Italians in America – William Paca and the Revolution

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William Paca, former Governor of Maryland and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Maryland’s patriot was a humanitarian, statesman and jurist who championed the working man.

The official seal of the state of Maryland reads Fatti, Maschii, Parola Femine, which is Italian for “Manly Deeds, Womanly Words.” It is the only state motto written in Italian, and Maryland also was the only state that was home to a signer of the Declaration of Independence who was of Italian heritage.

William Paca’s ancestors came to American during the mid-1600s. Robert Paca was the first to arrive, coming to the colonies from England. He married an English woman, received a grant of land in Anne Arundel County and had one son, Aquila, the grandfather of William.

The Pacas, unlike many others who altered foreign surnames to conform to America’s Anglo-Saxon society, proudly showcased their Italian heritage. During the early part of the last century, however, several historians started to question or were unable to confirm that the Paca family had roots in Italy. The questions were dispelled when Giovanni Schiavo, a noted historian of Italian Americans, confirmed during 1937 that the Paca family was Italian. He immediately was supported by William S. Paca, the great-great grandson of the patriot, who stated the fact in a letter published in The New York Times. He also addressed the English side of the family’s lineage, which never was in dispute.

William Paca’s Early Life

William arrived into a well-to-do setting on October 31, 1740 as the second son of Robert Paca and Elizabeth Smith. His brother was named Aquila after their grandfather, and the brothers Paca had five sisters.

At 15, William was admitted to the College of Philadelphia. At 19, he received his master’s degree and later studied law at Annapolis and London. His considerable education and standing within society, following that of his ancestors, clearly was evident from the size of his Annapolis home. Built during 1763-1765, it was the first five-part Georgian style home in the city. Today, the William Paca House is one of America’s most impressive restored 18th-century mansions with a style that evokes the English country villas of the time.

William Paca’s Patriot Life

Paca could have rested upon this comfortable lifestyle, but he preferred to dedicate his life to public service and the great cause of his day. He opposed British oppression. Before the Revolutionary War, while serving in the Maryland Assembly, he led a crowd of protesters to the public square in Annapolis to demonstrate against additional taxes.

Soon after, he served on the Maryland Committee of Correspondence. Not long after that he served on the Council of Safety. He also served in the first Continental Congress and was instrumental in convincing a conservative state to support independence.

His signature can be found among 55 others, which includes four from Maryland, on the Declaration of Independence. Years later, as a delegate to the Maryland Convention, he voted to adopt the U.S. Constitution.

Paca’s public service included terms as a Maryland state senator, its chief justice and as a three-term governor. He also was appointed a federal district judge by President George Washington.

Paca Supports Soldiers, Economy

During his many years of service, he gave generously from his private fortune to support soldiers during the war. After it, he helped many of the soldiers become re-settled and he supported the efforts to rebuild the economy.

During the American Bicentennial celebration, the Encyclopedia Americana had this tribute to William Paca: “His wealth and influence had been lavishly given to the Revolutionary cause, and he more than any one man perhaps overcame the opposition in Maryland to the cause.”

Paca departed his beloved Maryland and his new country on October 13, 1799, only two months before the passing of Washington not too far away in Virginia.

Learn more about William Paca from The William Paca Club that is located in New Jersey. Additional articles in this series include the first Italian business leaders in New York and Philadelphia and Italians in the U.S. Marine Band.

Sources:

  1. Maryland Historical Society
  2. The William Paca Club
  3. American Italian Historical Association
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