Volume 12, Issue 27 ~ July 1-7, 2004
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All-American Fourth Celebration at Paca House
It’s fitting to hear the Declaration of Independence read at the home of a man who helped put the foundation under the dream of America — and had the courage to sign his name to it.
by Louise Vest

Gliding across the graceful grounds of the Paca House on the Fourth of July are men and women dressed in 18th century attire. They stroll below the stately mansion, adorning the top of manicured terraces of green. It’s a scene ruffled only slightly when tidy flowers, precisely piped along the edge of gardens, sway in unison to a whisper of a breeze.

Then the rabble arrive.

At noon, when the garden gate swings open for the All-American Fourth of July Celebration, little kids zig-zag over the grounds to get a better look at the Revolutionary War reenactors, to sign their own copy of the Declaration of Independence and to converge on the bubble-making corner of the gardens. Adults fan out to talk to volunteers who don the clothing in vogue in the 1770s or to listen to the soldiers rehash the War of Independence at this public party held every year on the grounds of the William Paca House and Garden in downtown Annapolis.

From this fleshy gaggle of invaders comes the hum of voices and peals of laughter as they mingle, arms and legs protruding from T-shirts, shorts and sundresses making an incongruous sight against men in wool Continental Army uniforms and women in long-sleeved 18th century gowns.

The boisterous menagerie clutters up the crisp lawn, but it’s a wholly glorious cluttering by beneficiaries of the work accomplished by William Paca and his peers.

Tea and Chanties
This year, Ship’s Company Chantymen plays the music for the celebration at the estate on King George Street. The First Maryland regiment returns to add a military dimension to the occasion. Instead of dumping tea, the women of the unit set up a lady’s tea and a spinning wheel demonstration. There will also be a book signing by local author Lucia St. Clair Robson, whose book Mary’s Land recounts life on the Maryland frontier.

Parties at historic sites make history more palpable, tastier to a broader slice of society. The Historic Annapolis Foundation, owner of the William Paca House and Garden, offers a plethora of programs at the house and its grounds all year long.

But in that lineup, July 4’s free, no-reservation-required celebration is their casual sack-race of events and one of which Paca, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, would likely approve.

In the cool basement of the Paca house, kids make arts and craft projects. The first floor of the house, built in 1763, is open for touring. Last year, a life-sized, cardboard cutout of William Paca — compliments of a Peale portrait — stood waiting for people to sidle up for picture taking.

In past years, a couple has portrayed the Charles Carrolls at their home, and around town other early American luminaries are portrayed, but Paca, in his cardboard cutout, is a living-history wallflower. “There’s no colonial reenactor who’s doing Paca,” said Maria Day of the Historic Annapolis Foundation. “We’d encourage anyone who wants to study and portray him to do that.”

Rerun Revolution
Despite the absence of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the reading of that document is this event’s special draw. If you miss the 1pm reading, you can catch it again at 3pm. That’s not the only rerun of the day. Among every clump of reenactors gathered across the grounds, the Revolution is fought again, this time, with words.

As the First Maryland waited to march in a short ceremony preceding last year’s reading of the Declaration, some members in the wilderness section of the Paca garden discussed the war, with a few spectators listening in.

Said one private, “Many British were very much opposed to the war. The British outnumbered the Americans by thousands. They could have surrounded the Americans, but they didn’t. Again, at first they didn’t really want to do battle with their American cousins. Tarlton was the vicious one.”

To that another soldier volleyed back, “Tarlton was hard, not vicious. He knew war had to be hard, or people would have more wars.”

Explained another, “The British would battle for ground and if they won it, they thought it was a gentleman’s war and they could just leave it. But the Americans would come in and claim it when the Brits left. The British didn’t understand this.”

Then a civilian and his young son wandered over to the group and asked about the battle of Cowpens. Obviously delighted at the request for information, the First Marylanders latched onto the subject like honeysuckle on June.

Reenactor Private Andy House, who’s with the First Maryland Regiment of the Continental Line, likes Paca House’s All-American Fourth as a recruitment opportunity for his regiment. People ask about the weapons and the life of a soldier as well as about the ladies’ costumes, the fashions of the day and women’s place in society back then.

He added that the celebration is a particularly good event for families. “It is a low-key, safe event for the kids, minus the large crowds that can be found elsewhere. It’s a beautiful and historic place to be for this holiday.”

Even before the gate of the Paca House opened for the celebration, a Revolutionary War reenactor in his brown, frontiersman uniform stood sentry, introducing the gathered group to his clothes, haversack and musket.

He broke down his musket which, he noted, comes apart in less than 45 seconds. The Kentucky long rifle can be primed and loaded in 15 seconds, versus others that took 90 seconds, a difference that was either a minute or an eternity, depending on whether or not the rifle’s owner was in the midst of battle.

At last year’s All-American Fourth at the Paca House and Garden, Annapolitan John Warren posed with William Paca — if only a a life-sized, cardboard
Liberty DNA
During the Revolution, William Paca and his contemporaries fought the battle of nation building. They saw themselves as “mid-wives” to an emerging nation, for which they must build a political framework. Some 21st century patriots come to Paca House on July Fourth to honor those past patriots, the once-pillars of British colonial society turned rebels.

“It’s good to remember hometown roots and history,” said Annapolitan John Warren, a relative of Charles Carroll, at last year’s event. “It’s a tribute to William Paca and Charles Carroll. Their lives are factual. Those things really happened.”

Charles Carroll was also a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the only Catholic to sign.

Warren is himself a bit of a rebel. He’s from a traditionally navy family, which includes U.S. Naval Academy alumni, but he opted for service in the army.

Said the affable Warren, “I’m not really up on all the history, whether Paca and Carroll hung out together or not, but it’s nice to be related to a figure in history. It makes it special. Carroll pretty much bankrolled the Revolutionary War. I always make a boisterous claim that as a Carroll relation, I’m going to demand my land back in downtown Annapolis.”

Paca’s celebration on the Fourth is special, too, he said. “The audience gets to hear the whole Declaration of Independence. It’s kind of like the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’: You usually never hear the second verse.”

After the First Maryland marches with fife and drum corps up the center of the garden, John Warren and everyone on the grounds gather below the home’s back porch to hear that Declaration.

For signer descendent Warren and the rest of America, the long-dried ink of that document forged an enduring bond.

Whether we wear graceful period garb or cut-offs and T-shirts, it’s exceedingly fitting to hear a declaration of liberty read at the home of a man who helped put the foundation under the dream of America — and had the courage to sign his name to it.

Join the All-American Fourth Celebration, rain or shine, from noon -5pm at the William Paca House, 186 King George St., Annapolis. Free: 410-267-8146.

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