John R. Ross was born in the early 1870s to Tanney and Caroline Ross, likely in Fairfield County, South Carolina. His birth year is uncertain due to conflicting sources surrounding his age. In the 1880 federal census, John lived with his family in Township 14, Fairfield Co., SC. His father Tanney (46) worked as a farmer, while his mother Caroline (48) was a laborer, likely on the same farm. His mother was illiterate, but his father could read and write. Meanwhile, John (9) and his older siblings Dilly (17), Fernandez (13), and Edward (11) all attended school.
Unfortunately, due to the loss of the 1890 census, the next fifteen years of John’s life are unrecorded. He must have finished school, and by 1895, he had made his way to Charlotte, Mecklenburg Co., NC. There, he married 19-year-old Addie Craig, daughter of Adam and Millie Craig, on January 13th, 1895. John is listed as 21 years old. They likely met in South Carolina and moved to Charlotte together, as the 1900 federal census lists Addie as being born in South Carolina as well. Soon after, their first child, a daughter named Bessie, was born, and the year after that in 1896, Addie gave birth to their first son, Atho. In 1898, they had a second son and named him Graham.
In the 1900 census, the family lived in a rented home on W. Trade St. in Charlotte’s 3rd Ward. Addie did ‘washing and cooking’ for her occupation, and John’s occupation is illegible on the census. The are the only black family on the census page – the only black people apart from two household servants in the home next to them – indicating that the lines of racial segregation in 1900 Charlotte were not yet well defined.
Five years later in 1905, John and Addie Ross were living 410 W. 2nd St., while John had become a tailor and was working at a shop at 226 E. Trade St. By 1908, their home had been converted into what was likely a duplex, as their address in the 1908 Charlotte city directory is 410 ½ W. 2nd. Also in 1908, John and moved to a different shop and was working at 8 ½ E. Trade St, and these places remained the same in 1909.
In 1910, the family still lived at 410 ½ W. 2nd, a home that they now owned. John still worked as a tailor, though he now owned his own tailor shop. While in 1900 the family had lived on an all-white street, by 1910, they had moved to a home surrounded by fellow black and mulatto families. It seemed like the family had been through hard times as well – Bessie is no longer listed on the census, and it says that Addie only had two living children, so it seems that Bessie either passed away or married quite early. Atho and Graham, now 13 and 11 respectively, attended public school.
By 1911, John was working at 6 S. College, still as a tailor. The next year, the family moved from their home at 410 ½ W. 2nd to 512 S. Graham, and John was working at 8 S. College. The family would stay at that home, and John would work at that shop, at least through 1920. The Evening Chronicle, a Charlotte newspaper, reported on May 24th, 1912, that John had cashed a check forged by another man. It doesn’t appear that he was punished for this.
Sadly, on August 10th, 1915, John and Addie’s eldest son, Atho, still in school, died after a short fight with typhoid tuberculosis. Their youngest son Graham registered for the WWI draft in September, 1918; he worked as a waiter at Southern Dining and still lived at 512 S. Graham with his parents.
In 1920, they owned their home at 512 S. Graham, and John was the manager of his tailor shop. Sometime before 1927, they moved homes again and were now living at 411 N. Myers, which was across the city from their previous home on S. Graham. Nevertheless, John kept his job at 8 S. College. They still lived there in 1930, by which point Addie had begun working as a maid for a private family. The next year in 1931, John and Addie moved down the road to 421 N. Myers, where they would live until John’s death. On April 28th, 1934, John died of acute nephritis, a condition that he had been fighting since the previous year. He was buried in the Pinewood Cemetery two days later on April 30th.