Early life, education, and career
Wilkins was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Major General John Wilkins, Jr., who served in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and became the 7th Quartermaster General of the United States Army. His brother was William Wilkins, a notable lawyer, jurist and politician in Pennsylvania. Wilkins graduated from Dickinson College in 1816, then read law to enter the bar in 1820, and was a prosecuting attorney in Pittsburgh from 1821 to 1823. He then entered private practice in Pittsburgh from 1823 to 1832. He was a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1829 to 1830.
Federal judicial service
John M. Snowden, who stood high in favor with President Jackson, recommended Wilkins for appointment to the office of district court judge. Shortly afterwards a friend of another applicant for the same office appeared before the President and denounced the man recommended by Mr. Snowden, as being utterly unfit for the place. Old Hickory, with eyes flashing fire, roared out: "How dare you say that? Do you think John M. Snowden would recommend a man unfit for the position? No, never by the eternal!"
On July 2, 1836, President Jackson nominated Wilkins to become United States District Judge of the newly created District of Michigan. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 2, 1836 and received his commission on January 26, 1837. He was briefly also a recorder for the City of Detroit, Michigan in 1837.
Wilkins was also a member of the convention that drafted the Michigan Constitution of 1835, and also of the two conventions held in 1836 to accept terms imposed on Michigan statehood by Congress (see the Toledo War). He also served on the Board of Regents for the University of Michigan, from its creation in 1837 until 1842.
Wilkins served in the District of Michigan until the district was dissolved and subdivided into two districts on February 24, 1863. Wilkins was reassigned by operation of law as District Judge of the Eastern District of Michigan, where he served until he resigned in December 1869. His service with the court was terminated on February 18, 1870 due to his retirement. He never missed a term in his 32 years of service.
He died in Detroit, Michigan, in 1872.
- Ross Wilkins at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
- Bonner, Richard Illenden, ed. (2005) . "Settlement and Organization". Memoirs of Lenawee County, Michigan: from the earliest historical times down to the present, including a genealogical and biographical record of representative families in Lenawee County. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Library. p. 74. Retrieved 2007-02-07.
- Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society
- The Political Graveyard