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Richard Dobbs Spaight

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Title: Richard Dobbs Spaight  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Samuel Ashe (North Carolina), Alexander Martin, Governors of North Carolina, List of Governors of North Carolina, Edward Bishop Dudley
Collection: 1758 Births, 1802 Deaths, American Politicians Killed in Duels, Continental Congressmen from North Carolina, Democratic-Republican Party Members of the United States House of Representatives, Federalist Party Members of the United States House of Representatives, Federalist Party State Governors of the United States, Governors of North Carolina, Members of the North Carolina House of Representatives, Members of the United States House of Representatives from North Carolina, North Carolina Democratic-Republicans, North Carolina Federalists, People from New Bern, North Carolina, People of North Carolina in the American Revolution, Signers of the United States Constitution
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Richard Dobbs Spaight

Richard Dobbs Spaight Sr.
8th Governor of North Carolina
In office
December 14, 1792 – November 19, 1795
Preceded by Alexander Martin
Succeeded by Samuel Ashe
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 10th district
In office
December 10, 1798 – March 3, 1801
Preceded by Nathan Bryan
Succeeded by John Stanly
Personal details
Born (1758-03-25)March 25, 1758
New Bern, North Carolina
Died September 6, 1802(1802-09-06) (aged 44)
New Bern, North Carolina
Political party Democratic-Republican
Spouse(s) Mary Leach

Richard Dobbs Spaight (March 25, 1758 – September 6, 1802) was the eighth Governor of the American State of North Carolina from 1792 to 1795.


  • Early life 1
  • Revolutionary War 2
  • Political career 3
  • Death 4
  • Family and Legacy 5
  • Sources 6
  • External links 7

Early life

Spaight was born in New Bern, North Carolina, the son of the Secretary of the Crown in the colony. Orphaned at the age of eight, Spaight was sent to attend school in Ireland and later graduated from the University of Glasgow.

Revolutionary War

In 1778, Spaight returned to North Carolina and served as an aide to General Richard Caswell during the American Revolutionary War until 1781.

Political career

The General Assembly elected Spaight a delegate to the Continental Congress between 1782 and 1785; he then served in the North Carolina House of Commons from 1785 to 1787, and was named Speaker of the House. In 1787, Spaight was a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention that drafted the U.S. Constitution, and he signed the document when he was only 29 years old.

On 24 March 1788, Spaight married Mary Leach; Mary had the distinction of being the first lady to dance with George Washington at a ball in Washington’s honor at Tryon Palace in New Bern in 1791.

Under the North Carolina Constitution of 1776, Spaight was nominated for Governor in 1787, but was defeated by a majority in the General Assembly; he was nominated for the United States Senate in 1789 and was again defeated. In 1788, he was a member of the state convention which voted not to ratify the United States Constitution, although Spaight himself supported ratification.

Spaight retired from politics for several years due to ill health; he returned to the state House of Representatives in 1792. Also in 1792, he was elected the first native-born governor of North Carolina,[1] and later re-elected by the General Assembly for two further one-year terms.

During Spaight's term as governor, sites were chosen for the new state capital of Raleigh and the newly chartered University of North Carolina. Spaight served as chair of the university's Board of Trustees during his term as governor. Spaight stepped down as governor in 1795, having served the constitutional limit of three one-year terms.

Spaight was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1798, filling the unexpired term of Nathan Bryan; he was elected to a two-year term in 1799, serving until 1801, and though elected as a Federalist, his views on states rights led him to become associated with the Democratic-Republican party of Thomas Jefferson. He lost his bid for re-election to Congress, but returned to state government, serving in the North Carolina Senate beginning in 1801.


Spaight died on September 6, 1802,following injuries sustained in a duel with John Stanly, the Federalist Congressman who had defeated him in the election of 1800 for the House of Representatives. Spaight is buried in his home town New Bern.

Family and Legacy

Spaight's son Richard Dobbs Spaight, Jr., also became Governor of North Carolina, in 1835. His grandson, Richard Spaight Donnell, was a Congressional Representative.

Spaight Street in central Madison, Wisconsin is named in honor of Richard Spaight. Most of the main streets in downtown Madison are named after signers of the United States Constitution.


  1. ^ "September 1802 - Spaight-Stanly Duel". Retrieved 23 October 2012. 
  • Richard Dobbs Spaight at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States,, and John Raimo, eds. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. (ISBN)
  • Sketch of the life of Richard Dobbs Spaight, by John H. Wheeler, 1880. (retrieved 09-20-2010)

External links

  • A New Nation Votes: American Election Returns 1787-1824 For Votes cast in Federal, State and Local elections in the Early Republic.
Political offices
Preceded by
Alexander Martin
Governor of North Carolina
Succeeded by
Samuel Ashe
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Nathan Bryan
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 10th congressional district

Succeeded by
John Stanly
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