George Ross, Defender of States’ Rights and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

dej54vin_medium“George Ross’s father was born at Balblair, Scotland, in 1679 or 1680. Rev. George Aeneas, the 5th Laird Balblair Ross (b.1679, d.1754), had 2 wives and 16 children, and was an Anglican clergyman who had immigrated from Scotland. The paternal line goes back to Farquhar O’Beolan (b.1173, d.1251), who became royalty when King Alexander II founded an Earldom, and made Farquhar the 1st Earl of Ross in 1226, at age 53, after great wins in battle.”(George Ross) The elder Ross graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1700, and from the Divinity School in 1703. After graduating he decided to leave the Presbyterian Church and connect himself with the Church of England, to which he was ordained in London shortly afterwards. He was then appointed Chaplain in the British Navy, but soon resigned and was sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, in 1705, as missionary to New Castle, Delaware, where he assumed charge of the work there out of which grew the Immanuel Church in June of that year. 

georgeross-e1325220299519-300x296George was born in May 1730. From his father, young George received a sound classical education. “George’s sister Gertrude married Thomas Till, the son of William Till, a prominent judge and politician; after his death, she married George Read, another signer of the Declaration. Betsy Ross (born Elizabeth Phoebe Griscom in 1752) only had her famous last name “Ross” for 4-years, which she obtained by marrying John Ross (b.1752, d.1776) in 1773. John was a nephew of George Ross. John was the son of Rev. Aeneas Ross (b.1716, d.1782) and Sarah Leach. George and Aeneas were brothers. John and Betsy had a sewing business, but John died 1/10/1776 in Philadelphia by explosion while guarding a munitions building during the Revolutionary War. Betsy would often tell her children, grandchildren, relatives, and friends of the fateful day when three members of a secret committee from the Continental Congress came to call upon her. Those representatives, George Washington, Robert Morris, and George Ross, asked her to sew the first flag. This meeting occurred in her home some time late in May 1776. The Stars and Stripes design Ross may have designed was officially adopted by the congress on June 14, 1777. The next day, June 15, 1777, Betsy married Joseph Ashburn, thus becoming Betsy Ashburn.” (George Ross)

With the assistance of his older brother John, Ross read law as part of his education. At the age of 20 he was admitted to the Bar and eventually opened his own practice in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He considered his politics as a Tory. He was elected as Crown Prosecutor (nowadays, Attorney General) for Carlisle. He served in this position for twelve years. In 1768, he was elected to the provincial legislature, where he received another “education,” this time in the strife the colonies faced with the British Parliament. 

150px-George_Ross_signature“In 1774 he was elected to the provincial conference that would select delegates to attend the General Congress and was selected as a representative of Pennsylvania that same year. Ross continued to serve his provincial legislature and was a member of the Committee of Safety for his colony in 1775. In 1776 he was again elected to the Continental Congress, while serving as a provincial legislator and a Colonel in the Continental Army. His strong stance for the Colonists’ freedom led to his greatest contribution by being one of nine signers of the Declaration of Independence from Pennsylvania. He also undertook negotiations with the Northwestern Indian on behalf of his colony, and took a seat as vice-president of the first constitutional convention for Pennsylvania. He was re-elected to the Continental Congress once more in 1777, but resigned the seat before the close due to poor health. In March, 1779, he was appointed to a judgeship in the Pennsylvania Court of Admiralty. He died in that office in July 1779.” (Society for the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence) He is buried at Christ Church Cemetery in Philadelphia. 2775_125120712556

2775_125120714000According to Signing Their Lives Away (Denis Kiernan and Joseph D’Agnest, ©2009, page 125), Ross suffered greatly from gout and left politics in 1777. However, his public service did not end. He became a judge of the admiralty court. One of his more interesting cases involved the extent of state rights and federal rights. The case involved the prize money awarded for the capture of the British sloop Active in 1778. Gideon Olmstead led the capture of the Active. Afterward, two privateers joined in the capture to escort the Active to port. When the reward money was paid out, Olmstead only received one-fourth of the funds. The state of Pennsylvania and the two privateers claimed the other portions. Olmstead applied to Congress to right what he thought was a wrong. Congress agreed with Olmstead and ordered Pennsylvania to reimburse Olmstead. George Ross was to see to the outcome, but he disagreed with the Congressional ruling. He refused to overturn his and the state’s decision. This was one of the first cases involving states’ rights, and it occurred even before the British accepted defeat and the U. S. Constitution was signed. In fact, Pennsylvania was not yet a state. Ironically, the final ruling did not come until 1809 when the Supreme Court ruled in Olmstead’s favor. 



About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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7 Responses to George Ross, Defender of States’ Rights and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

  1. George Ross would have also known my ancestor, Thomas McKean who also signed the Declaration of Independence from Delaware.

    • Generally, I have these posts organized according to the signer’s birthday. As an afterthought, I considered doing them by the states they represented.

  2. The paternal line goes back to Farquhar O’Beolan (b.1173, d.1251), who became royalty when King Alexander II founded an Earldom, and made Farquhar the 1st Earl of Ross in 1226,


    An earl is a noble not royalty, The only Royal Earl currently is the Earl of Wessex the Queens 3rd son, who will become the Duke of Edinburgh when his father dies,
    Excepting the eldest son of an Earl who usually assumes the secondary title of Viscount all children are commoners even though the daughters have a complimentary title of Lady , as in Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyons and Lady Diana Spencer they remain commoners even after marrying a Prince of the blood Lady Diana could have assumed/taken the name Princess Charles of Wales had she have wished, although entitled to the Royal Highness honour they are still in actual fact commoners and stay that way until such time as they are crowned Queen Consort to the King, when by being annointed they become Your Majesty, as the Queens mother did when George VI and she were crowned in Westminster Abbey back in 1937, exactly 79 years ago today 12 May 1937.

    • It was a direct quote, Brian, from Wikipedia, and we all know how reliable that source is. It is why I made it an actual quote and did not paraphrase. The idea of only the earl and his countess being part of the aristocracy plays out in my “Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin,” where Colonel Fitzwilliam (a commoner as he is the second son) must stand trial. Mayhap you should edit the Wikipedia entry.

      • Is that possible?
        There is an American lady who claims to be royalty as the daughter of an earl, she pushes this quite a bit and flogs stuff to all those American lady’s who are rapt in the idea of English royalty etc. I believe that she is actually selling her goods quite fraudulently to these unsuspecting women who really think they are getting stuff that is really “royal”.

        I did do a blog a couple of years or so back in effect telling her that what she was doing was wrong but she took o notice and is still flogging her wares as English royalty. Makes me quite mad really!

      • There is a “sucker” born every minute, Brian. It is why I receive at least 3-5 calls per day from scammers who think that just because I am old that I am also senile.

      • You’re not old! XD I’m old! 😦

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