How William Paca served our country

Published 12:13 pm Tuesday, August 22, 2023

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Founding Fathers and other influencing citizens

By David Streater, Ph.D.


In this American history educational moment, where we learn of those who made a difference during the Revolutionary War era and how they served our country, we’ll explore the story of a Maryland man who played a role in the founding of the United States.

William Paca (pronounced “Pay-Ka”) was born October 31, 1740, in Abingdon, Maryland. William’s earlier education was by his parents and tutors in his home, studying science and the classics. By 1762, Paca had earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the College of Philadelphia, now the University of Pennsylvania. Next, William became an attorney after reading law with Stephen Bordley and studying law at Middle Temple Hall in London.  

While practicing law, William and Samuel Chase formed an enduring friendship, even though they were ardent adversaries in the courtroom. Paca and Chase became formidable patriots as they railed against the royal (British loyal) governor regarding taxes. Unlike Chase, who gave spirited public speeches, Paca inspired people by writing compelling newspaper articles for independence. Paca and Chase formed the Annapolis Sons of Liberty as the relationship between the colonies and England deteriorated. 

Paca became an influential patriot serving as a delegate from Maryland to the First and Second Continental Congresses. At first, Maryland was hesitant to allow him to support independence. While waiting in Philadelphia for a decision from Annapolis, Paca received authorization to vote for independence. Paca and Chase signed the Declaration of Independence next to each other. They proudly signed “immediately under the bold and famous flourish of John Hancock.”

In 1787, Paca, like others, was disappointed in the new United States Constitution because it did not embrace fundamental human rights. William suggested covering freedoms of religion and the press and seeking “legal protections for citizens accused of crimes.” Paca continued his patriotic contributions in many ways. Two respects were to help frame the Maryland constitution and serve as a Maryland state senator.  

Like others during the Revolutionary War era, Paca did not realize the impact of not stopping slavery. However, he was an altruistic and patriotic soldier serving in the militia and enthusiastically supported benefits for veterans. During his lifetime, he held numerous crucial positions: State senator, superior and appellate court judge, United States district court judge, and governor of Maryland. Other undertakings that Paca pursued and accomplished were supporting the separation of church and state, and helping draft Maryland’s state constitution.  William also assisted in establishing Washington College in Chestertown, MD, in 1782.

Having witnessed success and disappointment, William Paca died on his Wye plantation just before his 59th birthday on October 13, 1799. At his death, William was lonely and depressed. However, he was described “as a man beloved and respected by all who knew him—considered at all times as a sincere and honest man.”

Please visit the Polk County Charters of Freedom setting in Columbus, at the corner of Gibson and Ward Streets beside the House of Flags Museum. Vance and Mary Jo Patterson are the benefactors of Foundation Forward, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization that made the Polk County Charters of Freedom possible. Visit to learn more.  

Dr. David Streater is the director of education for Foundation Forward, 501(c)3.