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

Richard Dobbs Spaight Sr.
8th Governor of North Carolina
In office
December 14, 1792 – November 19, 1795
Preceded byAlexander Martin
Succeeded bySamuel Ashe
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 10th district
In office
December 10, 1798 – March 3, 1801
Preceded byNathan Bryan
Succeeded byJohn Stanly
Personal details
Born(1758-03-25)March 25, 1758
New Bern, Province of North Carolina, British America
DiedSeptember 6, 1802(1802-09-06) (aged 44)
New Bern, North Carolina, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
Spouse(s)Mary Leach


Early lifeEdit

Coat of Arms of Richard Dobbs Spaight

Spaight was born in New Bern in the Province of North Carolina, the son of the Secretary of the Crown in the colony and grand-nephew of the Royal Governor, Arthur Dobb. Orphaned at the age of eight, Spaight was sent to live with his Dobbs relatives at Carrickfergus in northern Ireland Ireland and later followed his cousin Richard Dobbs to the University of Glasgow. [1]

Revolutionary WarEdit

In 1778, Spaight returned to North Carolina and served as an aide to General William Caswell during the American Revolutionary War until 1781.[2] He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Craven County Regiment under Colonel John Tilman in 1780–1781. The Craven County Regiment was under the New Bern District Brigade commanded by Brigadier General William Caswell from 1779 to 1783.[3]

Political careerEdit

The General Assembly elected Spaight a delegate to the Confederation 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 March 24, 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,[4] 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 at the Clermont Estate Cemetery near his home town of New Bern, Craven Co., North Carolina. Refer to his Findagrave Memorial #4726.

Family and legacyEdit

Spaight was the father of North Carolina governor Richard Dobbs Spaight Jr. and the grandfather of U.S. Representative Richard Spaight Donnell.

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. ^ Andrew H. Browning, "Richard Dobbs Spaight in Ireland and Scotland: The Education of a North Carolina Founding Father," North Carolina Historical Review 94:127-49.
  2. ^ Congressional biography
  3. ^ Lewis, J.D. "Craven County Regiment". Retrieved April 9, 2019.
  4. ^ "September 1802 – Spaight-Stanly Duel". Retrieved October 23, 2012.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Alexander Martin
Governor of North Carolina
Succeeded by
Samuel Ashe
U.S. 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