Ann Lawler Ross

Ann Lawler Ross

Ann Lawler was born July 10, 1731 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania of Scottish descent. Her father was presumably Andrew Lawler born in 1707 who was buried at Christ Church burial ground on April 18, 1752. His estate was administered by his widow Mary (born in 1709) with George Gibson named bondsman. Mary Lawler was left with a sizable amount of property, and tradition states that she may have also kept a store in Penn Square in Lancaster. She made her will on August 30, 1773 but died nearer August 30, 1778 when the document was probated. Ann was an only child, and in her mother’s will the deceased listed three additional names; George, James, and Mary who were Ann’s children.

Not much is known of Ann’s early life. Sources do not reveal why Ann sought the counsel of a lawyer at the age of nineteen, but she was one of the first clients of George Ross. Ross had been admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1750 and moved to Lancaster to begin his practice. Their professional relationship blossomed into love and Ann married George Ross at the age of twenty on August 14, 1751. Due to their background, property, and amiability, their marriage “was considered a highly advantageous union for both” at the time. According to sources, Lancaster was a colonial city considered “. . . remarkable for its wealth, and which had the reputation of possessing the best and most intelligent society to be then found in America . . ..” The union of Ann Lawler and George Ross complimented the atmosphere of the already heralded city.

Portrait of George Ross

To the union of Ann Lawler and George Ross three children were born; George, James, and Mary. The eldest of Ann’s children, George Jr., was born on June 1, 1752. On April 5, 1773, he married Mary Bird (Byrd), daughter of Colonel William Bird, of Birdsboro, Berks County, Pennsylvania. They had nine children during their marriage. Both George Jr. and Mary Byrd Ross were members of the Saint James Episcopal Church. George Jr. was a devoted patriot during the Revolution, served as Vice-President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, and was commissioned by the Governor as the Register of Wills and Recorder of Deeds in 1791. He served in that position for eighteen years. When he died at the age of eighty, on November 13, 1832, he was buried in the churchyard at the Saint James Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His grave is one of the two hundred in the cemetery which is no longer marked.

Ann’s second child, James, was born on November 28, 1753. In 1775, James raised the first company of troops in Lancaster County under Colonel Thompson’s Regiment, and was later made captain. In the Eighth Pennsylvania Regiment he was elevated to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and fought at Long Island, Trenton, Germantown, Brandywine, and in various other battles. The Ross family Bible, which was in the possession of George Ross Eshleman in 1907, stated James died without issue in Louisiana on August 20, 1809. His burial site is unknown, but thought possibly to be in Natchez, Adams County, Mississippi or that his body may have been returned to Lancaster.

The third child of Ann and George Ross was a daughter, Mary, born on December 3, 1765, perhaps the namesake of Ann’s mother. Mary first married her cousin, William Byrd who died in 1812. Her second marriage was to Joshua Scott who was a well-known civil engineer who apparently died in 1839. It appears that Mary Ross Byrd Scott married a third time because the Ross Family Bible noted she married James Wilson. Mary died at the age of ninety-two on December 20, 1858 and is buried in the Saint James Episcopal churchyard among her other relatives in Lancaster.

Remembering that Ann Lawler was an only child we are also reminded that there is no mention of aunts, uncles, or cousins among her family members. Ann lost her father as a young woman, and it appears only she and her widowed mother remained. So, when Ann married George Ross in 1751, she also gained a huge family of brothers and sisters-in-law, nieces, and nephews. George, born on May 10, 1730, was one of eleven children of the long-standing Episcopal minister of the Immanuel Church in New Castle, Delaware the Reverend George Ross, and his second wife Catherine Von Gezel.

Many of Ann’s new relatives upon marriage were men and women especially notable during the Revolutionary era. First, of course, is Ann’s spouse, George Ross who was initially opposed to the idea of independence, but by September 5, 1774, he was serving in the First Continental Congress that met in Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. George was not a member of Congress when the vote for independence was taken on July 4, 1776, but by July 20th was again a representative for Pennsylvania, and signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776 with a signature nearly as bold at that of John Hancock. Secondly, a sister-in –law to Ann, Gertrude Ross (being a sister of George Ross), married George Read who also signed the Declaration of Independence from Delaware. Third, George Ross studied law under his influential half-brother, John, in Philadelphia before opening his practice in Lancaster. John was the first husband of Betsy Griscom, who is the Betsy Ross celebrated for sewing the first flag for the new country, and therefore the niece of Ann Lawler Ross and George Ross.

Betsy Ross presenting the flag to George Washington

Fourth, sister-in-law Catharine Ross married Captain William Thompson, who later became a General, and sister-in-law, Mary Ross, married a patriot by the name of Colonel Mark Bird. Another sister-in-law of Ann’s married Colonel Edward Biddle of Reading. Biddle was speaker of the Pennsylvania Legislature and member of the first and second Continental Congresses. Finally, sisters-in-law Margaret and Susannah, married prominent clergymen in the area. So, although Ann Lawler Ross appeared to have a very quiet childhood bereft of relatives, her marriage brought a large and vivacious family group into being.

Beauty was a word that defined Ann Lawler Ross and her children. Tradition states that prior to 1760 the artist Benjamin West came to make the portraits of the Ross family at their lovely country home in Lancaster, illustrated above. Mr. Flower, a friend of both George Ross and Benjamin West stated, “The wife of Mr. Ross [Ann] was greatly celebrated for her beauty and she had several children so remarkable in this respect as to be objects of general notice.” While dining with George and Ann Ross one evening, Mr. Flower advised George to “have their portraits taken, and mentioned that they would be excellent subjects for young West.” West agreed to the assignment and the resulting portraits “greatly enlarged” his “sphere of celebrity” to the point he found it difficult to “satisfy the demands of his admirers.”

Sadly, the renowned beauty would only live another thirteen years after her portrait was made. Ann Lawler Ross passed away on May 28, 1773, more than three years prior to her husband’s signing of the Declaration of Independence. Because George Ross reportedly did not support independence until 1774, Ann may have never known about his change of heart. Her obituary appeared in The Pennsylvania Packet in Philadelphia on June 14, 1773, seen below. Ann is buried in Saint James Episcopal Church Cemetery, Lancaster, Pennsylvania in a grave that is no longer marked. Two of her children, George Jr. and Mary also rest in the same churchyard.

Obituary of Ann Lawler Ross

Ann’s devoted husband, George, would only live another six years after her death. At the age of forty-nine George died on July 14, 1779, afflicted with a severe case of gout. He is buried at Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Neither Ann nor George saw the birth of the new nation they helped found, but their many contributions to the cause of independence were nonetheless an important part of the story of America. Ann Lawler Ross bore three children who played major roles in the establishment of the country. Her husband and the family Ann enjoyed upon her marriage to George Ross contributed immeasurable amounts of courage, bravery, and intellect which laid the foundations of the new United States.

-Shirley Hunter Smith, Ph.D.; Chair, DSDI Wives Biography Project

With documentation, research, and editing assistance provided by Richard Cooch descendant of Delaware Signer, George Read, and relative of Signer, Caesar Rodney; Angie Brecheisen, colleague of the author; Ashley L. Smith, daughter of the author, and sixth great-granddaughter of New Jersey Signer, Abraham and Sarah Hatfield Clark.


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