On this day in 1730, a signer of the Declaration of Independence is born. If you’ve heard a story about George Ross, it probably wasn’t about his signature, though. It was probably about the woman that his nephew married: Betsy Ross.
Legend has it that George Ross brought George Washington to the seamstress’s shop during May or June of 1776 when General Washington needed a new flag for his army.
As the story goes, Washington had a sketch in his pocket of a flag with thirteen stars and stripes. The stars in Washington’s sketch, however, had 6 points. Betsy suggested making a change. She showed the men that she could cut a 5-point star with just one snip of her scissors. Everyone agreed that a 5-point star would work for the new American flag.
The story has never been conclusively proven or disproven. And, either way, there was a lot more to George Ross than his famous connection to Betsy.
Ross was a Pennsylvania lawyer who’d been practicing for many years before tensions began to arise with Great Britain. At one point, Ross even served as a Crown Prosecutor. His position working for the King made him pretty sympathetic to the Tory position at first. In 1768, however, he was elected to the colonial legislature. He began to see the other side of some issues.
Can’t you imagine that he must have been torn for a while? Before too long, though, he’d changed his views. He was firmly on the Patriot side.
Interestingly, Ross was not a member of the Continental Congress when it approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. He wasn’t elected to Congress until 16 days later. He quickly made his way to Philadelphia, though, and he affixed his name to the Declaration when it was finally signed.
Think about that. He signed the document, knowing the King would view the move as treasonous. He wasn’t even present when independence had been voted on in early July. Was his signature really necessary? He could be signing his own death warrant!
He doesn’t seem to have questioned the move. He simply signed his name.
In the years that followed, Ross served his country in other ways. He negotiated treaties with Indian tribes. He helped form a new government for Pennsylvania. He briefly served as a judge. Unfortunately, he would not be able to help in any of these capacities for very long. Instead, chronic health problems would bring an early end to his life in 1779.
Ross had risked his life for his country. Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to see her gain her freedom.
Benson John Lossing, Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of American Independence (1866)
Charles A. Goodrich, Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (1832)
Dennis Brindell Fradin, The Signers: The 56 Stories Behind the Declaration of Independence (2003)
Sanderson’s Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (Robert T. Conrad ed. 1865)
Smull’s Legislative Handbook (1885)