William Sterling Ross
Harvey and Smith, 1929
William Ross was born at Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania on August 11, 1802, the son of state Senator, General William and Elizabeth Sterling Ross. Originally of Scotland Parish, Windham County, Connecticut, the Speaker’s father held prominent political and military positions in the Wyoming Valley, participating in Pennsylvania’s negotiations for the eventual settlement of the contested Connecticut Claim The senator grew up at “the Ross Mansion” near Solomon’s Gap and Inman Hill, becoming a skilled agriculturalist, manager of his father’s gristmill, and a Princeton alumnus William married Ruth Tripp Slocum, December 1, 1825, at the Ross family church, St. Stephens Episcopal.
Similar to his father, William pursued a 30-year military career, rising from captain of the county militia to its brigadier general. General Ross became an integral part of local politics, a frequently elected Wilkes Barre council member and received an executive appointment as associate judge of Luzerne County, 1829 to 1839.
An “independent” Improvement Democrat, Ross secured a three-year term in the state Senate, 1844 through 1847. Recognized for his parliamentary skills, William became upper house Speaker at the close of the 1846 session. He supported the incorporation of the Pennsylvania Central Railroad, a prohibitive tariff, fought the Walker impost, and led his faction against Bigler’s bid for the Speaker’s podium. While he opposed the former Speaker on some issues, Ross nonetheless joined the future governor in debate against the sale of state canal right-of-ways. The senator chaired the Militia Committee in 1847.
Aside from politics, Ross operated the Ross Coal Company, near his home at Solomon’s Gap. He was director and general manager of the Easton-Wilkes Barre Turnpike, director and president of the Wyoming Bank, and president of the Wyoming Insurance Company. The Honorable Ross also held directorships at the Wilkes Barre Water Company, the Wilkes Barre Bridge Company, the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society, and the Home for Friendless Children Always exhibiting “a warm and open heart,” the senator was a benefactor to many Luzerne County charities. Concerning the Home for Friendless Children, he gave generously to the institution throughout his life, leaving a substantial bequeathal at his death.
Developing close ties to the early Free Soil Democrat abolitionist movement, in 1861 the senator joined the Union-Republican Party of Pennsylvania and donated liberally to the president’s military cause. As a final act of gratitude, the general’s neighbors returned the elder statesman to the state House of Representatives for the 1861-62 sessions. Described by attorney Hendrick Wright as “a man of unbending integrity and unblemished honor,” the Honorable William Sterling Ross passed away at the Ross Mansion on July 11, 1868.