Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

William Paca (1740-1799)
MSA SC 3520-965
Governor of Maryland, 1782-1785

The following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis:  The Hall of Records Commission, 1970), 17-19.

"WILLIAM PACA, Marylandís third State governor, during whose administration the Revolutionary War ended, was horn near Abingdon, then in Baltimore County, but now in Harford County, on October 31, 1740, the son of John and Elizabeth (Smith) Paca. He is often thought to have been of Italian ancestry, but recent investigation reveals that he was descended from the Peaker family of Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Devonshire Counties in England.1 A Robert Peaker had settled in Anne Arundel County as early as 1651. Williamís father had been a justice of the Baltimore County Court between 1746-1747 and 1752-1753, so he was able to use his fortune and political position to give his son a good education both at home and nearby. Later the elder Mr. Paca sent him to Philadelphia where he received his degree from the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) in 1759. Shortly after graduation, he went to Annapolis where he began the study of law under Stephen Bordley. In 1761, he was admitted to practice before the Mayorís Court and in the following year he went abroad to complete his legal training at the Middle Temple in London. When he returned to America, he settled in Annapolis where he was admitted to practice before the Provincial Court in 1763.

"In the decade before the American Revolution, Paca established himself in his profession in Annapolis. He became a member of the Homony Club and acquired considerable property both in Annapolis as well as in Queen Anneís County. In May 1763, he married Mary Lloyd Chew, the daughter of Samuel and Henrietta Maria (Lloyd) Chew who had 'a very considerable fortune.'2 She died in January 1774. In December 1767, he was elected a member of the House of Delegates from Annapolis, succeeding Samuel Chase, and when the Assembly organized in May of 1768, he very shortly became a leader of the popular party. He was a member of the legislature continuously until 1774 during which time he was a member of the lottery committee as well as the committee on [p. 18] criminal laws. Paca also served as a member of the committee on grievances and courts of justice, and the committee to authorize the creation of Harford County. He was, in addition, a trustee for building St. Anneís Church in Annapolis and one of the superintendents to supervise the building of a new 'Stadt House' in Annapolis.

"With the approach of the war, Paca became more and more an opponent of the mother country and a leader in the patriot cause. In June 1774, he was appointed together with Matthew Tilghman, Thomas Johnson, Robert Goldsborough and Samuel Chase as deputies to attend a General Congress of the Colonies at which they were instructed 'to effect one general plan of conduct, operating on the commercial connection of the Colonies with the Mother Country, for the relief of Boston, and the preservation of American liberty.'3  He was also a member of the Committee of Correspondence and the Council of Safety, and after his election to the First Continental Congress in 1774, he left for Philadelphia and while there, he married a 'Levina' whose last name is unknown.4 She apparently died shortly thereafter, for in 1777 he married Anne Harrison. He represented Maryland in the Continental Congress between 1774 and 1779 serving on several important committees. After Maryland had removed restrictions placed on her delegates in 1776, he voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence.

"Paca returned temporarily to Maryland in 1776 as did Johnson, to serve as a member of the Convention which drew up the first State Constitution. In the following year, he was chosen as one of the members of the State Senate and served in that capacity until 1779. Then, he was appointed Judge of the General Court, serving until 1780 when he became a judge of the Admiralty Court for the next two years. When his wife died in 1780, he sold his Annapolis home, now being restored, and thereafter he made his home at 'Wye Hall' in Queen Anneís County.

"Paca was elected governor in November 1782, his opponent being Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer. During his first year in office, the war with England ended. On May 6, 1783, Paca reported to the legislature that a preliminary Treaty of Peace had been signed with Great Britain. In announcing the news, he commented that 'we see our sufferings and labours crowned with success and the independence of America established on the surest foundation.' He went on to submit a post-war plan of legislative action which would place the State on a firm basis. The army, he felt, should receive a 'generous compensation for their great and important services.'  What he termed 'the national character' had been 'sullied by repeated violations of the public faith,' so he hoped the governmentís best resource, 'the confidence of the people' would be restored. 'The wants and demands of government' were such that the amount of money in the treasury was insufficient to meet them. The result was 'the public claims unpaid, creditors disappointed, chagrined, and every day obliged to sustain additional wrong and injury; the solemn
[p. 19] engagements of the legislature suspended, its public faith brought into question, and your executive reduced to the most humiliating condition, and exposed to the most mortifying animadversions and censures.' Paca advocated a revision of the criminal laws as well as those relating to shipping. Finally, he supported 'the principle of public support for the ministers of the Gospel, as well as the advancement of learning.' This was reflected in the founding of Washington College, of which he laid the cornerstone, and the hope that 'the general assembly will think this college deserving of their further attention and favours, and will extend their views to the establishing and encouraging other seminaries of learning in this state.'5

"Paca was unanimously elected to his second term on November 22, 1783. During this term, he invited the Congress to meet in Annapolis. As host, he opened his home to its President. It was during this session of the Continental Congress in the State House in Annapolis, that George Washington, on December 23, 1783, resigned his commission in the presence of Paca, the members of the General Assembly, and the Continental Congress. During the same session and in the same building, the Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War.

"Paca was again unanimously elected on November 24, 1784, and remained in office until his term expired on November 26, 1785. To his credit were his outstanding efforts in meeting and solving some of the problems which had plagued the State as well as the nation during the first uneasy years of peace. He, too, was unable to remain in retirement. In April 1786, he was chosen to fill the unexpired term of Gabriel Duvall on the Governorís Council. In 1788, he represented Harford County as a member of the Convention of Maryland which ratified the Federal Constitution. Although he proposed many amendments to the document, he voted for its ratification without changes. He also took great interest in the welfare of the returning soldiers, participated in raising funds for Washington College, by giving £50 to lead the list of subscribers from Queen Anneís County, and became a member of the Society of the Cincinnati. In recognition of his wartime services, between 1784 and 1787 he was elected vice president of the Maryland Chapter of the Society.

"In 1789 President Washington appointed him a judge of the U. S. District Court of Maryland. He held this position until his death at his home in Queen Anneís County on October 13, 1799. He was buried in his family cemetery in Queen Anneís County."

Notes on sources

Return to William Paca's introductory page

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