Select Ross Miscellany

Here are some Ross stories and accounts over the years:

The Earl of Ross and Clan Ross

The first Earl of Ross, Malcolm MacAedth, lived in the 12th century and died in 1168.  He must have been a man of some importance as he was referred to as one of the “seven Maister Men of Scotland” who served at the crowning ceremony for the King at the Stone of Scone.  

Malcolm MacAedth allied his family to the Irish O'Beolan family through the marriage of his daughter to an O'Beolan priest.  The resulting O'Beolan Earl of Ross line lasted until 1372.  The O'Beolans lost the earldom in almost the same way in which they had gained it, through the ancient transference of title through a female.  
The Rosses of Balnagowan in Ross-shire then succeeded the O'Beolan Earls as chiefs of clan Ross.   Over the next century they were to forfeit the Earldom to the Crown and there were battles in the Highlands in which the Earldom was wasted and seized by other clans.  Attempts by John Ross of Balnagowan to recover the Earldom all failed.  Thus clan Ross and the Earl of Ross title became forever separated

The Eccentric Sir Charles Lockhart-Ross

A gossip column in the American paper The Washington Post remarked that the Lockhart-Ross family was noted for its eccentricities, none more so than Sir Charles Lockhart-Ross in the years between 1790 and 1814:  

“Sir Charles was so passionately fond of poultry that he insisted on having all the rooms at Balnagowan castle littered with straw so that he might enjoy the pleasure of watching the chickens scratch and scrape among it.  In his days there was not a room in the castle in which one was not apt to tread upon a sitting hen or a new laid egg hidden among the straw.  One of the very first things that his successor was obliged to do on succeeding to the property was to floor and wainscot afresh every room in the castle." 

A later Sir Charles, the last of his line, inherited the Balnagowan estate in 1883.  By then it had grown large and included some of the best farmland and sporting acreage in Scotland.  This estate was still intact in 1942 when he died in America.  He had created some complex American corporations for the estate and even had Balnagown declared U.S. territory in order to avoid British taxation.  For these actions, he had been outlawed by a British court and spent many years in exile.

The Massacre of the Rosses

In 1854 it had been decided to clear the Greenyards area in Strathcarron, Ross-shire.  The women there heard that there were men coming with writs of eviction.  So they met the men, searched their pockets, burned the writs and let the men go.  The men then told the court that they had been attacked by a mob of disorderly people. 

Two weeks later two or three men arrived claiming to have writs of eviction. They were met by the women who refused to let them past. The men got nervous and one pulled a pistol. A boy in the crowd, seeing the pistol aimed at his mother's head, took out his own rusty pistol. The men left peacefully but told their superiors that they had been met by riots. 

On March 31 constables from Ross and Inverness set out to clear Greenyards. They were again met by the women. Accounts differ as to whether the Riot Act was actually read.  However, the Procurator Taylor gave the order to 'knock them down.' The police attacked the women, kicking them and beating them with ash batons. After the attack the houses were burned and prisoners taken back to Tain jail where they were charged with rioting and disorderly behavior

Betsy Ross and the American Flag

Betsy Griscom had been brought up in Pennsylvania in a Quaker household.  In 1773, at the age of 21, she eloped with a non-Quaker, John Ross.  They were ferried across the Delaware river and got married in New Jersey.  This marriage caused an irrevocable split with her family. 

Less than two years after their nuptials, the couple started their own upholstery business.  Betsy and John then felt the impact of the war.  John Ross joined the Pennsylvania militia.  While guarding an ammunition cache in early 1776, he was wounded in an explosion and died soon afterwards.  Betsy was left alone to run their upholstery business. 

Betsy would often tell her children and grandchildren of that day in May 1776 when three members of a secret committee from the Continental Congress came to call upon her. These representatives - George Washington, Robert Morris, and George Ross - asked her to sew the first flag.  Betsy Ross already knew George Ross as she had married his nephew.  Betsy was also acquainted with General Washington.  Not only did they both worship at Christ Church in Philadelphia, but Betsy's pew was next to George and Martha Washington's pew. 

According to Betsy, General Washington showed her a rough design of the flag that included a six-pointed star.  Betsy demonstrated how to cut a five-pointed star in a single snip,   Impressed, the committee entrusted Betsy with the making of the first flag. 

In June 1777 the Continental Congress, seeking to promote national pride and unity, adopted Betsy’s flag as the national flag.

Daniel and John Ross

Daniel Ross was from Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands and had come with his parents as a child to America in the 1770’s.   They settled at Baltimore.  Young Ross was soon orphaned, however.  Now a young man, he left Baltimore with a companion for Hawkins county in Tennessee.  There they constructed a flat boat which they loaded with merchandise and set off down the Tennessee river to the Chickasaw country to trade with the Cherokee Indians. 

There he met Molly McDonald.  They married in 1786 and settled near her family home to start a family.

Their son John Ross was born at Ross Landing, now Chattanooga, in Tennessee in 1790.  There were rumors that young John had blue eyes.  But all portraits have shown him as brown-eyed.  As John grew older his father Daniel established a trading store at Chattanooga Creek near the foot of Lookout Mountain. 

Under the influence of his grandmother Anna, who was half Cherokee, John was taught the Cherokee ways and he developed a deep love for the Cherokee people, their traditions and the Cherokee way.  He was to serve as Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1828 to 1860.  His father Daniel lived to see him made Chief, but died two years later in 1830.

Ross in the Cocos Islands

The Cocos Islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean were uninhabited until the 1820’s when a small settlement was established by a Scottish adventurer named John Clunies Ross from the Shetland Isles who traded in the area with his brother Robert.  John set about planting hundreds of coconut palms on the islands and brought in Malay workers to harvest the nuts.

Successive generations of Clunies-Rosses built up a business empire based on copra, the dried flesh of coconuts traded for its oil.  Their tenure over their exotic adopted home was confirmed in 1886 when Queen Victoria granted them possession of the islands in perpetuity.  

They styled themselves the "Kings" of the Cocos.   There were five Kings in all.

John Clunies Ross
Ross I
John George Clunies Ross
Ross II
George Clunies-Ross
Ross III
Sydney Clunies-Ross
Ross IV     
John Cecil Clunies-Ross
Ross V

Meanwhile Andrew Clunies-Ross, a brother to Ross III, established the small settlement at Flying Fish Cove on Christmas Island to mark the families' claim to that land.  He went on to explore the island and started phosphate mining there.  He withdrew from Christmas Island in 1899 when the British Christmas Island Phosphate Company took over. 

On Cocos Island, the Clunies-Ross lived in a grand colonial mansion, Oceania House, which still stands to this day.  John Clunies-Ross paid his Malay workers in Cocos rupees, a currency he minted himself and which could only be redeemed at the company store.  

Remarkably, their rule lasted right up until 1978 when the last "King", also called John Clunies-Ross, was forced to sell the islands to Australia for £2.5 million.

The first John Clunies Ross had been born at Weisdale Voe on the Shetlands in 1786.  The story goes that he met his wife Elizabeth Dymoke as he was running away from a press-gang.  There is nothing left of the area now but ruins, sheep, an old graveyard, and a plaque (marked "birthplace of John Clunies Ross"). 

His forebear Alexander Clunies Ross had taken refuge in the Shetlands after the failed Jacobite revolution in 1715 (he had lost his right leg to an English cannonball at the battle of Sheriffmuir).  He had been born Alexander Clunies.  He married Marion Ross, an heiress to lands in Ross-shire, in 1690 and subsequently adopted the Clunies Ross name.  However, he lost possession of their estates in Scotland and he died an embittered man. 

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