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James Barron Papers (I)

Identifier: Mss. 65 B27

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

Correspondence and papers of Commodore James Barron relating to his career in the United States Navy, and especially relating to The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair in 1807 and to his duel with Stephen Decatur. Collection includes photocopies of patents issued to Barron for his inventions and a typescript of William Oliver Stevens' An Affair of Honor, a biography of Barron. Correspondents include John Adams, Jesse Duncan Elliott, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, Amos Kendall, Duff Green and Abel P. Upshur. 753 items.

Two Additions:

Mss. 87 B28  (Acc. 1987.29)

Archives of the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair, 1807-1808.  300 pages of correspondence, attorneys' interrogations, court testimony of court material of Commodore James Barron.  Rough drafts of published material, and some material not published.

Mss. Acc. 1999.44

ALS from Thomas Truxton, Norfolk, Virginia, to Capt. James Sever, 26 April 1800 regarding sending the Chesapeake (ship) to sea.  Mention of James Barron Sever is to turn over his crew to the Chesapeake, Chesapeake heading towards Craney Island, court of inquiry no hinderance to "this business".


  • Creation: 1766-1899


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access:

Collection is open to all researchers. Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, such as the Virginia Public Records Act (Code of Virginia. § 42.1-76-91); and the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (Code of Virginia § 2.2-3705.5). Confidential material may include, but is not limited to, educational, medical, and personnel records. If sensitive material is found in this collection, please contact a staff member immediately. The disclosure of personally identifiable information pertaining to a living individual may have legal consequences for which the College of William and Mary assumes no responsibility.

Conditions Governing Use:

Before reproducing or quoting from any materials, in whole or in part, permission must be obtained from the Special Collections Research Center, and the holder of the copyright, if not Swem Library.

Biographical Information:

Commodore James Barron, born 15 September 1768 in Hampton, Virginia, died 21 April 1851 in Norfolk, served under his father, Commodore James Barron the Elder, in the Revolutionary War. He was made Captain in the Virginia Navy in 1799 and transferred to the newly formed U.S. Navy in 1803. During the War with Tripoli he commanded the U.S. Frigates New Yorkand Presidentwhen his brother, Commodore Samuel Barron, was commander of the Mediterranean Squadron. He assisted his brother in that command when the latter's health failed and returned with him to Norfolk in 1805.

Appointed Commander of the Mediterranean Squadron in 1806 with the rank of Commodore, which title he retained for the rest of his life, he sailed aboard the U.S. Chesapeake.The British ship Leopardattacked the Chesapeakewhen Barron refused to allow his ship to be boarded in a search for British deserters. After a brief battle, Barron surrendered and on the request of his junior officers he was brought before a Naval court martial. The command was turned over to Capt. Stephen Decatur who in the Algerian War of 1815 became a national hero. Barron was suspended from the Navy for five years in a decision criticized by many, including B. Cocke of Washington and Robert Saunders of Williamsburg.

Barron took command of the merchant ship Portia, and after several voyages was caught in a Danish port by the outbreak of the War of 1812. He attempted to get passage home but was refused it because of the Danish neutrality and remained in Copenhagen until 1819. During this period he supported himself with his inventions including a new type of mill, a rope spinning machine, a cork cutter, and a dough kneading machine. Upon his return he sought a command in the Navy and in the course of this an argument by mail with Decatur resulted in the famous duel in which Barron was seriously injured and Decatur fatally. His second in the duel, Capt. J. D. Elliott was coupled with Barron in responsibility for the duel, though perhaps unfairly.

A Naval Court of Enquiry was held in 1821 to clear the name of Barron for his absence in the War of 1812 and other charges brought against him. The decision was very noncommittal and was criticized by many, including Carter Beverley and John Taliaferro of Williamsburg.

In 1824, Barron was given the command of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, largely through the influence of his friend, General Andrew Jackson. While there he participated in the entertaining of General Lafayette when he visited the U.S.

Commodore Barron took command of the Gosport Navy Yard in 1825 where he remained until 1831 when he returned to the command of the Philadelphia Navy Yard. In 1837, he resigned that command because an officer junior to him had been appointed President of the Naval Board in Washington, and was without command until 1842. From 13 March to 30 November 1842 he commanded the Navy Asylum, a retirement home for Naval men in Philadelphia. In that position he was also in charge of the training and examination of Midshipmen for the Navy, and his advice was asked when plans were being made for organization of the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1847. In 1845, he returned to Norfolk where he lived in retirement until his death in 1851.

During all this time he continued his interest in inventions which included a new type of pump and bellows ventilator for ships, a steam-powered battleship, a new type of dry dock, and a cylinder steam for ships developed with Amos Kendali. He was instrumental in the development of the Naval flag signal, which he first revised in 1798.

Commodore Barron supported the education of his grandson, James Barron Hope, whose early letters, a poem on Washington, and other poems are included at the end of Box 11. (See the James Barron Hope Papers for a continuation of these papers, and the Samuel Barron Papers for a chart to the genealogy of the Barron family.) Further information about this individual or organization may be available in the Special Collections Research Center Wiki: Barron


7.52 Linear Feet

Arrangement of Materials:

Arrangement: This collection is arranged mostly by date with certain subjects and materials being grouped together. These subjects include: The Leopard-Chesapeake Affair, Box-folder: 1:50-82; Undated Material, Box-folder: 12:1-35; Letters and drafts sent by James Barron, Box-folder: 12: 27-50; Manuscripts, Box-folder: 12:51-81; Accounts, Box-folder: 12:82-87; Papers connected with the inventions of James Barron, Box-folder: 14:1- 15; Pictorial Images, Box-folder: 14:16-22; and Newspaper Articles, Box: 15. Organization: This collection is organized into fifteen series, one series for each of the fifteen boxes in this collection.

Acquisition Information:

Gift: 2,739 items, 04/24/1945. Purchased: 1 item, 05/00/1969. Purchased: 1 item, 04/00/1970. Purchased: 1 item, 08/13/1979. Purchased:  300 items, 05/27/1987. Purchased: 1 item, 09/15/1999.

Related Materials:

Materials related to this collection can be found under the James Barron Hope Papers and the Samuel Barron Papers, Manuscripts and Rare Books Department, Swem Library, College of William and Mary.

Samuel Barron Papers, Manuscripts and Rare Books Department, Swem Library, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. Samuel Barron Papers, 1793-1942.538 items.Collection number: Mss. 65 B29.

James Barron Hope Papers, Manuscripts and Rare Books Department, Swem Library, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. James Barron Hope Papers, 1790-1965, 1847-1887.  993 items.  Collection number: Mss. 65 H77.

Physical Description

1043 items


Other Information:

Additional information may be found at

Guide to the James Barron Papers (I)
Special Collections Staff.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • May 24th, 2018: Updated by Anne Johnson in January 2010.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center Repository