He was born at Poynton Manor in Charles County, Maryland and read law at the office of Thomas Johnson. He was admitted to the bar in 1764 and opened a practice in Frederick, Maryland.
He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775, and was a member of the committee that framed the Articles of Confederation. He voted for the resolution for independence and signed the Declaration of Independence. He was elected to the Constitutional Convention in 1785 but declined the office because of his wife's health. After his wife's death in 1787, he arranged to travel to England, but died at Alexandria, Virginia before embarking.