More than two centuries ago, prominent New Bern lawyer John Stanly Jr. met his political rival, Richard Dobbs Spaight, for a lethal duel on the streets of New Bern Sept. 5, 1802.
Tryon Palace is set to reenact the Stanly-Spaight duel at 4 p.m. Sept. 4 on the front lawn of the New Bern Academy, 514 New St., New Bern. The New Bern Academy Museum is an 1809 building four blocks from Tryon Palace in the historic residential district.
Spaight, a Jeffersonian Republican, was North Carolina’s first native-born governor and helped write the U.S. Constitution. Stanly, a Federalist, was a young and upcoming member of Congress.
The two met at the arranged time of 5:30 p.m. Sept. 5, 1802, behind the Masonic Lodge in New Bern, armed with smoothbore flintlock pistols and ready for the challenge. They then fired at each other, both missing. The rivals fired again, one bullet hitting a tree and the other clipping Stanly’s collar. A third exchange followed, they both missed again, according to a Tryon Palace announcement.
The crowd of more than 300 shouted for the duel to end but Stanly and Spaight continued. On the fourth round, Spaight was hit in the side, dying the next day from his wounds. Stanly fled New Bern to avoid a murder charge but was pardoned a year later by then-Gov. Benjamin Williams.
The reenactment is to include black-powder firings and feature replicas of period weapons, which are loud and sudden.