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Courtesy of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA; National Archives Records Administration.

The Sword Will be Unveiled on Sept. 13, Which Marks the 220th Anniversary of His Passing

The Revolutionary War sword of Commodore John Barry, considered a “Father of the U.S. Navy,” will return to Philadelphia for the first time since 1939 and will be on view at the Museum of the American Revolution beginning Sept. 13, 2023, which is celebrated as Commodore Barry Day and this year marks the 220th anniversary of his passing. The sword, which is on loan from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, was displayed in the Oval Office during John F. Kennedy’s presidency.

A private unveiling event will take place at the Museum on Wednesday, Sept. 13, from 8 – 10 a.m. (Please note: This event is not open to the public, but media are invited to attend). The sword will then be on view to the general public in the Museum’s McCausland Foundation gallery, which explores the “War at Sea,” through July 2024.

“We hope that by bringing Commodore John Barry's sword to Philadelphia, we will raise awareness of Barry's role as an exceptional commander in the Revolutionary War and as a central figure in the creation of the United States Navy,” said Dr. Philip C. Mead, Chief Historian and Curator for the Museum of the American Revolution. “As an Irish-American Revolutionary, Barry's story has long held particular importance for Irish-American communities in the city of Philadelphia. We are grateful for their encouragement and support of this effort.”

John Barry, born in County Wexford, Ireland, immigrated to Philadelphia where he served with distinction as an officer in the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War. In April 1776, near the Virginia Capes, Barry oversaw the first capture of a British ship by the young Continental Navy. In 1794, he was given the first captain’s commission in the newly established United States Navy. Barry’s Revolutionary War sword is represented in the statue of him that stands outside of Independence Hall, which the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick presented to the City of Philadelphia in 1907.

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This shows President Kennedy playing with his son John in 1962 with the sword on view in the background. Courtesy of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA; National Archives Records Administration.

President Kennedy’s decision to display Barry’s sword in the Oval Office stemmed from the President’s own naval service during WWII and his Irish ancestry. County Wexford, where John Barry was born, is also the ancestral home of President Kennedy.

On Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023, from Noon – 12:30 p.m., during Philadelphia’s celebration of Navy Week and Marine Corps Week, a public event will be held on the Museum’s outdoor plaza, immediately following the Commodore John Barry Commemorative Mass at Old St. Mary’s Church in Old City, where Barry’s grave is located. The ceremony will include representatives from the Museum and the U.S. Navy discussing Barry’s history and significance as well as a musical performance by the U.S. Navy brass quintet. This event is free and open to the public. Attendees are welcome to purchase a ticket to the Museum to view Barry’s sword following the ceremony. More information here.

On Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023, award-winning author Tim McGrath will present a lecture about the Continental Navy with a focus on Commodore Barry’s local connections to Philadelphia and the world of James Forten, a free Black Philadelphian and privateer. The lecture, part of the Museum’s popular Read the Revolution Speaker Series, is inspired by two of his books, Give Me a Fast Ship: The Continental Navy and America’s Revolution at Sea and John Barry: An American Hero in the Age of Sail. Tickets will be available at a later date.

About Museum of the American Revolution
The Museum of the American Revolution uncovers and shares compelling stories about the diverse people and complex events that sparked America’s ongoing experiment in liberty, equality, and self-government. Through the Museum’s unmatched collection, immersive galleries, powerful theater experiences, and interactive elements, visitors gain a deeper appreciation for how this nation came to be and feel inspired to consider their role in ensuring that the promise of the American Revolution endures. Located just steps away from Independence Hall, the Museum serves as a portal to the region’s many Revolutionary sites, sparking interest, providing context, and encouraging exploration. The Museum, which opened on April 19, 2017, is a private, non-profit, and non-partisan organization. For more information, visit or call 877.740.1776.