini(at)mdhs(dot)org or by phone: 410-685-3750 ext. 322.

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Laura Rodini
Maryland Historical Society
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