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Spaight-Stanly Duel

Richard Dobbs SpaightOn September 5, 1802, political rivals John Stanly and Richard Dobbs Spaight, both armed with smooth-bore flintlock pistols, took deliberate aim at each other and fired. It was 5:30 p.m., and the pair were positioned behind the Masonic Lodge in New Bern. Approximately 300 spectators crowded around.

After three rounds of loading and firing, only Stanly’s coat had been hit. Bystanders begged the men to stop, but Spaight’s supporters urged him on. The gentlemen reloaded and aimed again. On the fourth discharge, Spaight fell, having been struck by the bullet in his side. He died the next day.

The confrontation came after the men exchanged two years of personal attacks through newspapers, handbills and street corner oratory. Their public bickering reached its climax when Spaight released a flier calling Stanly “a liar and scoundrel,” insults which prompted the duel.

A portrait of John Stanly from Tryon PalaceSpaight’s death outraged his friends and family, who sought to have Stanly tried for murder. Though Gov. Benjamin Williams pardoned Stanly, the General Assembly responded by passing a law that prevented duel participants from holding public office and hit them with a hefty fine. Most duels moved out-of-state as a result.

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