Constitution Week: A look at N.C. signers
This is the fourth in a series of articles submitted by the Elizabeth Maxwell Steele Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution to commemorate Constitution Week, Sept. 17-23.
North Carolina had five delegates selected to attend the Constitutional Convention, but only three signed the document in 1787. Hugh Williamson, William Blount and Richard Dobbs Spaight attended the historic convention and eventually signed the Constitution. William R. Davie and Alexander Martin left the meeting before it ended and did not sign the final document.
Though born and educated in Pennsylvania, Hugh Williamson settled in 1773 in Edenton, where he prospered in a mercantile business and took up the practice of medicine. He applied for a medical post with the patriot forces but all were filled. The governor of North Carolina called on him, and he became the surgeon general of state troops. After the war, Williamson began his political career. In 1782, he was elected to the lower house of the state legislature and to the Continental Congress. Three years later, he left Congress and returned to his legislative seat. In 1787, he again served in the Congress and was chosen as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Having keen debating skills, he served on five committees at the convention. After the convention, he worked for the ratification of the Constitution in North Carolina. In 1989, he was elected to the first U.S. House of Representatives, serving two terms. While in North Carolina, he was an original trustee of the University of North Carolina. In 1793, he moved to New York, where he later died.
William Blount was born near Windsor, into a family of merchants and planters who owned numerous properties along the Pamlico River. He served as the regimental paymaster for the 3rd North Carolina Regiment during the American Revolutionary War. After his military career, Blount served in the N.C. House of Commons from 1780-1784 and was briefly speaker. He was a member of the Continental Congress from 1782-1783 and 1786-1787. He was a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention that framed the Constitution, signing the document for North Carolina. From 1788-1790, he was a state senator for North Carolina. In 1790, President George Washington appointed Blount governor of the Southwest Territory. From 1790-1796, he served as superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern Department. In 1796, he was chairman of the convention that framed the first state constitution for Tennessee. From 1796-1797, he served as U.S. senator from Tennessee.
In 1797, Blount found himself in serious financial difficulties after some land speculations went awry. He came up with a plan to get the Creek and Cherokee Indians to help the British fleet conquer the Spanish territory of west Florida. If Florida became a British colony, he fancied himself becoming its governor. After President John Adams learned of his treasonous plan in a letter, he turned the letter over to the Senate, and the House of Representatives started impeachment proceedings in 1798. Blount became the first U.S. Senator to be expelled from that chamber. However, the Senate dropped the charges on the grounds that no further action could be taken beyond his expulsion. Even so, the people of Tennessee still loved him, and he was elected to the Tennessee state Senate, where he rose to the speakership.
Richard Dobbs Spaight was the eighth governor of North Carolina. He was born in New Bern but went to live in Ireland when orphaned at age 8. In 1778, he returned to North Carolina and served as an aide to Gen. Richard Caswell in the Revolutionary War. Between 1782 and 1785, the General Assembly elected Spaight as a delegate to the Continental Congress. He then served in N.C. House of Commons from 1785-1787, where he was named speaker. In 1787, he was a delegate to the Philadelphia convention. In 1788, he was a member of the state convention that voted not to ratify the Constitution even though he supported ratification.
He retired from politics for several years because of ill health but returned to the state House of Representatives in 1792, was elected governor that same year, and was re-elected by the General Assembly for two further one-year terms. During his governorship, the new location for the state capital became Raleigh and the site for the University of North Carolina, where he served as chair of the Board of Trustees, was established. In 1798, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives to fill the unexpired term of Nathan Bryan. Spaight served until 1801 and then returned to the N.C. Senate. He died from injuries sustained in a duel with John Stanly, who questioned Spaight's allegiance to the Republican Party.