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William Paca
William paca.jpg
3rd Governor of Maryland
In office
November 22, 1782 – November 26, 1785
Preceded by Thomas Sim Lee
Succeeded by William Smallwood
Maryland State Senator
In office
Maryland Delegate to the Continental Congress
In office
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland
In office
February 8, 1790 – October 13, 1799
Preceded by new seat
Succeeded by James Winchester
Personal details
Born (1740-10-31)October 31, 1740
Baltimore County, Province of Maryland, British America
(now Harford County, Maryland, U.S.)
Died October 23, 1799(1799-10-23) (aged 58)
Queen Anne's County, Maryland
Resting place Wye Plantation, Queen Anne's County, Maryland

William Paca (October 31, 1740 – October 23, 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[edit]

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.[1] He was the child of John Paca (c. 1712 – 1785), a wealthy planter in the area, and his wife Elizabeth Smith (?-c. 1766).[2] He was the second son of the family, after his elder brother Aquila, and had five sisters.[3] The brothers entered school at the Philadelphia Academy and Charity School in 1752, and the younger Paca went on to attend the 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.[3]

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.[2] 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.[2] Professional success was mingled with personal success, as the previous year he had courted Mary Chew,[4] the daughter of a prominent Maryland planter, and they were married on May 26, 1763. They would go on to have three children, though only their son John Philemon survived into adulthood.[3]


Among the other young lawyers in Annapolis at the time was Samuel Chase, who would become a close friend and political colleague of Paca.[2] Together, 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.[2]

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 Captures.[5] 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 as such 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 would have 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 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.[6]

Paca died in 1799 at his estate of Wye Hall in Queen Anne's County, Maryland and was buried in the family cemetery there.[7][8]


In Maryland, three elementary schools are named for him: one is in Landover, one is 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, Middle School in Mastic Beach, New York; and P.S. 155in 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.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Paca has been described as being of Italian ancestry.[10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17]

According to Stanley South, "[t]he 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".[18] In a July 18, 1937, letter to the New York Times, a self-described descendant of Paca claims:

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

However, in an interview with Giovanni Schiavo, the letter writer apparently attributed the suggestion that the name was Pecci to Cardinal Gibbons.[19] Schiavo also reports that Paca mentioned Pope Leo XIII (1879–1903), whose surname was Pecci, during the interview.[19] Stiverson and Jacobsen report that spellings of the surname of William Paca's immigrant ancestor Robert include Peaker, Pecker, Peaca, Peca, and Paka.[20] 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The available sources disagree on the exact location of his birth. Travis Weaver does not address the issue, simply mentioning that his father was from Harford County. Stiverson and Jacobsen claim he was born in Abingdon, in Harford County. Russo claims instead that he was born along the Bush River in Baltimore County. Stiverson and Jacobsen are the most authoritative historical source, and the article reflects their position on the issue.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Goodrich, p. 346 and Russo, William Paca
  3. ^ a b c Russo, William Paca
  4. ^ http://colonialhall.com/paca/pacaMary.php
  5. ^ Library of Congress, Journals, Vol. 16, 79.
  6. ^ Peter G. Fish, Federal Justice in the Mid-Atlantic South: United States Courts from Maryland to the Carolinas, 1789–1835 (2002)
  7. ^ William Paca at Find a Grave
  8. ^ His obituaries report he died on October 13, 1799, so the date of October 23, reported here, may be in error. See:
    • Federal Gazette (Baltimore, MD), Oct. 16, 1799
    • Daily Advertiser (New York, NY), Oct. 21, 1799
    • Centinel of Liberty (Georgetown, DC), Oct. 22, 1789
    • New-York Gazette (New York, NY), Oct. 22, 1799
  9. ^ Staff (2008-04-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  10. ^ Signers of the Declaration: William Paca, Maryland National Park Service; accessed 13 March 2008.
  11. ^ Caso, p. 57 and Welsh, They Too Made America Great; Branden Books, 1978. Online source: [1]; accessed 13 March 2008. This history includes a rather detailed exploration and affirmation of the well established Italian origin of the Paca family of Maryland in response to the earlier Stiverson and Jacobsen text.
  12. ^ Maryland, The Seventh State Website for the book Maryland, The SeventhcalebJohn T. Marck, author; accessed 13 March 2008.
  13. ^ "Italian American Contributions" The National Italian American Foundation Website; accessed 13 March 2008.
  14. ^ The Italian-American Web-site of New York "William Paca;" accessed 13 March 2008
  15. ^ NIAF MileStones of the Italian American Experience " 1774 – William Paca, original signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Francesco Vigo, advance the American Revolution;" accessed 13 March 2008.
  16. ^ P.S. 155 Playground, William Paca School History New York City Department of Parks and Recreation Web-site; accessed: 13 March 2008.
  17. ^ Echoes of Abruzzo and Molise in America; Omero Sabatini, author. Abruzzo Molise Heritage Society Web-site; accessed 13 March 2008.
  18. ^ South, Stanley A. An Archaeological Evolution. New York: Springer, 2005. p. 202
  19. ^ a b Giovanni Ermenegildo Schiavo. 1976. The Italians in America Before the Revolution. New York: Vigo Press. p. 74.
  20. ^ Stiverson, G. A., & Jacobsen, P. R. 1976. William Paca, a biography. Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society. p. 26.


External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas Sim Lee
Governor of Maryland
Succeeded by
William Smallwood
Legal offices
Preceded by
new seat
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland
Succeeded by
James Winchester

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Paca — Please support Wikipedia.
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590 news items


Wed, 20 Jan 2016 06:04:02 -0800

Mastic Beach, NY - January 19, 2016 - William Paca Middle School music teacher George Ober was invited to present his concept of “Flipperentiation: The In-Class Blended Learning Approach to Instruction” for the Association for Educational Communication ...

CDA News

Baltimore Sun
Thu, 14 Jan 2016 19:45:00 -0800

A loaded handgun was found in a fifth-grader's backpack at an East Baltimore elementary school Thursday, officials said. Baltimore City Public Schools Police were called to William Paca Elementary School before the start of the school day, when a ...


Thu, 11 Feb 2016 08:07:30 -0800

•"William Paca: Women and the women in his life," 10 a.m. Feb. 18. William Paca House and Garden, 186 Prince George St. $10. •Historic Annapolis Colonial Gentleman's Club Evening, 6 p.m. Feb. 20, Jonas and Anne Catharine Green House, 124 Charles ...
Maine Antique Digest
Wed, 10 Feb 2016 04:51:06 -0800

... deep drawer and two short drawers over cupboard doors. Its provenance up to 1896 was inscribed on the back. It had belonged to William Paca, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and later the third governor of Maryland. Northeast Auctions photo.

Baltimore Sun

Baltimore Sun
Fri, 19 Jun 2015 14:54:57 -0700

It was a very emotional last day of school at Abingdon's William Paca Elementary School, with teachers wiping away tears and hugging students while the voice of Kool & the Gang, coming through a large speaker, urged everyone to "celebrate good times, ...

Baltimore Sun

Baltimore Sun
Wed, 04 Nov 2015 19:56:15 -0800

Some students at William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School in Abingdon recently had had their teeth sealed in front of a rather large audience of visiting dignitaries, including Maryland's top public health official. The sealing process was ...
Fri, 22 Jan 2016 09:54:43 -0800

Folk icon Woody Guthrie, like many valiant New Yorkers before and after him, hated his landlord. Among the legions of aggrieved tenants, Guthrie is unique in that a) he was a pretty handy writer of songs and agitprop b) in the early 1950s he put some ...

Education Week (subscription) (blog)

Education Week (subscription) (blog)
Wed, 27 Jan 2016 10:10:29 -0800

Nicole Gavin, a 2nd grade teacher at William Paca Elementary School in Baltimore, Md., shares how she scaffolded activities to support students' learning while promoting academic language. Watch students ask and answer questions to understand key ...

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