The story of John Ross, Princeton Seminary’s first international student, is an intriguing one to be sure.

Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1783 to Catholic parents who died while he was still very young, John Ross went out to sea at the age of nineteen to see the world. The young Ross had not even made it to Liverpool, however, when he was seized by a press-gang and put aboard a British man-of-war. While eventually escaping this initial impressment, Ross could not seem to elude the British navy for long. Over the course of his travels, he was twice more seized and compelled to serve in the British navy. John_Ross_writing.jpg

Upon escaping his last seizure, however, Ross boarded a ship bound for America, working for his passage. He landed in New London, Connecticut, penniless, without so much as a hat or shoes.

Using the craft of shoemaking he had learned in Ireland, Ross soon found himself employment in New London. He joined a local Protestant church, and, over the course of his time there, felt a call to ministry. With support from a women’s aid society, Ross received preparation for ministry at Middlebury College in Vermont before coming to Princeton Seminary as a member of the Class of 1816, the Seminary’s second graduating class. When Ross first arrived at Princeton Seminary in 1813, he was one of eleven students with only one professor.

Following his studies at the Seminary, Ross began doing mission and evangelization work in Philadelphia. Hoping to serve as a missionary abroad, he applied to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which informed Ross that it was unable to fund his work overseas. Nevertheless, the board encouraged Ross to take part in mission work in the nearby unknown—the expanding American frontier.

Following his ordination by the Presbytery of Redstone, Ross served as a migrant preacher, traveling throughout western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana on horseback, delivering sermons and serving churches. Over the course of his travels, Ross preached at the old fort at Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he also established the First Presbyterian Church. Eventually settling down in Richmond, Indiana, Ross served as pastor of Beulah Presbyterian Church and supported himself by farming. In addition to his roles as pastor and farmer, Ross furthermore worked as a colporteur for the American Tract Society, peddling religious books throughout eastern Indiana and western Ohio.

Described as a passionate preacher, Ross is recorded to have preached vigorously long after the age of eighty. When he died in 1876 at nearly ninety-three years old, Ross was the oldest surviving member of his Princeton Seminary class as well as one of, if not the oldest surviving ministers in the Presbyterian Church.


A portion of a handwritten account of Ross’s life, compiled by a friend after Ross’s death.