George Ross: Lancaster’s sole signer of the Declaration of Independence

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.

Early Life

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.

American Revolution

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.

The William Pitt tavern with the courthouse visible in the background.
The William Pitt Tavern with the courthouse visible in the background.

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. 

Declaration of Independence with George Ross’ signature highlighted.

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.

The Birth of Old Glory by Percy Moran, 1917. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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.

The old Ross Mansion home (at what is today 320 East Ross Street, Lancaster, PA) was demolished in 1894. In its place is a 7-foot monument.

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.

Local Legacy

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.

Local History Awaits!

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Artist rendering of the government powder house on the corner of Duke and James Street.

With the outbreak of the Revolution, Lancaster was far enough away to be a safe location for storing guns, uniforms, equipment, and large quantities of gunpowder. Most of these government depots were centered between James and Waln along Duke Street. Some still exist today. Click here to read more.

Sons of Liberty: Matthias Slough and the White Swan Hotel

The White Swan Hotel

Despite having no battles fought here, Lancaster was still a hotbed of political activity before and during the American Revolution. Much of this scheming took place at the White Swan Hotel under the leadership of owner Matthias Slough. The White Swan was located a few feet from the old Lancaster courthouse on the current site of the Lancaster County Convention Center. Its century-long history of accommodating travelers and local patrons saw it host distinguished visitors such as George Washington, John Marshall, Marquis de Lafayette, and John Adams. Click here to read more.

Lititz answers the call of freedom; becomes a hospital town for Revolutionary War wounded

Lititz hospital by Charles X. Carlson

For eight months in 1778, the town of Lititz served as a hospital caring for hundreds of men. Unfortunately, typhus plagued the facility killing 120 soldiers of the nearly 1,000 men who stayed there. Click here to read more.


4 thoughts on “George Ross: Lancaster’s sole signer of the Declaration of Independence

  1. Nice package, Adam. Sad his house was demolished. An enslaver signs DofI? How telling is that?

    1. I’m no expert on slavery but I have a family historical interest on the subject. I am descended from an African who likely came to Puerto Rico in the hull of a slave ship.
      I never knew about Europeans being captured and sold into slavery by Muslims until I was an adult researching my family in the ’70s when I discovered that the 1688 Germantown Protest Against Slavery was signed by a 9th gr grandfather Abraham OpDeGraff. Interestingly his granddaughter married John Pawling a slave holder in Skippack. There is evidence that the Pawlings treated their slaves well. They had them baptized by Rev Henry Muhlenberg and were buried in the family plot.
      I am also descended from William Hamilton a colonial tavern owner in Pequea Twp. His son James Hamilton was studying medicine under Willam Shippen in Phila. in June 1775 when Continental Congress resolved to form a “battalion of expert riflemen”. James rushed home and assisted James Ross, the son of future signer of the Declaration of Independence George Ross, in forming a Lancaster company to be part of Thompson’s Rifle Battalion. Rifle battalion 2nd in command was Lancaster’s Lt Col Edward Hand. Hand wrote his wife from Cambridge saying “William Hamilton need not grudge the money his son cost him his coolness and resolution surpassed his years”. James Hamilton was a Major in the 2nd Pa Regiment at the end of the war and married the sister of Thomas Lynch who was a signer of the Declaration from South Carolina. This marriage made James the owner of plantations and several hundred slaves. Their son James Hamilton Jr. became intendent (mayor) of Charleston and was in office when the Vessey Rebellion was uncovered. I suspect the Pawlings in Pennsylvania treated their slaves better than the Hamiltons of South Carolina.
      Slavery has a complicated history. The English slave owning Quakers of Philadelphia rejected the 1688 Protest by the Germantown Quakers and continued slaveholding for another generation. The signers of the Declaration of Independence did not create slavery – they were born into a world where African slavery had been going on for hundreds of years. The end of African slavery in the West began when they put their name to a document that stated the radical idea “that all men are created equal”. Not so in the Muslim world where African slavery began much sooner than in Europe and ended long after America and Europe abolished it.

  2. In a few months I have Steve Shaw giving a presentation on David Rittenhouse. Earlier I had someone speak on General Hand. What is the possibility there is someone willing and able to speak on George Ross?

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