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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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Gillespie, James

by Richard A. Schrader, 1986

1747–11 Jan. 1805

James Gillespie, legislator and congressman, was born in County Monaghan, Ireland, the oldest of three sons of David Gillespie. James received a classical education in Dublin, and, while still a young man, emigrated with his Scottish Presbyterian family to New Bern. Before the American Revolution he bought a plantation (later called Golden Grove) one mile east of Kenansville in Duplin County.

With the outbreak of war, Gillespie received a captain's commission in the First Battalion of North Carolina Volunteers in November 1776. Although he performed assigned military duties and even suffered the burning of his home by Tories, his most significant contributions to the state in the war years were his political and administrative activities. In 1776, he served as a member of the North Carolina Provincial Congress at Halifax that drew up the state constitution, and two years later he was appointed a commissioner to consolidate the towns of Campbellton and Cross Creek (later named Fayetteville). In 1779, Gillespie won election to the North Carolina House of Commons, participating in its deliberations in 1779–80 and 1782–84.

After the war his political involvement increased. He served in the state senate in 1784–86, 1789, and 1792. In 1785, he received appointments as a trustee to establish an academy in Duplin County, as secretary to the governor, and as a member of the state council, to which he was reappointed in 1789. Gillespie attended the constitutional conventions of 1788 and 1789, voting with the anti-Federalists against ratifications on both occasions; however, he later won election to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving during the years 1793–99 and 1803–5 as a Federalist from the Sixth Congressional District.

At the time of the 1790 census Gillespie owned over 2,000 acres of land and thirty slaves. In addition to his wife, Dorcus Mumford Gillespie of Onslow County, his household consisted of seven children: Catherine, David, Lucy, Joseph, Elizabeth, Jane, and Mildred. His son David (1774–1829) attended The University of North Carolina in 1795, served as a major in the War of 1812, and represented Bladen County in the House of Commons; he also was a member of the council.

Gillespie died in Washington and was buried in Presbyterian Cemetery in Georgetown, D.C.; in 1891 his remains were moved to the Congressional Cemetery in Washington.


Biog. Dir. Am. Cong. (1950).

John L. Cheney, Jr., ed., North Carolina Government, 1585–1974 (1975).

Walter Clark, ed., State Records of North Carolina, vols. 12-22 (1895–1907).

Gillespie-Wright Papers (Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill).

Additional Resources:

Gillespie and Wright Family Papers, 1735-1990, Collection Number: 00275, Documenting the American South, UNC Libraries:

"Gillespie, James, (ca. 1747 - 1805)." Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Washington, D.C.: The Congress. (accessed August 5, 2013).


Origin - location: 


There is a road marker going up in his name on July 6, sponsored by the Duplin County Historical Society. If you would like to attend, check out our page on Facebook. Thanks.

This is great stuff!
I am a descendant of my great-grandfather Rommie (Romeo) Gillespie who is black and was born a slave in Duplin County. I'm led to believe that he was given the Gillespie last name from being a slave of James Gillespie.

I've researched the Gillespie and Wright papers at UNC.
It would be great to know if he was one of the original 30 slaves as I'm unable to make out all of the penmanship in the slave documents.

My great grandfather (Rommie Gillespie) had 20 children and the Gillespie name has remained and will continue to remain forever. We will host this year's annual Gillespie reunion and recognize our great-grandfather Rommie Gillespie.

I will continue my quest to search for my great-great grandfather (who I suspect to be a Gillespie) through the slave documents from the Gillespie and Wright papers, but it is nice meeting you all and thank you for this post!

James Gillespie was my 4th great-grandfather (I'm descended from his daughter, Mildred). It's great fun to find this information! Thank you!

I want you to know how much I appreciate this article about Mr. James Gillespie. I recently discovered that I am his 7th great granddaughter, and being able to find out what an impact he had on NC is an amazing experience!

Thanks again!

Allie Allen

Dear Allie
Assume you are George Allen's daughter who was my Dublin friend & cousin in the 50' It is so frustrating that UNC as well as NC has not properly recognized had famous Gillespie granddad's .
David led the first class at UNC with almost no recognition . Hinton James get all the recognition obviously since he was grandpa to the Morehead family who donated millions to UNC etc the Morehead planetarium. UNcC slights Gov Martin the personal friend of the Gillespies
No where is Martin honored at UNC he served as UnC board director for 15 years until his death.
James Smiley Gillespie who was UNC first president isn't even recognized at UNC . It s so laughable that UNC doesn't know where the Universities blue came from .Please write
Best Regards" Bill Moore

Hi Allie,

Thanks so much for taking the time to post on your visit to NCpedia and your connection to James Gillespie.  We love to hear when readers have personal connections to North Carolina history.

Please visit again!

Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library

Recently published book "Quest for Freedom "is recommended reading to better understand Gillespie family history . The electrifying story of the Scots-Irish Presbyterians brought to life by "Quest for Freedom" highlights the Gillespie family
and their significant contributions to America's freedom . Of significant interest is Congressman James Gillespie ,Duplin County's first Congressman , who as a personal friend of Governor Alexader Martin ,served on N.C.'s elite senate council and ensured that the nation adopted a Bill of Rights .Congressman James Gillespie fought long and hard for our Bill of Rights for the protection of the common man, especially the first amendment "freedom of religion"
Congressman Gillespie's eldest son, David, sponsored by the friendship of Alexander Martin who served as President of UNC's board of directors until his death, led UNC's first class of 1795 . David Gillespie, through the support of Professor Harris and greatly influenced by Family relative Samuel McCorkel who was was married to Margaret Gillespie , spearheaded the organization of UNC's debate societies serving as the first President of the Philanthropic Society.
To fully understand and appreciate the huge contributions of the Gillespie family and their fellow Scots-Irish Presbyterian supporters to America's freedom, democracy and institutions of higher learning it is recommended that readers review " Quest for Freedom" The Presbyterian struggles for Political and Religious Freedom.
References: UNC Phi Society-Stephen Weeks; History of UNC by Kemp Battle; UNC family records of David Gillespie -Wilson Library; R. Connor Documentary History of UNC;Powell's Dictionary of NC Biography; Papers of Andrew Ellicott -Library of Congress; and "Quest for Freedom " by Willam E. Moore and David B. Nolan"

Dear William,

Thank you very much for providing this additional information for our readers along with information about your recently published book.  Your comment and the resources you've contributed will remain with the James Gillespie article as a resource for NCpedia users.  We are always grateful when readers take the time to contribute their knowledge to our publications.

Please visit us again! And best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NCpedia Staff

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