George Ross Biography
The last gentleman who belonged to the Pennsylvania delegation, at the time the members of the revolutionary congress affixed their signatures to the declaration of independence, was George Ross. He was the son of a clergyman by the same name, who presided over the Episcopal church at New Castle, in the state of Delaware, in which town he was born in the year 1730.
At an early age, he gave indications of possessing talents of a superior order. These indications induced his father to give him the advantages of a good education. At the age of eighteen he entered upon the study of law, under the superintendence of an elder brother, who was at that time in the practice of the profession, in the city of Philadelphia.
Soon after being admitted to the bar, he established himself at Lancaster, at that time near the western limits of civilization. He soon became connected in marriage with a lady of a respectable family. For several years he continued to devote himself, with great zeal, to the duties of his profession in which, at length, he attained a high reputation, both as a counselor and an advocate.
Mr. Ross commenced his political career in 1768, in which year he was first returned as a representative to the assembly of Pennsylvania. Of this body he continued to be re-elected a member, until the year 1774, when he was chosen in connection with several other gentlemen, a delegate to the celebrated congress which met at Philadelphia. At the time he was appointed to a seat in this congress, be was also appointed to report to the assembly of the province, a set of instructions, by which the conduct of himself and colleagues were to be directed. The instructions thus drafted and reported, were accepted by the assembly. In concluding these instructions, the assembly observed:
"that the trust reposed in you is of such a nature, and the modes of executing it may be so diversified in the course of your deliberations, that it is scarcely possible to give you particular instructions respecting it. We shall, therefore, only in general direct, that you are to meet in congress the committees of the several British colonies, at such time and place as shall be generally agreed on, to consult together on the present critical and alarming situation and state of the colonies, and that you, with them, exert your utmost endeavors to form and adopt a plan, which shall afford the best prospect of obtaining a redress of American grievances, ascertaining American rights, and establishing that union and harmony, which is most essential to the welfare and happiness of both countries. And in doing this, you are strictly charged to avoid every thing indecent or disrespectful to the mother state."
Mr. Ross continued to represent the state of Pennsylvania in the national legislature, until January, 1777, when, on account of indisposition, he was obliged to retire. During his congressional career, his conduct met the warmest approbation of his constituents. He was a statesman of enlarged views, and under the influence of a general patriotism, he cheerfully sacrificed his private interests for the public good. The high sense entertained by the inhabitants of the county of Lancaster, of big zeal for the good of his country, and of his constituents in particular, was expressed in the following resolution:
"Resolved, that the sum of one hundred and fifty, pounds, out of the county stock, be forthwith transmitted to George Ross, one of the members of assembly for this county, and one of the delegates for this colony in the continental congress; and that he be requested to accept the same, as a testimony from this county, of their sense of his attendance on the public business, to his great private loss, and of their approbation of his conduct. Resolved, that if it be more agreeable, Mr. Ross purchase with part of the said money, a genteel piece of plate, ornamented as he thinks proper, to remain with him, as a testimony of the esteem this county has for him, by reason of his patriotic conduct, in the great struggle of American liberty."
Such a testimony of respect and affection, on the part of his constituents, must have been not a little gratifying to the feelings of Mr. Ross. He felt it his duty, however, to decline accepting the present, offering as an apology for so doing, that he considered it as "the duty of every man, and especially of every representative of the people, to contribute, by every means within his power, to the welfare of his country, without expecting pecuniary rewards."
The attendance of Mr. Ross in congress, did not prevent him from meeting with the provincial legislature. Of this latter body, he was an active, energetic, and influential member. In the summer of 1776, it was found by the general assembly, that the circumstances of the state required the adoption of some decisive measures, especially in respect to putting the city of Philadelphia, and the province, in a state of defense. A committee was accordingly appointed, of which Mr. Ross was one, to report what measures were expedient. In a few days that committee did report, recommending to the people to associate for the protection of their lives, and liberty, and property, and urging upon the several counties of the province the importance of collecting stores of ammunition and arms. A resolution was also offered, providing for the payment of all such associations as should be called out to repel any attacks made by the British troops. To carry these plans into effect, a general committee of public safety was appointed, and clothed with the necessary authority. To this committee Mr. Ross was attached, and was one of its most active and efficient members. He also belonged to another important committee, viz. that of grievances.
On the dissolution of the proprietary government in Pennsylvania, a general convention was assembled, in which Mr. Ross represented the county of Lancaster. Here, again, he was called to the discharge of most important duties, being appointed to assist in preparing a declaration of rights on behalf of the state, for forming rules of order for the convention, and for defining and settling what should be considered high treason and misprision of treason against the state, and the punishment which should be inflicted for those offenses.
In the year 1779, Mr. Ross was appointed a judge of the court of admiralty for the state of Pennsylvania. This was on the 14th of April. He was permitted to enjoy, however, the honorable station which he now filled but a short time. In the month of July following, he was suddenly and violently attacked by the gout, which terminated his useful life, in the fiftieth year of his age.
In respect to the character of Judge Ross, we have little to add to the preceding account. As a lawyer, even before the revolution, he was among the first of his profession, a rank which he continued to hold, while he practiced at the bar. As a politician, he was zealous, patriotic, and consistent. As a judge, he was learned and upright, and uncommonly skillful in the dispatch of business. He comprehended with ease causes of the greatest intricacy, and formed his decisions, which often displayed much legal knowledge, with great promptness. It is to be added to his honor, that while he was thus distinguished abroad, be was characterized in the fulfillment of his domestic duties, by an uncommonly kind and affectionate disposition.
SOURCE: Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, 1829
by Rev. Charles A. Goodrich