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Paca, William (31 October 1740–13 October 1799), lawyer and officeholder, was born on the Bush River near Abingdon in Baltimore (later Harford) County, Maryland, the son of John Paca, a planter, local officeholder, and delegate to the lower house of the Maryland General Assembly, and Elizabeth Smith. The Paca family was English, the Maryland progenitor arriving in the colony about 1660. At age twelve, Paca entered the Academy and Charity School in Philadelphia, which three years later became the College of Philadelphia. Paca took his B.A. in 1759 and studied law in the office of Stephen Bordley, a prominent Annapolis lawyer. Soon after arriving in Annapolis in 1759, Paca became a founding member of the Forensic Club, a group of “young Gentlemen” that met twice each month to debate politics, morality, and natural law....

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Paine, Robert Treat (11 March 1731–11 June 1814), lawyer, Massachusetts attorney general, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Paine, a merchant, and Eunice Treat. Shortly before Paine’s birth, his father had left the ministry for a mercantile career that soon flourished, providing comfortable circumstances for the family. Paine followed the traditional Boston elite educational path from Boston Public Latin School to Harvard College, where he graduated with the class of 1749. At about the same time, his father lost his fortune; following graduation, Paine was forced to seek his own way without the benefit of a family business....

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Ross, George (10 May 1730–14 July 1779), lawyer and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in New Castle, Delaware, the son of the Reverend George Ross, a rector of Immanuel Church (Anglican), and Catherine Van Gezel. He received a classical education and studied law in Philadelphia. He moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he began his law practice in 1751, and in that same year he married Ann Lawler; they had three children....

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Stockton, Richard (01 October 1730–28 February 1781), lawyer and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in Princeton, New Jersey, at his family’s mansion “Morven,” which became the state governor’s residence in 1956, the son of John Stockton, a Somerset County Court justice, and Abigail Phillips. The family was prominent among the landowning gentry, but their political reputation did not extend beyond their own neighborhood. Richard’s father, a Presbyterian convert from Quakerism, enrolled him at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1746....

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Walton, George (1749?–02 February 1804), lawyer, statesman, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in either Cumberland County or Goochland County, Virginia, the son of John Walton and Mary Hughes. Walton was orphaned at an early age and subsequently raised by his uncle and aunt, George and Martha Hughes Walton. He began an apprenticeship with a carpenter at the age of fifteen but was released from his term of service, because the carpenter recognized Walton’s natural intelligence and ambition and wanted him to go to school. Nevertheless, Walton underwent little formal education and was largely self-taught. In 1769 he moved to Savannah, Georgia, and began studying law in the office of Henry Young. Walton was admitted to the bar in 1774 and quickly built up one of the largest legal practices in Savannah....

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James Wilson. Detail of a painting by John Trumbull. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-113377).

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Wilson, James (14 September 1742–21 August 1798), lawyer and jurist, was born in Carskerdo, near St. Andrews, Scotland, the eldest son of William Wilson and Aleson Lansdale, farmers. His parents, members of the Associate Presbytery, intended him for the ministry. In 1757, having won a competitive scholarship, Wilson entered the University of St. Andrews, an important center of the Scottish Renaissance. He enrolled at the St. Mary’s College divinity school four years later but, because of financial problems caused by his father’s death, withdrew and became a tutor in a gentleman’s family. In 1765 Wilson began learning merchant accounting, then quickly changed plans. Financed by family loans and anxious to advance in the secular world, he sailed for America. In 1765–1766 he tutored in the College of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania) and also received an honorary M.A. He then applied to study law with ...