Richard Dobbs Spaight, Sr.

6th Governor of the State of North Carolina - 1792 to 1795

Date Born: March 25, 1758

Date Died: September 6, 1802

Place Born: New Bern, NC

Place Buried: James City, Craven County, NC

Residence: Craven County, NC

Occupation: Planter


Richard Dobbs Spaight was born on March 25, 1758 in New Bern, NC, the son of an Irishman, Richard Spaight, and Elizabeth Wilson Dobbs, the sister of former Royal Governor Arthur Dobbs. After the deaths of his parents, his guardian sent him to Ireland to study. Following completion of secondary school in Ireland, Spaight studied at, and graduated from, the University of Glasgow. He returned to North Carolina in 1778.

In 1779, Richard Dobbs Spaight was first elected to represent the town of New Bern in the House of Commons, replacing Richard Cogdell, who accepted the office of Treasurer of the New Bern District, of the:
- 3rd General Assembly that met in 1779
- 5th General Assembly that met in 1781
- 6th General Assembly that met in 1782
- 7th General Assembly that met in 1783

In 1780, Richard Dobbs Spaight was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Craven County Regiment of Militia. He may have served earlier, but this Author has found no evidence thereof. During the summer of 1780, he served as the Aide-de-Camp for Maj. Gen. Richard Caswell, who had taken over all of the North Carolina Militia after leaving the office of governor. Both served under Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates in the defeat at the battle of Camden, SC on August 16, 1780.

In 1784, Richard Dobbs Spaight was nominated by Gov. Alexander Martin to fill William Blount's seat in the Continental Congress and he served until 1785. Spaight's possession of this seat led to his role in the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. Besides merely being present at the entire Convention, Spaight forcefully supported the election of senators by states. The delegates from larger states such as Virginia disagreed with Spaight on this point, but Spaight's position won the day.

In 1788, Richard Dobbs Spaight became one of the most prominent delegates to the Hillsborough Convention. Though he supported the losing Federalist side in the Hillsborough Convention, he afterward eschewed the Federalist party, and became a Democratic-Republican. In the aftermath of the Convention, he took a four-year hiatus from political life in order to travel and regain his health.

On 24 March 1788 (one source asserts they were married on September 25, 1788), Spaight married Mary Jones Leech, the daughter of Joseph Leech and Mary Dorothy (Jones) Leech; Mary had the distinction of being the first lady to dance with President George Washington at a ball in Washington’s honor at Tryon Palace in New Bern in 1791. Richard and Mary had three sons and one daughter.

In 1792, Richard Dobbs Spaight was again elected to represent the town of New Bern in the NC House of Commons of the:
- 17th General Assembly that met from 1792-1793

The 17th General Assembly elected Richard Dobbs Spaight as the next governor of North Carolina, and he had to give up his seat in the House of Commons. He was re-elected as governor for two more terms, which ended in 1795. His poor health kept him from returning to public service for several years.

In 1798, Richard Dobbs Spaight was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, filling the unexpired term of Nathan Bryan. He was elected to a two-year term in 1799 and served until 1801. In 1801, John Stanly - a New Bern Federalist - took Spaight's U.S. House seat.

In 1801, Richard Dobbs Spaight was elected to represent Craven Couny in the NC Senate of the:
- 26th General Assembly that met in 1801

Senator Spaight missed many votes and usually blamed his poor health for his absences. John Stanly repeatedly accused Spaight of malingering. After months of antagonism between the two men, they agreed to a duel, which was held on September 5, 1802. On the fourth fire, Stanly hit Spaight, who died the following day. He was buried in the family sepulcher at Clermont estate, near New Bern, NC


As the first native-born governor, Richard Dobbs Spaight, Sr., was born in New Bern, NC in 1758. His mother was the sister of NC Royal Governor Arthur Dobbs. Richard Dobbs Spaight served as Aide-de-Camp to Maj. Gen. Richard Caswell when he was over all NC Militia units in the summer of 1780. Spaight served several years in the NC House of Commons, in the national Continental Congress, and at the federal Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

In 1792, he was elected governor and served three terms. In 1798, Spaight was elected to the U.S. Congress. His support of issues while in Congress and in the years following did not find favor with John Stanly, a native of New Bern and Spaight's successor in Congress. Stanly challenged Spaight to a duel. The duel was held on September 5, 1802, and Spaight was mortally wounded on the fourth discharge. The Spaight-Stanly duel prompted the NC legislature to pass a law declaring the survivor (and his second) of a duel, in which the opponent was killed, to be subject to the death penalty.


Richard Dobbs Spaight was born in New Bern, NC on March 25, 1758. After the death of his parents, Spaight was sent to Europe, where his education was attained in Ireland, and later he attended the University of Glasgow in Scotland. In 1778, he became involved in the independence movement. He served as an Aide to Major General Richard Caswell, and fought in the battle of Camden, SC. Spaight first entered politics as a member of the North Carolina General Assembly, a position he held from 1779 to 1783. He served in the Continental Congress from 1783 to 1785; was a member of the North Carolina House of Commons from 1785 to 1787 and 1792; and served as Speaker of the House in 1785. He also served as a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, as well as attending the 1788 state ratification convention. Spaight next won election to the governor's office in 1792, and was re-elected annually until 1794. During his tenure, Chapel Hill was chosen for the site of the state university; and Raleigh became the preferred location for the state capital. Also, Spaight served as President of the university during his gubernatorial term. After leaving the governorship, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives, an office he held from 1798 to 1801. In his last political position, he served as a member of the North Carolina Senate from 1801 to 1802. Governor Richard Dobbs Spaight, who was seriously wounded in a duel with John Stanly, a political adversary, and passed away on September 6, 1802. He was buried on his Clermont estate in the family sepulcher, near New Bern, NC.

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