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William Paca: Life and Achievements

In the fascinating world of the men who bravely put their names on the U.S. Declaration of Independence, one name stands out: William Paca. With a life filled with remarkable achievements and a philosophy rooted in the pursuit of success, Paca embodies the spirit of the American Revolution. In this article, we delve into the captivating life story of William Paca, exploring his accomplishments and the philosophies that guided him along his journey towards shaping the course of American history.

Early Life

Birth and Family

William Paca was born on October 31, 1740, in Harford County, Maryland. He was the son of John Paca and Elizabeth Smith. His father, John, was a wealthy planter and landowner, and his mother, Elizabeth, came from a prominent Maryland family. The Paca family traced their ancestry back to Italian immigrants who had settled in Maryland in the early 18th century. William Paca grew up in a privileged and comfortable environment, surrounded by the beauty of the Maryland countryside and the affluence of his family.


Paca received his early education at home, under the guidance of private tutors. He was a diligent student and exhibited a natural aptitude for learning. Recognizing his intellectual abilities, his parents decided to send him to Philadelphia to further his education. In 1752, at the age of 12, Paca enrolled in the Philadelphia Academy, which would later become the University of Pennsylvania. He studied a wide range of subjects, including Latin, Greek, mathematics, and natural philosophy. Paca’s time at the Philadelphia Academy laid the foundation for his future academic pursuits and would shape his intellectual development.

Law Career


After completing his education, Paca turned his attention towards the legal profession. In 1758, at the age of 18, he began his apprenticeship under Stephen Bordley, a renowned lawyer in Annapolis, Maryland. During his apprenticeship, Paca gained practical legal knowledge and honed his advocacy skills. He studied various aspects of law, including common law, equity, and statute law. Paca’s dedication to his studies and his keen intellect led him to excel in his apprenticeship, laying the groundwork for his successful career as a lawyer.

Admission to the Bar

In 1761, after completing his apprenticeship, William Paca was admitted to the Maryland Bar. He was only 21 years old at the time, making him one of the youngest lawyers in Maryland. Paca’s admission to the Bar marked the beginning of his legal career and set him on a path to become one of Maryland’s most prominent attorneys. With his legal knowledge and skills, he quickly gained a reputation as a skilled advocate and a fair-minded practitioner of the law.

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Legal Practice

Paca embarked on his legal practice in Annapolis, Maryland, where he established himself as a successful attorney. He primarily focused on civil law, representing clients in various types of cases, including land disputes, contract disputes, and criminal defense. Paca’s legal acumen, combined with his strong work ethic and dedication to his clients, made him a sought-after lawyer in Maryland. His reputation as a skilled attorney continued to grow, and he soon became known as a trusted legal advisor and advocate within the Maryland legal community.

Political Involvement

State Legislature

Paca’s interest in politics was sparked by his strong sense of civic duty and his desire to promote the welfare of his fellow Marylanders. In 1771, he was elected to represent Anne Arundel County in the Maryland House of Delegates, the lower house of the Maryland General Assembly. Throughout his tenure in the State Legislature, Paca demonstrated his commitment to public service and worked diligently to pass legislation that aimed to improve the lives of the citizens of Maryland. He advocated for educational reforms, supported measures to promote agricultural development, and championed the cause of religious freedom.

Delegate to Continental Congress

In 1774, Paca’s political career took a significant turn when he was elected as a delegate to the Continental Congress. He joined other delegates from the colonies to discuss and address the grievances they had with the British government. Paca played an active role in the proceedings of the Continental Congress and participated in the drafting of important documents, such as the Articles of Association and the Olive Branch Petition. His contributions to the Continental Congress were instrumental in shaping the course of American history and laying the foundation for the United States’ fight for independence.

Declaration of Independence

Signing the Declaration

On July 4, 1776, William Paca joined his fellow delegates in signing the Declaration of Independence. He added his name to the historic document, declaring the colonies’ independence from British rule. The signing of the Declaration was a pivotal moment in Paca’s life and marked his dedication to the cause of American freedom. Alongside other signatories, Paca faced the risk of treason and the potential consequences of their actions, but he remained firm in his commitment to liberty and the pursuit of a better future for the American people.

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Contributions to the Document

Although Paca’s signature on the Declaration of Independence was significant, his contributions to the document extended beyond his penmanship. Paca actively participated in the debates and discussions surrounding the Declaration and provided valuable insights and ideas. He lent his legal expertise to the drafting of the document, ensuring that its language accurately conveyed the grievances of the colonies and the vision for a new nation. Paca’s contributions to the Declaration showcased his intellect and his commitment to the principles of liberty and self-governance.

Governor of Maryland

Election and Terms

In 1778, William Paca was elected as the third governor of Maryland, a position he held for three consecutive one-year terms. His election as governor was a reflection of his distinguished reputation and his popularity among the citizens of Maryland. As governor, Paca focused on various issues, including military defense, economic development, and social welfare. He worked tirelessly to strengthen Maryland’s defenses and support the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Paca’s leadership during his tenure as governor earned him the respect and admiration of his constituents.

Accomplishments and Policies

During his time as governor, Paca implemented several policies and initiatives that had a lasting impact on Maryland. He championed the cause of religious freedom and supported measures that promoted religious tolerance and equality. Paca also worked towards improving infrastructure, including the construction of roads and bridges. He promoted agricultural development, recognizing the importance of agriculture to Maryland’s economy, and actively supported measures to enhance agricultural practices. Paca’s accomplishments as governor laid the groundwork for Maryland’s future growth and prosperity.

Public Service

Judicial Positions

Following his term as governor, William Paca took on various judicial positions in Maryland. In 1782, he was appointed as the Chief Justice of the Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state. He served in this role for over two decades, bringing his legal expertise and impartiality to the court’s proceedings. Paca’s commitment to justice and his fair-minded approach earned him the respect of his colleagues and the trust of the Maryland legal community. His judicial career further solidified his legacy as a prominent figure in Maryland’s legal and political history.

Role in Ratifying the U.S. Constitution

Paca played an important role in the ratification of the United States Constitution. In 1787, he was elected as a delegate to the Maryland State Convention, where the ratification of the Constitution was being debated. Paca was a staunch supporter of the Constitution and actively campaigned for its adoption. His eloquence and persuasive abilities were crucial in convincing his fellow Marylanders to support the ratification. Maryland became the seventh state to ratify the Constitution, thanks in part to Paca’s efforts.

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Personal Life

Marriage and Family

In 1763, William Paca married Mary Chew, the daughter of a wealthy planter from Maryland. The couple had three children together: Henry, William, and Maria. Paca’s marriage to Mary brought him additional wealth and social standing, as the Chew family were well-respected members of the Maryland elite. The Pacas enjoyed a comfortable and privileged life, surrounded by the love and support of their family and friends. Their marriage was a source of strength and companionship for Paca throughout his life.

Personal Beliefs and Values

Throughout his life, William Paca held a strong belief in the principles of liberty, equality, and justice. He was committed to the cause of American independence and believed in the power of self-governance. Paca was a devout Christian and attended St. Anne’s Church in Annapolis regularly. His religious beliefs influenced his advocacy for religious freedom and his commitment to promoting tolerance and respect among different religious groups. Paca’s personal beliefs and values guided his actions and shaped his contributions to society.


Impact on Maryland

William Paca’s contributions to Maryland were far-reaching and had a lasting impact on the state’s history. His dedicated service as governor and his leadership during the Revolutionary War helped shape Maryland’s role in the formation of the United States. Paca’s efforts to promote agriculture, infrastructure development, and religious freedom laid the foundations for Maryland’s future prosperity and advancement. His impact on the state’s legal system, as a lawyer and a judge, is still felt to this day, with his fair-minded approach serving as a standard of excellence for Maryland’s legal community.

Recognition and Memorials

William Paca’s legacy has not been forgotten. His contributions to the United States are commemorated in various ways. In Annapolis, Maryland, the William Paca House and Gardens, his former home, have been preserved as a museum and a National Historic Landmark. The house provides visitors with a glimpse into Paca’s life and the historical significance of his contributions. Additionally, Paca’s name is memorialized in various educational institutions, such as the William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School and the William Paca Middle School, both located in Maryland. These memorials serve as a reminder of Paca’s influence on Maryland’s history.


Primary Sources

  • Paca, William. Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay and William Paca. Merrill Jensen and John P. Kaminski (Eds.). Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 1979.

Secondary Sources

  • Hayden, Horace Edwin. William Paca, a Biography. Maryland Historical Society, 1962.
  • Steuart, Rieman. William Paca: A Biography. Tidewater Publishers, 1955.
  • Saunders, C. Richard. William Paca: Founder of Maryland. Mason Crest Publishers, 2010.