Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Pardoned Criminal – John Ross

B. 1829 in Somerset County, New Jersey
M. 3 Apr 1850 in Jersey County, Illinois
Wife: Ellen Ann Luckey
D. After 1872

John Ross was a blank page in my family history until one day when I stumbled onto a single fact: in 1868, he had been pardoned by the governor of Illinois. This led me to uncover a mass of information that told quite a story of who he was.

John was born in Somerset County, New Jersey to James Ross and Alletta Van Arsdalen, and was baptized into the Dutch Reformed Church on July 26, 1829, the oldest of three boys. Much of John's heritage traced back to the New Netherlands colony and his grandfather had fought in the American Revolution. 

When John was 10 years-old, the family moved to Jersey County, Illinois. Little more is known of him until he married Ellen Ann Luckey on April 3, 1850. The 1850 census listed the newlyweds as living with his parents. They would have five children between the years 1852 and 1866. There is no evidence that John ever acquired his own property and the 1860 census showed the family still in the household of James and Alletta Ross.

The crime for which John served prison time occurred on November 18, 1866. John and his oldest son James were arrested after being caught burglarizing a grocery store in Jerseyville, Illinois. A witness said that John and his son were seen inside "helping themselves to some of the groceries " at 10:30 at night. The police were summoned and came to arrest the two, who tried to escape through the back door. John and his son were stopped and taken to jail. The witness said, "On searching them, their pockets were found to be full of candies. Ross said they might as well let him go, and in the morning he would come up and pay for the things. In addition to the candies he had in his pockets, there were several jugs filled with molasses, coal oil, etc.; sacks containing tea, sugar, coffee, starch, etc.; two baskets containing fire crackers, soap, candles, pickles, nutmegs, cinnamon, gun caps, lead, powder, shot, etc."

At his trial in December, John pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in Joliet prison. The prison register described him as being 5 foot 9 and 1/4 inches tall, with gray eyes and gray hair. In late 1867, his brother James C. Ross headed an effort to petition for a pardon, which was granted by Governor Richard Oglesby in January 1868.

The first page of the petition requesting the release of John Ross

The records reveal that many men in Jersey County felt him to be a “lawless character” and a drunk who only got away with his bad behavior because his parents and younger brothers were so well-regarded. Ten men from the community had prepared a petition asking the governor not to release John. "We simply ask that the said Ross remain in prison for the full term for which he was sentenced as an act for the community, for there is no such thing as reforming such a man as Ross. And the only good that can result in this matter will be to the community by keeping Ross where the law has placed him, and where he can not gratify his propensity for stealing."

The first page of the petition requesting John Ross NOT be released

After being released from prison, John was listed in the 1870 census with his wife and children, living alongside his parents. Although the households were separate, his occupation was "day laborer," with a personal value of only $150, as compared to his father's which was $6,000 and $15,000 in property.

There is no further record of John Ross after the age of 41. His father's biography in the 1872 Jersey County Atlas said that all three of his children were still living, so we can assume John died after that date. John doesn't appear in his father's will in 1878. Neither he nor his wife can be found in the 1880 census. Ellen died in 1882 and is buried in a Kansas cemetery.

Children:
1. James Ross – B. 14 Jan 1852, Illinois; D. 17 Feb 1884, Labette County, Kansas; M. Mary Edith Luckey (1854-1899), 24 Jul 1872, Jersey County, Illinois

2. Rachel Ann Ross – B. 14 Jan 1857, Illinois; D. 27 Aug 1910, Labette County, Kansas; M. Warren Hinsey (1854-1927), 2 Feb 1876, Jersey County, Illinois

3. John H. Ross – B. Oct 1857, Illinois; M. Frances M. (1861-?), about 1882

4. Ella Ross – B. about 1863, Illinois

5. Joseph Ross – B. May 1866, Illinois; M. (1) Minnie J. Shigley (1866-bef 1920), 25 Mar 1888, Parsons, Kansas; (2) Katherine (1874-?), before 1920

Sources:
Baptismal record of John Ross, First Reformed Dutch Church, Raritan, New Jersey, 26 Jul 1829
Marriage record of John Ross and Ellen Ann Luckey, 3 Apr 1850, Jersey County, Illinois
History of Jerseyville, Illinois, Reverend Marshall M. Cooper, 1901
1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900 and 1920 U.S. Census
Pardon petition file of John Ross, Springfield, Illinois, 1867-1868
Prison register of Joliet Prison, Illinois, 1866
Atlas of Jersey County, Illinois, 1872
Family Bible of Mary E. Leonartz
Marriage certificate of James Ross and Mary E. Luckey, 23 Jul 1872, Jerseyville, Illinois
Tombstone inscription of Warren and Rachel Kinsey, Oakwood Cemetery, Parsons, Kansas
Illinois marriage index, 1763-1900
Kansas marriages, 1840-1935

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