William H.H. Ross
37th Governor of Delaware
In office
January 21, 1851 – January 16, 1855
Preceded byWilliam Tharp
Succeeded byPeter F. Causey
Personal details
William Henry Harrison Ross

(1814-06-02)June 2, 1814
Laurel, Delaware
DiedJune 29, 1887(1887-06-29) (aged 73)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Emeline Hall
ResidenceSeaford, Delaware

William Henry Harrison Ross (June 2, 1814 – June 29, 1887) was an American farmer and politician from Seaford, in Sussex County, Delaware, United States. He was a member of the Democratic Party who served as Governor of Delaware.

Early life and family

Ross was born in Laurel, Delaware, son of Caleb and Letitia Lofland Ross. He grew up in Laurel, attending the Laurel Academy, and later went to Claremount Academy in Pennsylvania. The Ross family had many business interests, and William added to them by beginning to grow peaches on their property. Like his father, he one day would become a director of the Farmers' Bank of Delaware.

He married Emeline Hall in 1840, and they had ten children, Letitia Lofland, Caleb, George Hall, James Jefferson, William Madison, Edgar Calhoun, Sarah A., Mary G., Laura F., and John Wood. They lived at the Ross Mansion, just north of Seaford, and were members of the Methodist Church.

Professional and political career

Ross was a regular delegate to the Democratic National Convention, attending in 1844, 1848, 1856, and 1860. In his only attempt at public office, Ross ran for governor in 1850, against Thomas Lockwood of Frederica. Lockwood, the Temperance Party candidate, was the main contender, there being no effective Whig candidate. Ross ran with U.S. Representative George R. Riddle and a slogan of "Ross, Riddle and Reform."[1] They were both successful, and Ross served as Governor of Delaware from January 21, 1851, until January 14, 1855. At age 36, he was the youngest person ever elected Governor of Delaware.

In 1852, the long-contemplated building of the north-south Delaware Railroad finally got underway. In the works since the company was chartered in 1836, funds were finally raised and a route laid out. Constitutional reform was also seriously considered at this time. By 1850, New Castle County had nearly half the population of the state, but only one third of the representation in the Delaware General Assembly. This and other populist measures led the Democrats to call for a Constitutional Convention to address them. Using methods that were probably unconstitutional, the Democrats managed to get the convention convened in December 1852, but the majority of the delegates were Whigs. After several months of negotiation, compromises were reached that satisfied no one and the whole effort was resoundingly rejected at the polls. The Constitution of 1831 would remain in effect.

Delaware General Assembly
(sessions while Governor)
Year Assembly Senate Majority Speaker House Majority Speaker
1851–1852 66th Democratic John M. Phillips Democratic Samuel Jefferson
1853–1854 67th Democratic John M. Phillips Democratic John R. McFee

Slavery and the Civil War

Ross was a slaveholder and obviously sympathetic with the various arguments intended to preserve it. "'Slavery might be dying in Delaware,' he said, but he was convinced a majority of the citizens in the state supported the rights of the slaves states."[2] As if to agree with his point, the General Assembly again refused proposals to allow African Americans to testify in courts of law, or to travel freely.

Ross knew what his reputation was, and with the outbreak of the Civil War in early 1861, and especially after one of his sons joined the Confederate States Army, Ross left for England for a few months. He tried returning a year later, but by 1863 had left for the duration of the war. While he was in exile he wrote, "Not that I am guilty of any act against the government of the U.S., but I am considered to entertain opinions which are pronounced by some people as disloyal. For that reason I remain out of the country, hoping that the American people may some day return to their reason, [when] I may return in safety to spend the remainder of my days in a country ruined by the madness and fanaticism of its own people."[3] Ross returned, and lost many of his investments, but by his act of avoidance, probably prevented further personal ruin.

Ross was but the most wealthy and most visible of many persons in Delaware equally sympathetic with the cause of the Confederacy. Most of his peers and neighbors felt the same way, and the strength of their pro-slavery feelings was matched only by awareness that the very existence of Delaware required its membership in a strong Union. Refusing to give up either opinion, the important decisions were simply made elsewhere.

Death and legacy

Ross died at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 29, 1887,[4] and is buried in the St. Luke's Episcopal Churchyard at Seaford.

The Gov. William H. Ross House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.[5]


Elections are held the first Tuesday after November 1. The governor takes office the third Tuesday of January and has a four-year term.

Public Offices
Office Type Location Began office Ended office notes
Governor Executive Dover January 21, 1851 January 16, 1855

Election results
Year Office Subject Party Votes % Opponent Party Votes %
1850 Governor William H.H. Ross Democratic 6,001 48% Peter F. Causey Independent 5,978 48%


  1. ^ Martin, Roger A. (1984). A History of Delaware Through its Governors. Wilmington, Delaware: McClafferty Press., p. 207.
  2. ^ Hoffecker, Carol E. (2004). Democracy in Delaware. Wilmington, Delaware: Cedar Tree Books., p. 95.
  3. ^ Hancock, Harold B. (1961). Delaware During the Civil War. Wilmington, Delaware: Historical Society of Delaware., p. 153.
  4. ^ Capace, Nancy (January 2001). Encyclopedia of Delaware. ISBN 9780403096121.
  5. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.



Places with more information

Party political offices Preceded byWilliam Tharp Democratic nominee for Governor of Delaware 1850 Succeeded byWilliam Burton Political offices Preceded byWilliam Tharp Governor of Delaware 1851–1855 Succeeded byPeter F. Causey