Some historians see William Paca as primarily a wealthy lovable rogue. He certainly was wealthy, another lawyer, born to a family of substantial means. He was lovable though more quiet than boisterous. And he hung out with young men of his ilk and pulled some memorable patriotic pranks. His colleague in the Continental Congress Benjamin Rush commented on Paca that he was a “good-tempered worthy man with a sound understanding that he was too indolent to exercise. And hence his reputation in public life was less than his talents.”
William Paca, the second son of a Maryland planter, learned from private tutors prior to attending the College of Philadelphia (later U. Penn). He studied law in Annapolis and read law at the “Inner Temple” in London. He spent time with his friend Samuel Chase, the two of them teaming up to establish the Ann Arundal Sons of Liberty and joining the Maryland Committee of Correspondence to keep in close contact with the other colonies. The two of them staged a mock execution of an unpopular law that the royal governor decreed. They hanged a sheet of paper with the new law, until dead, then ceremoniously buried it and fired a gun from one of Paca’s ships. Of such men the Republic was about to be born.
He served for four years in the Maryland assembly and was elected to the Continental Congress in 1774, where he served for five years. Paca voted for independence after the go-ahead from the Annapolis Convention, and signed the document with most of the rest of the delegates at a later date. He specialized in writing trenchant newspaper articles over fiery public speeches and was “beloved and respected by all…as a sincere patriot and honest man.”
Paca joined his friend and fellow Declaration signer, Charles Carroll of Carrollton in supporting religious liberty in Maryland and in the new Republic. His service to Maryland, in fact, became one of his greatest legacies, as a member of the state Senate, the circuit court of appeals, and as Governor of Maryland. He married twice and had six children, half of whom died in infancy. Both of his spouses died young as well.
He ended his days serving as a Federal judge at the age of fifty eight, the same year as the death of Washington, 1799. He was buried with honors at his beautiful estate, Wye River on the Maryland Eastern Shore, his youthful peccadillos all but forgotten but nonetheless fondly remembered as a patriot and public servant with few peers.