Ceremony honors Declaration signer
Speaker outlines enduring vision of nation’s founders
QUEENSTOWN — Despite the heat and humidity, a large crowd gathered outside the Houghton House on Monday for the 55th annual Independence Day ceremony sponsored by Queen Anne’s County Historical Society and the Aspen Institute.
The annual ceremony pays tribute to early patriot William Paca, one of four Marylanders who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Paca, who owned an estate on nearby Wye Island, served as a Maryland governor and a federal judge. He died in 1799 at age 59. The Paca family inherited a second estate, Wye Plantation, now the site of Houghton House, owned by the Wye Institute. The ceremony, which began in 1961 at the behest of Arthur A. Houghton Jr., who owned Houghton House and the surrounding property, invites community members to show their respect to Paca, and to ponder the revolutionary document that gave Americans their freedom.
Houghton and his wife donated the 1,100-acre property containing the old Wye House and the gravesite of Paca to the Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization, in 1979. The Aspen Institute and the Queen Anne’s County Historical Society have kept the traditional memorial event alive.
Monday’s event began with an invocation by Pastor Dane Rada, United Methodist Church, Wye Mills and a solo performance of the “Star Spangled Banner” by Kristi Rada.
Two wreaths were placed at Paca’s gravesite — one by Helene Butte, regent with the General Perry Benson Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, and one by Dr. Warren Tewes, past president of the Col. Tench Tilghman Chapter of the National Society, Sons of the American Revolution. Frederick T. Kirsch, a member of the Col. Tench Tilghman Chapter of the NSSAR, performed the traditional bell ringing.
The Chesapeake Bay Community Band performed “taps” for the 100 guests in attendance who had come for the wreathlaying ceremony.
After the ceremony at the gravesite, which was led by Barbara Pivec, Queen Anne’s County Historical Society president, guests moved to the gardens behind the house.
Scott MacGlashan, clerk of court for Queen Anne’s County, recognized the veterans in the audience. He also recognized longtime Queen Anne’s County resident and journalist Dan Tabler for his service to the country.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Robert Chiles, who serves as a senior lecturer for the University of Maryland’s History department. Chiles has delivered guest lectures for the New York State Library and C-Span’s “History TV.” He has published various articles and essays and his first book, “The Revolution of ‘28” Al Smith, American Progressivism and the “Coming of the New Deal,” will be published in March 2018. He lives in Baltimore.
Chiles discussed “The Enduring Vision of the Founding Generation,” which focused on the idea that the words of the Declaration of Independence remain as relevant today as it was in 1776.
The second line of the Declaration of Independence “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” remains our national creed, he said.
“The vision of our founding fathers, the ideology that they set forth, has remained central to the American story,” Chiles said.
He said our forefathers’ philosophy was innovative for its time.
“It all begins with the founders themselves. There’s a reason why the Fourth of July matters,” Chiles said. “What made our revolution so revolutionary? We cannot afford to forget just how radical the Declaration of Independence was. A group of relatively privileged and educated men saw that the good of all people was a fundamental right. It took such men — who were willing to sacrifice their own wealth and prosperity — for that principle.
Their vision is what made the revolution so revolutionar y, Chiles said.
The Civil War and other revolutionary times in our nation’s history have all taken place when our country’s leadership has fallen short in their execution of those founding ideals, Chiles said.
“Throughout history, even in our darkest moments, Americans have been able to turn to our founding fathers and find the fundamental hope in their enduring vision,” he said.
Listing examples throughout history of revolutionary figures who have evoked changes in our country’s ideology, such as women’s suffrage activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton and social reformer and 19th-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Chiles highlighted the role our country’s founding ideology played in their advocacy for the groups they sought to garner rights for.
“They found encouragement and hope in the words of the Declaration of Independence,” said Chiles, quoting Frederick Douglass’s renowned speech, given on July 5, 1852. Douglass delivered the speech about the hypocrisy of a nation celebrating its freedom when millions of its people were bound by slavery.
“The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history — the very ringbolt in the chain of your yet-undeveloped destiny,” said Douglass. “I, therefore, leave off where I began: With hope, while drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.”
Dr. Warren Tewes, past president of the Col. Tench Tilghman Chapter of the National Society, Sons of the American Revolution, places a wreath at the gravesite of William Paca, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Members of the Chesapeake Bay Community Band perform “God Bless America” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag” during the William Paca Independence Day ceremony.
Robert Chiles, Ph.D., speaks to guests of the annual William Paca Independence Day memorial event about the enduring legacy of the founding generation.