Born in New Castle, Delaware, on May 10, 1730 (one year after Lancaster County became Pennsylvania’s fourth official county) and educated in Philadelphia, George Ross would eventually become one of Lancaster’s wealthiest men and most famous lawyers. Then in 1776, Ross helped make history when he became Lancaster’s sole signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Ross was born into a huge family. His father, Rev. George Aeneas, married twice and had 16 children. At the young age of 20, Ross was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1750. He then moved to Lancaster to establish his law practice in 1751 and married Ann Lawler. They had three children—George, James, and Mary.
Like most colonists in the mid-1700s, Ross was a Tory, loyal to the crown, and opposed to the idea of independence. He served for 12 years as Crown Prosecutor (attorney general) to Carlisle until he was elected to the provincial legislature of his state in 1768. There he came to understand firsthand the rising conflict between the colonial assemblies and the Parliament.
Ross became a leader of concerned citizens of Lancaster, who felt the people of Boston, Massachusetts, were being mistreated by the English king. A meeting was held in the courthouse on June 15, 1774, to discuss the issue.
Ross served as chairman and made a speech. He asked the Lancaster people to be with him in his wish to have a continental congress. Because Ross felt so strongly about the idea, he became one of the representatives from Pennsylvania.
Ross was thrice elected to the Continental Congress in 1774, 1776, and 1777. In addition to being a member of the Committee of Safety for Pennsylvania, he was appointed Inspector of Military Supplies in 1775. Ross also served as a colonel in the Continental Army in 1776, where he undertook negotiations with the northwestern Indians on behalf of Pennsylvania.
Many people are surprised to learn that Ross was not a member of Congress when the independence vote was taken on July 4, 1776. However, he was again a representative for Pennsylvania by July 20, 1776, and signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776.
He was also the uncle of the man who married Betsy Griscom in 1773, more famous under her married name, Betsy Ross. Her relatives credit her with making the first official U.S. flag.
Ross resigned from the Continental Congress in 1777 because of poor health and was appointed to the Pennsylvania Court of Admiralty. He died two years later, in 1779, at age 49. He is buried at Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia.
George Ross owned land in the northern part of the city and the southern portion of Manheim Township. The Ross farm was known as “Rossmere.” The farmhouse was located on (what is today) Ross Street between Ice Ave and Rock Street. That area of Lancaster is still called Rossmere.
Some local historians believe some of the farm’s land must have been marshy as a “mere is a shallow lake, pond, or wetland.” However, in Old English, mere can also mean a “boundary between kingdoms, estates, or fields.” This second definition also works as Rossmere would have marked the area between Lancaster City and Manheim Township.
When the Ross farm was laid out into town lots, the old mansion was torn down in 1894, and a seven-foot monument was built in its place. A tablet on the pillar reads: “Here Stood the House of George Ross Signer of the Declaration of Independence Born 1730; Died 1779 Lawyer: Stateman: Patriot.” The Lancaster County Historical Society presented the pillar and tablet on June 4, 1897.
In addition to a monument commemorating the former home of George Ross home. Ross Elementary School and Ross Street are both named in honor of George Ross.
While Ross was buried in the cemetery of Christ Church, Philadelphia, a window was placed in the south wall of St. James Episcopal Church, Lancaster, PA, to remember him. It is marked with his name as he signed it on the Declaration of Independence.
Planning Your Visit
The seven-foot monument dedicated to George Ross can be found at 320 East Ross Street, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Nearby on-street parking is available.
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