Richard Dobbs Spaight Overcomes Defeat

Richard Dobbs Spaight Overcomes Defeat

Richard Dobbs Spaight was a signer of the Constitution and a Governor of North Carolina.

Spaight made decisions he always thought were right, even if they were unpopular. Eventually, this dedication led to accusations that he could not be trusted.

Ever proud of his honor, Spaight found himself on the dueling ground.

Richard Dobbs Spaight

As an orphaned 8-year-old, Richard Dobbs Spaight was sent from his home in North Carolina to Ireland.  In Europe, he was taken care of by extended family members and received an excellent education.

By 1778, Spaight had turned 20 and, seeing an opportunity to return to the New World and advance his station in life, he sailed for North Carolina.

Richard immediately signed up for the Continental Army and spent three years as and aide-de-camp to Richard Caswell.

Constitutional Convention

Near the close of the American Revolutionary War, Richard Spaight was elected to the Continental Congress.  He spoke for North Carolina during the peace negotiations with Britain.

After three years in this position, he returned home and joined the State Assembly.

At just 29 years old, Spaight was chosen to attend the Constitutional Convention.  As a younger member of this body he listened more than he spoke, however, Richard signed the Constitution that September.


Richard Dobbs Spaight was nominated for Governor the same year he attended the Constitutional Convention.  Due primarily to his youth, Spaight lost this election.

The following year, he attended the first Constitutional Ratification Convention in North Carolina. Although Richard supported the Constitution, the State’s first Convention voted against the document (North Carolina was one of the last States to approve the new government).

By 1789 the Constitution had been ratified and elections were held.  Spaight desired to be one of the original North Carolina Senators but was again defeated.


Richard’s luck finally turned around in 1792 when he was elected Governor of North Carolina.

Spaight led his State through this time of transition.  His most notable achievement was the establishment of the University of North Carolina.

After three years as Governor, State law forced him to step down as he had exceeded the maximum term limits.  Soon after, Spaight was elected to the United States House of Representatives.

Switching Sides

When Spaight was chosen as a US Congressman, he ran as a Federalist candidate.

Times had changed, however. As a Southerner, Richard found himself siding with Thomas Jefferson more than John Adams.  While in Congress, Spaight switched parties.

Richard was accused of ‘flip-flopping’ by his rival John Stanly.  Stanly ended up beating Spaight in the next congressional election.  During this time, Stanly publicly criticized Spaight’s decisions.

During the late 18th century, the most important thing to a wealthy man was his honor. Stanly’s accusations, in Spaight’s opinion, bordered on slander.

Richard challenged Stanley to a duel.

The Duel

Eventually, the two men met on a very public dueling ground.  Hundreds of people showed up to witness the event. The opponents fired three times without anyone being hit.  The crowd begged them to stop, as both men had made their point.

Spaight refused.

The fourth volley left Richard with a wound to his side.

He died the next day.

If you want to read a biography of Richard Dobbs Spaight, you can find the full text of John Hill Wheeler’s book here. Wheeler wrote in the late 1800’s about the American Revolution in North Carolina. You can also purchase a copy of the book through the affiliate link below.

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