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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Donnell, Richard Spaight

by Gertrude S. Carraway, 1986

20 Sept. 1820–3 June 1867

Browne, William Garl(?), circa 1845. "Richard Spaight Donnell." North Carolina Portrait Index, 1700-1860. Chapel Hill: UNC Press. p. 73. (Digital page 87).Richard Spaight Donnell, congressman and speaker of the North Carolina House of Commons, was the son of Judge John Robert Donnell and namesake of his grandfather, Governor Richard Dobbs Spaight, Sr. A native of New Bern, he attended New Bern Academy and Yale College and was graduated in 1839 from The University of North Carolina. Admitted to the bar the next year, he began to practice law at New Bern. As a Whig, he was elected from Craven County to Congress, serving from 1847 to 1849, but did not seek renomination.

Donnell moved to Washington, N.C., where he opened a law office and was one of the founders of the Bank of Washington in 1851. In 1855 he was one of the founders of Pamlico Bank. From Beaufort County he served in the 1858 state senate and the 1860 North Carolina House of Commons. He was a delegate to the 1861–62 state Secession Convention and then returned to the house. Upon the resignation of Robert B. Gilliam of Granville County, he was chosen speaker of the house for the 1863 session and was renamed for the 1864–65 sessions. At the second 1865–66 session he resumed his seat in the house from Beaufort County; he also attended the 1865–66 state Constitutional Convention.

Donnell died in New Bern. Over his grave in Cedar Grove Cemetery a tall monument is inscribed: "Beaufort County, his chosen home, records her gratitude for many years of distinguished services upon his honored tomb." He left no will and Mary S. Shepard administered his estate.


Biog. Dir. Am. Cong. (1971).

John L. Cheney, Jr., North Carolina Government, 1584–1974 (1975).

Daniel L. Grant, Alumni History of the University of North Carolina (1924).

New Bern Republican, 4, 6 June 1867.

Tombstones, Cedar Grove Cemetery (New Bern).

Additional Resources:

"Donnell, Richard Spaight, (1820 - 1867)." Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Washington, D.C.: The Congress. (accessed February 10, 2014).

Donnell Family Papers, 1795-1869 (collection no. 01154). The Southern Historical Collection. Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (accessed February 10, 2014).

Donnell, R. S. (Richard Spaight). "A voice from North-Carolina. The secessionists: their promises and performances; the conditions into which they have brought the country: the remedy, etc." New-York, A.D.F. Randolph. 1863. (accessed February 10, 2014).

Image credit:

Browne, William Garl(?), circa 1845. "Richard Spaight Donnell." North Carolina Portrait Index, 1700-1860. Chapel Hill: UNC Press. p. 73. (Digital page 87). Accessed 10/14/2014. 

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