Dumbarton’s historical significance to Scotland’s past is well established, but its links to the historic US district of Georgetown are perhaps less well known.
Just a stone’s throw from the White House, at the heart of Washington DC, sit a number of notable landmarks including Dumbarton Bridge, Dumbarton House and Dumbarton Church. So how did this come to be?
The Commons Defence Committee on which I sit is currently holding an inquiry into UK-US defence relations, examining the ‘Special Relationship’ and its impact on the complex international challenges we face today.
As the only Scottish MP on the committee, I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet James Carder, House Archivist of Dumbarton Oaks – a Harvard University research facility based in the US capital, to hear about the story of a Scotsman named Ninian Beall – known by some to be the founder of Georgetown.
Colonel Ninian Beall, born in 1625, had been a fighter in the Scottish army before making a new life for himself in America. He was one of the first Scots to settle in the area now known as Georgetown, where he came to own 795 acres of land. It’s said that the Colonel was moved to name the area of land, which sits adjacent to the great Potomac River, “Rock of Dumbarton” in tribute to its resemblance to the iconic Rock of the River Clyde here in Dumbarton.
A memorial plaque paying tribute to Colonel Beall can be found at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Georgetown, Washington DC – located just around the corner from the Volta Laboratory building which was founded by Scottish inventor Alexander Graham Bell in 1893.
As ever, the influence of Scots across the Atlantic is never far from sight.
President Trump, like many in the US, can claim Scottish heritage – but this appears to not count for much in the context of the ‘Special Relationship’. At a time of rising tensions in global politics it would perhaps serve the President well to take a short trip across DC to hear the history of Dumbarton Oaks.
In 1944 Dumbarton Oaks hosted a meeting of international diplomats seeking to develop friendly relations amongst nations. This paved the way for the formation of the United Nations, dedicated to maintaining international peace and security. As far as history lessons go, this spirit of international cooperation, peace and diplomacy is perhaps more important now than ever.
This column appeared in the Dumbarton Reporter on 11th April 2018.