ROSS, GEORGE. (1730–1779). Signer, jurist. Delaware and Pennsylvania. Born at New Castle, Delaware, on 10 May 1730, George Ross became a lawyer in 1750 and established a successful practice at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He was elected to the Provincial Assembly in 1768, and served in that body until 1775. He was also elected to the provincial conference at Philadelphia and, subsequently, to the first Continental Congress in 1774. A member of the Pennylvania Committee of Safety in 1775, he wrote rules of conduct for the state's military forces. He also served briefly as a colonel of the Pennsylvania Associators (an organization created by Benjamin Franklin, devoted to the defense of the Patriot cause) and attended the Second Continental Congress. An advocate of peaceful relations with the Indians, he helped negotiate the Fort Pitt treaty in 1776. That same year he was vice president of the Pennsylvania constitutional convention, although he opposed the final product as too democratic. He was re-elected to the Continental Congress on 20 July 1776 and signed the Declaration of Independence on 2 August. In 1778 Ross returned to the Pennsylvania Assembly, where he was elected vice president.
As judge of the Pennsylvania admiralty court, to which he was appointed in March 1779, Ross heard the significant Olmsted et al. v. Rittenhouse's Executors case. The British sloop Active had left Jamaica in August 1778 and sailed for New York. Four American crewmen, including Gideon Olmsted of Connecticut, took over the ship the night of 6 September. Two days later the Active was seized by the Pennsylvania brigantine Convention and the privateer Gerard. The captains of these ships claimed a share of the prize, which Olmsted contested. Although Ross sympathized with Olmsted, he confirmed the jury's verdict awarding the Connecticut captors one-fourth of the prize money. On 15 December a committee of Congress annulled the verdict and gave the entire prize to Olmsted and his three companions. Ross refused to acknowledge Congress's action, starting a controversy that raged between Congress and Pennsylvania until the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Congress in 1809. On 14 July 1779 Ross died suddenly of gout at his home in Lancaster.
SEE ALSO Active Case.
revised by Michael Bellesiles