Barth, John

, a native of Dunkirk, an eminent naval hero, was the son of an humble fisherman, and was born in 1651. Before the year 1675, he was famous for a variety of acts no less singular than valiant, to particularize which would take up too much of our room. His courage having been signalised on a variety of occasions, he was appointed in 1692 to the command of a squadron consisting of seven frigates and a fire-ship. The harbour of Dunkirk was then blocked up by thirty-two ships of war, English and Dutch. He found means to pass this fleet, and the next day took four English vessels, richly freighted, and bound for the port of Archangel. He then proceeded to set fire to eighty-six sail of merchant ships of various burdens. He next made a descent on the coast of England, near Newcastle, where he burnt two hundred houses, and brought into Dunkirk prizes to the amount of 500,000 crowns. About the close of the same year, 1692, being on a cruise to the north with three men of war, he fell in with a Dutch fleet of merchant ships loaded with corn, under convoy of three ships of war; Barth attacked them, captured one of them, after having put the others to flight, which he then chased, and made himself master of sixteen of their number. In 1693, he had the command of the Glorieux, of sixty-six guns, to join the naval armament commanded by Tourville, which surprised the fleet of Smyrna. Barth, being separated from the rest of the fleet by a storm, had the fortune to fall in with six Dutch vessels, hear to Foro, all richly laden; some of these he burnt, and drove the rest ashore. This active and indefatigable seaman set sail a few months afterwards with six men of war, for convoying to France, from the port of Velker, a fleet loaded with corn, and conducted it successfully into Dunkirk, though the English and the Dutch | had sent three ships of the line to intercept it. In the spring of 1694 he sailed with the same ships, in order to return to Velker to intercept a fleet loaded with corn. This fleet had already left the port, to the number of a hundred sail and upwards, under escort of three Danish and Swedish ships. It was met between the Texel and the Vice, by the vice-admiral of Friesland. Hidde, who commanded a squadron composed of eight ships of war, had already taken possession of the fleet. But on the morrow, Earth came up with him at the height of the Texel; and, though inferior in numbers and weight of metal, retook all the prizes, with the vice-admiral, and two other ships. This brilliant action procured him a patent of nobility. Two years afterwards, in 1696, Barth occasioned again a considerable loss to the Dutch, by capturing a part of their fleet, which he met at about six leagues from the Vlee. His squadron consisted of eight vessels of war, and several privateers; and the Dutch fleet of two hundred sail of merchant ships, escorted by a number of frigates. Barth attacked it with vigour, and boarding the commander himself, took thirty merchant ships and four of the convoy, suffering only a trifling loss. He was, however, unable to complete his triumph. Meeting almost immediately with twelve Dutch men of war, convoying a fleet to the north, he was obliged to set fire to his prizes, to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy, and himself escaped only by being in a fast-sailing ship. This celebrated mariner died at Dunkirk the 27th of April 1702, of a pleurisy, at the age of 51. Without patrons, and without any thing to trust to but himself, he became chef d’escadre, after having passed through the several inferior ranks. He was tall in stature, robust, well made, though of a rough and clumsy figure. He could neither write nor read; having only learnt to subscribe his name. He spoke little, and incorrectly; ignorant of the manners of polite companies, he expressed and conducted himself on all occasions like a sailor. When the chevalier de Forbin brought him to court in 1691, the wits of Versailles said to one another: “Come, let us go and see the chevalier de Forbin with his led-bear.” In order to be very fine on that occasion, he appeared in a pair of breeches of gold tissue, lined with silver tissue; and, on coming away, he complained that his court-dress had scrubbed hiui so thut he was almost flaved. Louis XIV, having | ordered him into his presence, said to him: “John Barth, I have just now appointed you chef-d’escadre.” “You have done very well, sir,” returned the sailor. This answer having occasioned a burst of laughter among the courtiers, Louis XIV. took it in another manner. “You are mistaken, gentlemen,” said he, “on the meaning of the answer of John Barth; it is that of a man who knows his own value, and intends to give me fresh proofs of it.” Barth, in fact, was nobody, except when on board his ship; and there he was more fitted for a bold action than for any project of much extent. In 1780, a life of this celebrated commander was published in 2 vols. 12mo, at Paris. 1