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Author Tim McGrath speaks from a Museum branded podium as part of the Museum's Read the Revolution Speaker Series.

Author and avid sailor Tim McGrath joined us at the Museum on Wednesday evening, Nov. 15, for a special presentation, “’What Think You of an American Fleet?’: The Rise and Fall of the Continental Navy,” to kickoff the Museum's 2023-24 Read the Revolution Speaker Series. Drawing on two of his award-winning 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, McGrath illustrated the life of Commodore John Barry (1745-1803) and his role in the Continental Navy, our first official naval force.

Born the son of a farmer in County Wexford, Ireland, Barry arrived as a sailor in Philadelphia before 1760 and commanded naval forces for the Continental cause during the Revolutionary War. Named by President George Washington as the first commissioned officer in the new United States Navy, Barry continued his military service alongside Samuel Nicholson, first captain of frigate Constitution, and Philadelphian Richard Dale, First Mate aboard John Paul Jones’s Bonhomme Richard, and several other officers who served in both the Continental Navy and the United States Navy. Barry ended his career during America’s naval war with France and was buried with full military honors in Philadelphia’s Old St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Churchyard. In connection with the Museum’s special exhibit, Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia, McGrath also explored how the rise and fall of the Continental Navy, and Barry’s experiences, intersected with privateer James Forten’s Revolutionary War service at sea and help us to define American military and political leadership in the United States today.

The program was held in the Museum’s Liberty Hall with a live Q&A with both onsite and online audiences facilitated by Museum President & CEO Dr. R. Scott Stephenson following the presentation.

About Tim McGrath

Tim McGrath headshot with white beard, glasses, and the ocean in the background.

Tim McGrath is a recipient of the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Naval Literature and a two-time winner of the Commodore John Barry Award for Maritime Literature, honoring John Barry: An American Hero in the Age of Sail (2010) and Give Me a Fast Ship: The Continental Navy and America’s Revolution at Sea (2014). His latest book is James Monroe: A Life (2020). He is currently at work on Four Days at Gettysburg, which explores the decisions made by President Abraham Lincoln, General Robert E. Lee, and Major General George Gordon Meade before, during, and after the Battle of Gettysburg and their consequences. McGrath serves on the Board of Port Wardens at Independence Seaport Museum and previously served as a board member of Fort Mifflin on the Delaware. He lives outside Philadelphia.

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Book cover for Tim McGrath's book Give Me a Fast Ship featuring the title in black text over a goldish brown background with stars and a painting of naval ships.

Give Me a Fast Ship

Read an excerpt from Tim McGrath's book, Give Me a Fast Ship: The Continental Navy and America's Revolution at Sea.
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This image depicts the book cover of John Barry: An American Hero in the Age of Sail by Tim McGrath. The bottom of the cover shows two ships in battle on a body of water. There is cannon fire depicted. The title of the book is written in the middle of the cover, with the John Barry text in larger text than the rest of the title. The top of the book cover shows a portrait of John in his blue and gold military outfit. He is looking to his left.

John Barry

Read an excerpt from Tim McGrath about Continental Navy Officer John Barry's actions that turned a seeming disaster into a stunning victory.
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