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William Paca

Signer of the Declaration of Independence


PACA, William, signer of the Declaration of Independence, born in Wyehall, Harford County, Maryland, 31 October, 1740; died there in 1799. He was the descendant of a wealthy planter on the east shore of Maryland, in which state the family had resided for several generations. He was graduated at Philadelphia college in 1759, entered the Middle Temple, London, as a student, 14 January, 1762, and was admitted to the bar in 1764. He opposed the operation of the stamp-act in 1765, and every succeeding measure of the British government that asserted its right to tax the colonies without their consent. He was a member of the state legislature from 1771 to 1774, and was active in his opposition to the royal government. He was a member of the committee of correspondence in 1774, a delegate to congress in 1774-'9, and signed the Declaration of Independence. During the earlier part of Mr. Paca's congressional career he was embarrassed by the opposition of his constituents to a separation from Great Britain, and it was not till June, 1776, that the Maryland convention withdrew their restrictions upon the votes of their delegates in congress. On the adoption of the constitution of Maryland he was made state senator, and served in 1777-'9. He was chief judge of the superior court of that state from 1778 till 1780, and then became chief judge of the court of appeals in prize and admiralty cases, which place he retained for two years. He was governor of Maryland in 1782-'6, a delegate to the state convention that ratified the United States constitution in 1788, and was United States district judge (to which office he had been nominated by President Washington) from 1789 till his death. He contributed from his private wealth to the patriot cause, and served upon many important local committees. His first wife was a daughter of Samuel Chew. - Appletons Encyclopedia


PACA, William, a Delegate from Maryland; born at “Wye Hall,” near Abingdon, Queen Anne (now Harford) County, Md., October 31, 1740; was graduated from Philadelphia College in 1759; studied law in Annapolis, Md., and in the Middle Temple, London, England; was admitted to the bar in 1764; returned home and commenced the practice of his profession at Annapolis in 1764; member of the provincial assembly 1771-1774; Member of the Continental Congress 1774-1779; a signer of the Declaration of Independence; served in the state senate 1777-1779; chief judge of the superior court of Maryland 1778-1780; chief justice of the court of appeals in prize and admiralty cases 1780-1782; governor of Maryland from November 1782 to November 1785; was influential in establishing Washington College in Chestertown, Md., in 1786; delegate to the state convention in 1788 which ratified the Federal Constitution; appointed by President Washington as judge of the United States Court for Maryland and served from 1789 until his death at “Wye Hall,” Queen Anne County, Md., October 23, 1799; interment in the family burial ground, Queen Anne County, Md.  - Biographical Directory of Congress


William Paca was born on 31 October 1740, at his family's home near Abingdon in Baltimore (now Harford) County.  He was the second son of John and Elizabeth Smith Paca, and a member of the fourth generation of Paca men in Maryland, his great-grandfather Robert having emigrated in the 1640s.  William was educated in Philadelphia, graduating from the College of Philadelphia in 1759 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, and then settled in Annapolis.

     Paca spent several years reading law with the noted attorney Stephen Bordley, before gaining experience in London and then beginning his own practice in county and provincial courts.  In 1763, Paca ensured his social and economic position by his marriage to Mary Chew, the daughter of a wealthy and prominent Maryland family.  Four days after their wedding, Paca purchased two lots in Annapolis and soon began building the five-part mansion and extensive pleasure garden that survive today.

     A distinguished figure in public life, William Paca served as an Annapolis councilman and mayor, vestryman of St. Anne's Church, delegate from Annapolis to the lower house of the General Assembly, and delegate to the Continental Congress.  Paca was a leader of the patriot cause in Maryland from the initial opposition to the Stamp Act in 1764 through his service in the Congress.  He voted for adoption of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776 and was one of Maryland's four signers on August 2nd.  Paca resigned his position as delegate to become a judge of the Admiralty Court, which tried maritime cases, and resigned that position when elected governor of Maryland in November 1782.  Paca was re-elected in 1783 and 1784.

     At the end of his third term, Paca moved to his plantation on the Eastern Shore, where he eventually built an elegant mansion, although he continued to own property in and spend time in Annapolis.  He later represented his Eastern Shore district (Queen Anne's County) in the House of Delegates, before George Washington appointed him a Federal district judge in December 1789, a position he held for the remainder of his life.

     Death claimed Mary Chew Paca in 1774, and Paca's second wife, Ann Harrison Paca, in 1780.  Altogether, Paca had six children (two illegitimate), two of whom — survived him.  William Paca died at his home in Queen Anne's County on 13 October 1799, just days short of his 59th birthday.  Text Courtesy of  Historic Annapolis Foundation - Visit Paca's Annapolis house



Gregory A. Stiverson and Phebe R. Jacobsen, William Paca: A Biography (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1796)

Jean B. Russo, William Paca’s Education: The Making of an Eighteenth-Century Gentleman and American Patriot (Annapolis, MD: Historic Annapolis Foundation, 1999)

Jean B. Russo, A Question of Reputation: William Paca’s Courtship of Polly Tilghman (Annapolis: MD: Historic Annapolis Foundation, 2000)

Text Courtesy of: Historic Annapolis Foundation

William Paca  Timeline 
Courtesy of:
Historic Annapolis Foundation


1740, October 31                  Birth of William Paca

1752, May 25                        Entered as student at Philadelphia Academy & Charity School

1756                                      Enrolled as College of Philadelphia undergraduate

1759, June                             Graduated with Bachelor of Arts degree

1759, summer                        Arrival in Annapolis

1759, October 26                  Founding member of Forensic Club

1761, October 27                  Admitted to practice law in Annapolis Mayor's Court

1763, May 26                        Married Mary Chew

1763    May 30                      Purchased lots 93 and 104 in Annapolis

1763, June                             Qualified to practice law in Anne Arundel County court

1764, April 10                        Qualified to practice law in Provincial Court

1764                                       Birth of daughter Henrietta Maria

1765, August 26                     Leader, with Samuel Chase, of Stamp Act protest

1766, May 24                         Elected to Annapolis Common Council

1767, November 26                Elected to represent Annapolis in House of Delegates

1770, June 12                         Vestryman of St. Anne's Church

1771                                       Elected to membership in Homony Club

1771, March 17                      Birth of John Philemon Paca

1772                                       Portrait painted by Charles Willson Peale

1773/1774                              Birth of William Paca, Jr.

1774, January 15                    Death of Mary Chew Paca

1775, August 26                     Birth of daughter Hester in Philadelphia

1776, July 4                            Voted to approve Declaration of Independence

1776, August 2                       Signed Declaration of Independence

1776/1777                             Birth of Henrietta Maria (Joice)

1777, February 28                 Married Ann Harrison of Philadelphia

1778                                      Birth of Henry Paca (baptized 28 October 1778)

1779, May                             Death of William Paca, Jr. (buried 6 May)

1780, February 18                 Death of Ann Harrison Paca

1780, July 25                         Sold Annapolis town house

1781                                      Death of Henry Paca

1782, February                      Unsuccessful courtship of Mary Tilghman

1782, November 15               Elected governor of Maryland

1783, November 21               Re-elected as governor

1784, November 24               Re-elected as governor

1786                                      Elected to Senate and House of Delegates; held office as delegate

1787                                      Refused election to Constitutional Convention

1788, April                            Attended Ratification Convention in Baltimore as Anti-Federalist

1789, December 24               Appointed judge of Federal District Court for Maryland

1790                                      Began construction of Wye Hall on Wye Island

1799, October 13                  Death of William Paca

Deed adding 35 acres of land in Maryland to Joseph White adjacent to 100 acres he already owns. Dated August 9, 1784. Signed "Wm. Paca" in left margin when he was governor of Maryland  - Document image from Stan Klos Collection


Source: Centennial Book of Signers


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