Paca, William (1740-1799), lawyer and politician, was born on 31 Oct 1740, at his father's plantation on the Bush River near Abingdon in Baltimore County, Maryland, the third child and second son of John Paca (c.1712-1785), planter, and his wife Elizabeth Smith (?-c.1766). Both of his parents were natives of Maryland and of English descent. In addition to his older brother Aquila, Paca had five sisters.

William, at age eleven, and Aquila were sent to the Philadelphia Academy and Charity School in 1752. Beginning in 1756, William Paca continued his education at the College of Philadelphia, from which he received a B.A. degree in May 1759. Three years later he collected an M.A. degree, available upon request to graduates in good standing without requirement of further study. In the late spring or early summer of 1759 Paca took up residence in Annapolis, capital of Maryland, where he studied law with Stephen Bordley, one of the preeminent lawyers of the day. Records of the Inner Temple (where Bordley had also studied) indicate that Paca was admitted as a member of the commons, but the timing and duration of his stay in London remain unclear.

William Paca began his legal career in 1761, qualifying as an attorney in both several county courts and the more prestigious provincial courts. In addition to a successful law practice, he solidified his position among the Maryland gentry by his marriage on 26 May 1763 to heiress Mary Chew, daughter of Samuel Chew (ca.1704-1737) and his wife Henrietta Maria Lloyd (?-1765). The couple had three children, of whom only John Philemon (1771-1840) survived to adulthood, before Mary's death in Jan 1774. During the 1760s Paca also took an active role in the political life of Maryland. With fellow attorney Samuel Chase, he was one of the leaders of the Annapolis protests in 1765 against the Stamp Act and an organizer of the Anne Arundel chapter of the Sons of Liberty. In May 1766 Paca was elected as a common councilman for the City of Annapolis and the following year local voters chose him as one of their representatives in the House of Delegates. He remained a representative for Annapolis through the final provincial assembly of 1774.

Paca continued to play an active political role as protests against proprietary actions evolved into protests against British rule. Both in court and in print, Paca argued against the proprietary position on determination of officials' fees and against the clergy's position on the poll tax levied for their support -- despite being himself a member of the vestry. As Maryland moved toward independence, Paca represented Annapolis in the extra-legal conventions that ruled the province beginning in 1774, and was chosen as one of Maryland's delegates to the first continental congress. Paca served longer as a delegate than any other Marylander, and was one of the two who both voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence. He also served in the Maryland Senate from 1777 until his resignation in 1780. Paca held no military commission during the revolutionary war, but did serve as one of three commissioners responsible for organizing the defense of the Eastern Shore

While in Philadelphia as a delegate, on 28 Feb 1777 Paca married Anne Harrison (1757-1780), daughter of Henry Harrison (ca.1713-1766), merchant and former mayor, and his wife, Mary Aspden. The couple had one child before Anne's death in Feb 1780; their son Henry died in 1781. In the interval between the death of Mary Paca and his marriage to Anne Harrison, Paca fathered two children, by two different women, of whom Henrietta Maria (c.1777-1850), daughter of Sarah Joice of Annapolis, survived him.

William Paca resigned as a delegate to congress when appointed a judge of the Court of Appeals for Admiralty and Prize Cases in 1780, and resigned that position when elected governor of Maryland in Nov 1782. Paca served three one-year terms as governor (the statutory limit) and was in office when Congress met in Annapolis in 1783-1784, where it ratified the Treaty of Paris on 15 Jan 1784. Following the expiration of his third term as governor, Paca was elected to both the Senate and House of Delegates; he chose to sit in the House as the body more responsive to the interests of the people.

Paca refused election to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, but did represent Harford County (a recently-created county that included his birthplace) as an anti-Federalist in the Ratification Convention held in April 1788. He proposed twenty-eight amendments to the Constitution designed to ensure personal freedoms and limitations on federal powers similar to safeguards written into the Maryland constitution. Although his efforts were thwarted by the Federalists who controlled the convention, a number of Paca's ideas were later incorporated in the Bill of Rights. Despite Paca's opposition to the new form of government, George Washington appointed him a judge for the federal district court of Maryland in Dec 1789, recognizing that without men like Paca, there would have been no American government, federal or otherwise.

William Paca built an elegant Georgian mansion with a two-acre pleasure garden in Annapolis immediately after his marriage to Mary Chew. He sold that house (which still stands) in 1780 and made his primary residence on Wye Island on Maryland's Eastern Shore (property inherited by Mary from her brother and held in trust for their son John), where he built an even more grand house, Wye Hall, in the 1790s. Paca died at Wye Hall on 13 Oct 1799 and was most likely buried on the grounds, although the location of his grave is unknown.

935 words Biography Project, Maryland State Archives

New DNB Sources sheet

Subject's name: Paca, William


1* E. C. Papenfuse, A. F. Day, D. W. Jordan, and G. A. Stiverson, eds., A biographical dictionary of the Maryland legislature, 1635-1789, Baltimore, Maryland (1985)

2* G. A. Stiverson and P. R. Jacobsen, William Paca: a biography, Baltimore, Maryland (1976)

3* R. Hoffman, A spirit of dissension: economics, politics, and the revolution in Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland (1973)

4* William Paca Research Files, Historic Annapolis Foundation, Annapolis, Maryland



William Paca Correspondence, MS.1986, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, Maryland








* C. W. Peale, portrait (oils), 1772, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, Maryland

J. B. Bordley, portrait (oils), 1836, State House, Annapolis, Maryland

Anon., etching, n.d., Maryland Historical Society (Hayden Collection), Baltimore Maryland


Value of estate or

possessions at death Unknown; there are no probate records -- either inventory or account -- of Paca's estate. He owned approximately 4,500 acres of land when he died and probably at least 100 slaves.

Source of data Biographical Dictionary, 2:635

New DNB Information sheet


Main Name Paca William

Variants of main names Paca Will (nickname)

Alternative names none

Name as known none




Birth 31 October 1740 Baltimore (now Harford) County

Source of data: Biographical Dictionary, 2:632

Baptism unknown


Main name Paca John

Alternative names none

Titles none

Birth date c.1712 Death date 26 Feb 1785

Occupation Planter, developer


Maiden name Smith Elizabeth

Alternative names none

Titles none

Birth date unknown Death date c.1766

Occupation none

Source of Parents' data: Biographical Dictionary, 2:631


1752-1756 Academy and Charity School of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1756-1759 College of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1759-? Legal apprenticeship, Annapolis, Maryland

1761? Inner Temple, Inns of Court, London, England

Source of data and comments: Biographical Dictionary, 2:633; Records of the Inner Temple show an order for admission of William Paca, son of John Paca of Maryland, in January 1762, but Annapolis records clearly document Paca's presence in Annapolis in January 1762. No plausible explanation accounts for the contradiction between the two sets of evidence.


1740-1799 Christian: Church of England; Episcopal Church

Source of data:

Biographical Dictionary, 2:633; St. Anne's Parish records, Maryland State Archives


Main name Chew Mary

Alternative name Chew Molly (nickname)

Titles none

Birth date c.1736 Death date 15 Jan 1774

Occupation none

Relationship Married x

Date started 26 May 1763 Ended 15 Jan 1774 by death

Source of data and comments: Biographical Dictionary, 2:633; Historic Annapolis Foundation files. The Biographical Dictionary, relying upon secondary sources, gives Chew's name as "Ann Mary" but this is incorrect; she was always referred to as "Mary" except for two instances that used "Molly."


Main name Levina (surname unknown)

Alternative name none

Titles none

Birth date unknown Death date unknown

Occupation none

Relationship Not married x

Date started c.1774 Ended unknown

Source of data and comments: Biographical Dictionary, 2:633; Levina is known only from the baptismal record of her daughter Hester. The Christ Church (Philadelphia) parish register entry notes the baptism of Hester, daughter of William and Levina Paca, born in Aug 1775 and baptized in September. When Paca left Philadelphia in 1781 to return to Maryland, he placed Hester, then attending school in Philadelphia, in the medical care of Dr. Benjamin Rush; in his letter to Rush, Paca referred to Hester as his "natural daughter." She was also looked after by the family of Paca's second wife. One infers from these arrangements that Levina was not living in 1781.


Main name Joice Sarah

Alternative name none

Titles none

Birth date unknown Death date by 23 May 1803

Occupation none

Relationship Not married x

Date started c.1766 Ended 13 Oct 1799 by death

Source of data and comments: Biographical Dictionary, 2:633; Sarah Joice's will was submitted for probate on 23 May 1803. The original of the will was written in 1799 in William Paca's distinctive handwriting. Joice owned a house in Annapolis purchased for her by Paca in 1785; in 1798 she was living on his plantation outside of town. Their daughter Henrietta Maria was a legatee in Paca's will.


Main name Harrison Anne

Alternative name none

Titles none

Birth date 6 June 1757 Death date 18 Feb 1780

Occupation none

Relationship married x

Date started 28 Feb 1777 Ended 18 Feb 1780 by death

Source of data and comments: Biographical Dictionary, 2:633; Christ Church (Philadelphia) Register for Anne's date of birth.


Date Address

1740-1752 ` Baltimore County, Maryland

1752-1759 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1759-1780 Annapolis, Maryland

1780-1799 Wye Island, Queen Anne's County, Maryland

and Annapolis, Maryland

Source of data:

Biographical Dictionary, 2:632; Historic Annapolis Foundation files. Paca sold his Annapolis town house in 1780, making his principle residence after that date in Queen Anne's County. He continued to own property in Annapolis, however, and divided his time (proportions unknown) between Annapolis and Wye Island for the remainder of his life.


By descent England (region unknown, but all of Paca's ancestors back to the generation of his great-grandparents were natives of England or of English descent.)

By association Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Annapolis and Queen Anne's County, Maryland


Death 13 Oct 1799 Wye Hall, Queen Anne's County, Maryland

Cause of death unknown

Burial unknown; probably at his residence, Wye Hall, Queen Anne's County

Source of data: Biographical Dictionary, 2:635

Missing data

None not noted above.


Birth, death, burial x

Parents x

Spouse/partners x


Double spacing x

Quotations x