North Carolina Signers of the U.S. Constitution

Richard Dobbs Spaight, Sr.

Richard Dobbs Spaight, Sr., the first native-born governor of North Carolina, was born in New Bern on March 25, 1758, to Richard and Elizabeth Wilson Spaight. He studied abroad, finishing his education at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. After returning to America, Spaight served briefly in the Revolution as military Aide-de-Camp to Major General Richard Caswell.

Spaight served in the House of Commons as a town representative from New Bern in the assemblies of 1779, 1781, 1782 and 1783. In 1783 his seat was declared vacant following his election to the Confederation Congress. On December 13, 1783, Spaight took his seat at the Congress in Annapolis. He also served as a delegate to the 1784 Congress in New York City.

Spaight returned to the NC General Assembly in 1785, representing Craven County in the House of Commons, where he was elected Speaker. He continued his legislative service in the assemblies of 1786-87 and 1787. He was elected as one of North Carolina’s representatives to the federal convention in Philadelphia, arriving there on May 15, 1787. He was the first North Carolina delegate to arrive, staying long enough to be one of the signers of the Constitution. After the Philadelphia meeting he returned to North Carolina and attended the state convention
in Hillsborough.

Spaight served in the General Assembly of 1792 as the town representative from New Bern, but resigned following his election as Governor on December 11, 1792. Re-elected governor twice, he served one final term in the General Assembly as a State Senator in 1801.

In 1798, Spaight was elected to the 5th United States Congress as a member of the House of Representatives following the death of Congressman Nathan Bryan on June 4. He was elected to the 6th Congress, but was defeated for re-election to a third term by John Stanly.

The political differences between Spaight and Stanly fueled a bitter personal rivalry. An acrimonious argument over one of these differences led Stanly to challenge Spaight to a duel. On September 5, 1802, Stanly’s fourth discharge mortally wounded Spaight, who died the next day. Criminal proceedings against Stanly began, but he applied to the governor and was granted pardon. Public outrage over the pardon prompted the General Assembly to pass a law making any participant in a duel ineligible for any office of “trust, honor, or profit.”

Immediately above comes from Pages 854-855 of the 2005-2006 North Carolina Manual, with minor edits.

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