Sunday, December 31, 2017

William Paca - Founding Father

William Paca (October 31, 1740 – October 13, 1799) was a signatory to the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of Maryland, and later Governor of Maryland and a United States federal judge.

Early life and education

Paca was born in Abingdon, in what was then Baltimore County (Abingdon was later included in Harford County when that county was formed from Baltimore County in 1773), in the British colony of Maryland. He was the child of John Paca (c. 1712 – 1785), a wealthy planter in the area, and his wife Elizabeth Smith (?-c. 1766). He was the second son of the family, after his elder brother Aquila, and had five sisters. The brothers entered school at the Philadelphia Academy and Charity School in 1752, and the younger Paca went on to attend the College of Philadelphia (now merged into and known as the University of Pennsylvania), graduating in 1759 with a bachelor of arts degree.[2] He was also to receive a master of arts degree from the college in 1762, though this required no further study, only that Paca request it and be in good standing.

After graduating from college, Paca returned to Maryland, reading law in the colonial capital of Annapolis under the tutelage of a local lawyer named Stephen Bordley. By 1761, he was licensed to practice law, and in 1764 was admitted to the provincial bar, having stayed in Annapolis to establish his practice. Professional success was mingled with personal success, as the previous year he had courted Mary Chew, the daughter of a prominent Maryland planter, and they were married on May 26, 1763. They had three children, though only their son John Philemon survived into adulthood.


Among the other young lawyers in Annapolis at the time was Samuel Chase, who became a close friend and political colleague of Paca. Paca and Chase led local opposition to the British Stamp Act of 1765 and established the Anne Arundel County chapter of the Sons of Liberty.

Paca was elected to the Maryland legislature in 1771 and appointed to the Continental Congress in 1774. He was reelected, serving until 1779, when he became chief justice of the state of Maryland. In 1780, he was elected to serve as a federal judge on the Court of Appeals in Cases of Capture. In 1782 he was elected governor of Maryland. On December 22, 1789, Paca received a recess appointment from President George Washington to a seat on the newly created United States District Court for the District of Maryland, created by 1 Stat. 73. Formally nominated on February 8, 1790, he was confirmed by the United States Senate on February 10, 1790, and received his commission the same day, serving until his death.

Paca's career on the federal bench had a significant impact on the admiralty jurisdiction of the Federal courts and what was to become the principal business of the Supreme Court over the subsequent four decades. As the first Federal judge for the District Court of Maryland he rendered an opinion on the case of Betsey that had far reaching consequences when it was overturned by the Supreme Court. In that case Paca argued on solid precedents of international and British law that the District Court did not have jurisdiction over the awarding of prizes brought into American ports by foreign privateers. The Supreme Court asserted otherwise in seriatum opinions and established an exclusive jurisdiction over prize cases vested in the Federal District Courts that took that privilege away from what had been the responsibility of foreign consulates. Paca's opinion was the first District Court opinion to be published, and although ultimately reversed, it provides insight into the extensive legal training of a signer of the Declaration of Independence and an author/compiler of several provisions of what became the Bill of Rights.

Paca died in 1799 at his estate of Wye River in Queen Anne's County, Maryland and was buried in the family cemetery there.

William Paca | Declaration of Independence

FreedomProject Media

Follow the life of William Paca, delegate to the Continental Congress and one of 56 signers, who bravely proclaimed the original thirteen colonies would break away from British rule to form the United States of America.  Enjoy this special look at William Paca, signer of the Declaration of Independence.


In Maryland, three elementary schools are named for him: one in Landover, one in Baltimore city (#83) and the other in his home town of Abingdon. A prominent street in Downtown Baltimore bears his name, as does a dormitory on the campus of St. John's College in Annapolis as well as one on the campus of Towson University. Outside of Maryland, a Middle School in Mastic Beach, New York and P.S. 155 in New York City are also named after him. In August 2008 the House was added as a new residence hall in Towson University.

His Annapolis home, the House and Garden, was added to the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971.

The William Paca Club in New Providence, New Jersey is named in his honor. The Club cites the fact that Paca was the only Italian America to sign the Declaration of Independence as the reason for bestowing him this honor.

William Paca House

Learn about the life and explore the historic home of 18th-century lawyer and signer of the Declaration of Independence, William Paca.

An elegant Georgian mansion and National Historic Landmark, the William Paca House has been carefully restored to look much the same as it would have when it was first built in the 1760s. Learn about the famous owner of the magnificent mansion and find out what life was like for him and his family during the 18th century.


Personal life

Paca has been described as being of Italian ancestry.

According to Stanley South, "The rumor that the name was Italian came from a remark made in 1911 by James Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore, who commented that he thought a relationship existed between Paca and the Italian family Pecci." In a July 18, 1937, letter to the New York Times, a self-described descendant of Paca claimed:

The ancestors of William Paca were of Italian and English origin. The name is said to have originally been spelled Pacci.

However, in an interview with Giovanni Schiavo, the letter writer apparently attributed the suggestion that the name was Pecci to Cardinal Gibbons. Schiavo also reported that Paca mentioned Pope Leo XIII (1879–1903), whose surname was Pecci, during the interview. Stiverson and Jacobsen reported that spellings of the surname of William Paca's immigrant ancestor Robert include Peaker, Pecker, Peaca, Peca, and Paka. Neither "Pecci" nor "Pacci" (nor "Pacca") are attested, but that could be attributed to the fact that the Italian spelling of the name would have simply been difficult or unfamiliar to the English-speaking clerks of the time.

Annapolis, Maryland: The William Paca House

DonneTempoVideo Writer Jacquie Kubin from Donne Tempo magazine visits historical residences of Annapolis, Maryland. This installment visits one of Annapolis' most historic Georgians, The William Paca House museum.  Glen Campbell, historian for Historic Annapolis takes us on a tour of one of Annapolis' finest homes with a secret treasure in the back, a formal terraced garden in the grand design.


The surname Pacci is of Tuscan, or possibly Umbrian or Marchese, origin. There certainly were Tuscans, Piedmontese, etc. living in the early American colonies. Also, there were wealthy "Lombard bankers" living in London in the Middle Ages. For example, the actress Teri Polo I'm guessing is of English ancestry; but likely has a Venetian forefather. Sometimes the surname was altered in aristocratic circles, making it sound more in line with an English gentleman.. rather than a somewhat foreign sounding name.

Paca House & Garden visit


This is a brief video of some of the the still pictures and footage that I took while visiting the Paca House in Annapolis, MD.