Hamilton should know, being among several Ross descendants participating in a unique conference in the home town of the British general who captured Washington in August 1814.
Americans may have forgotten the War of 1812, one joke goes, but the British never knew it was fought in the first place.
Within the United Kingdom, the village of Rostrevor has become a rare exception to the rule.
The Ross conference last weekend, where I was among a group of speakers from the United States, Canada and Europe, drew hundreds of visitors who wandered through exhibits, toured the monument and admired artwork by local schoolchildren depicting the White House in flames.
The capture of Washington is “one of the most extraordinary stories in British or American history,” veteran British journalist Peter Snow, author of a new history of the episode, told conference attendees. But he noted that when he speaks to British audiences, generally only one in 20 is aware their nation burned the White House.
Organizers in Rostrevor had to overcome far more than the war’s obscurity to stage the conference and resurrect Ross’s memory.
Bitter religious divides and decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles had left Ross a forgotten figure in his own home town and the monument to his memory overgrown by brush and marred by graffiti.
Nestled amidst the Mountains of Mourne — the setting that inspired Narnia for writer C.S. Lewis, a frequent visitor — the picturesque waterside village of Rostrevor in County Down along Northern Ireland’s southeastern border presents a tranquil image.
Just up the road, though, is the site of one of the deadliest incidents during the Troubles: the Warrenpoint ambush, where 18 British paratroopers were killed in a 1979 Irish Republican Army bombing.
“Growing up in the Troubles, anything that celebrated the British Army wouldn’t have been too acceptable,” said Aisling Brown, a Rostrevor resident who attended the conference with her children. “Now that we have peace, it’s possible to give the history here a wee bit more attention.”
The resurrection of Ross — a Protestant of Anglo-Irish background and hero of an army not long ago hated by many residents of this predominantly Catholic area — has become a striking example of the ongoing peace and reconciliation efforts stemming from the 1998 Good Friday accord.
“Generations of children grew up knowing nothing about General Ross,” said John McCavitt, a local historian writing a biography of Ross who has spearheaded efforts to bring attention to the story.
For a brief shining moment in 1814, Ross was the toast of the British Empire. The general, who had served with distinction under the Duke of Wellington in the war with Napoleon, had been sent to North America with 4,000 troops to help force an end to the festering war with America, then in its third year.