Hon. Samuel Spencer

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Hon. Samuel Spencer

Death: March 20, 1793 (59) (erysipelas resulting from turkey gobbler attack)
Immediate Family:

Son of Samuel Spencer and Jerusha Spencer
Husband of Sybil Spencer and Sybil Wharton
Father of Mary Spencer
Brother of Dorothy Cone; Col. Oliver Spencer; Mehitabel Spencer; Asa Spencer; Jerusha Spencer and 3 others
Half brother of Ichabod Seldon Spencer; Col. Calvin Spencer and Luke Hawley Spencer

Occupation: justice of the state supreme court, Lawyer, judge
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Hon. Samuel Spencer

Samuel Spencer, born 21 Jan. 1734 died 20 Mar. 1793


From NCPedia by J. Isaac Copeland and Jerry C. Cashion, 1994

Samuel Spencer, member of the colonial Assembly, trustee of The University of North Carolina, and justice of the superior court, was born in East Haddam, Conn. He was the oldest of nine children born to Samuel and Jerusha Brainerd Spencer, both of whom were descendants of highly respected New England families. ...

... Justice Spencer was a man of substantial means. His home was located on Smith's Creek, where it flows into the Pee Dee River, only a few miles from Wadesboro, and his landholdings in Anson, Bladen, Tryon, Mecklenburg, and Rutherford counties were in excess of 5,000 acres. The census of 1790 reports him to have been the holder of eighteen slaves.

... In 1776 [SIC: 1768] Spencer married Phillipa Pegues, usually referred to by her pet name, Sybil, a South Carolinian of Huguenot descent; her family home was near the boundary line of the two Carolinas. [SIC: Sybil Tisdale, see her profile]. The Spencers were the parents of at least four children: Mary Pegues, who married Isaac Jackson; Claudius, who died while quite young; a son, William Samuel; and a second daughter who is said to have been named Anne.

The accounts of Samuel Spencer's life are at times conflicting. The date of his birth was 1734, not 1738 as in some cases reported; the Genealogy of the Brainerd-Brainard Family, establishes beyond doubt the earlier date. And the Calvin Spencer, mentioned as the brother moving with him from Connecticut, was evidently a half brother who would have been at least fifteen years younger and who settled in Chesterfield County, S.C. The reports of Spencer's landholdings and the number of slaves he held have also varied, but the figures used in this sketch have been taken from the records of the Land Grant Office in the North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State, deed records located in the North Carolina State Archives, and the U.S. Census of 1790. The date reported for Spencer's death has also varied, but the minutes of the board of trustees of The University of North Carolina and the Charleston State Gazette of South Carolina of 22 May 1793 support the date used. The disagreement as to the year of his death can be attributed only to an error in copying; the variance as to the month is due to the fact that ultimo, or "ult." as abbreviated, was overlooked by some writers.


  • Lucy Abigail Brainard, Genealogy of the Brainerd-Brainard Family in America vol. 2 (1908). link
  • Charleston State Gazette of South Carolina, 22 May 1793.
  • John L. Cheney, Jr., ed., North Carolina Government, 1585 to 1974 (1975).
  • Walter Clark, ed., State Records of North Carolina, vols. 16, 18, 22 (1900, 1907).
  • Albert Coates, Three North Carolinians Who Have Stood Up to Be Counted for the Bill of Rights (1973).
  • "Deed Records" (North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh).
  • Jonathan Elliot, ed., The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, vol. 4 (1836).
  • Marshall DeLancey Haywood, "Samuel Spencer," Charles Leonard Van Noppen Biographical Sketches (Manuscript Department, Duke University Library, Durham).
  • Quinton Holton, "History of the Case of Bayard v. Singleton " (M.A. thesis, University of North Carolina, 1948).
  • "Land Grants" (Land Grants Office, North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State, Raleigh).
  • James McLachlan, ed., Princetonians, 1748 to 1768: A Biographical Dictionary (1976).
  • Griffith J. McRee, Life and Correspondence of James Iredell, vol. 1 (1857).
  • Mary L. Medley, History of Anson County, 1750 to 1976 (1976).
  • Henry W. Rigby, comp., "Descendants of William Spencer of Montgomery, N.C." (mimeographed, 1977, North Carolina State Archives).
  • William L. Saunders, ed., Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 10 (1890).
  • Lucy Irby Trenholme, The Ratification of the Federal Constitution in North Carolina (1967).


Judge Samuel Spencer (1738-1794)

Written by North Carolina History Project link

Born in East Haddam, Virginia in 1738, Samuel Spencer played important roles in several chapters of the history of North Carolina. He served as the de facto executive of North Carolina after the American Revolution broke out. Shortly thereafter, he was elected a superior court judge in North Carolina, remaining on the bench until his death. He is, however, best known as the leader of the antifederalist faction at the Hillsborough Convention of 1788. After his childhood in Virginia, [SIC] Spencer attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University)  He earned his bachelors degree in 1759. In 1760, he moved to Anson County, North Carolina, in the south central region of the state, where he practiced law. His career in politics began with his election to the North Carolina General Assembly in 1769.

Having attended the first North Carolina Provisional Convention in New Bern in 1774, Spencer took a seat in the North Carolina Provincial Congress in 1775. There he was elected colonel of the North Carolina Provincial Council of Safety, which was the executive branch of the provincial government of North Carolina from September 9, 1775 until November 12, 1776. This position made him the first de facto executive of the state of North Carolina and the predecessor of Richard Caswell, the first governor of the state of North Carolina.

In 1777, after the disbandment of the provincial government, Spencer joined the bench, becoming a North Carolina superior court judge. In 1788, Spencer was elected to the convention at Hillsborough, where delegates would decide whether North Carolina should ratify the new federal Constitution. Though not the most prominent delegate with antifederalist sentiments, Spencer would become the preeminent antifederalist debater in the Hillsborough Convention. Like many of the other antifederalists at the convention, Spencer argued against allowing the proposed U.S. Congress control of national Congressional elections

Despite his antifederalism, Spencer was outspoken in support of the clause proscribing religious tests for federal offices. He made two arguments in support of this clause. First, he contended that a religious test could become a basis of persecution. Second, he claimed that a religious test would only keep morally upright citizens out of federal offices, for a disingenuous office-seeker could easily pass any religious test. After the antifederalists victory in the Hillsborough convention, Spencer attended the Fayetteville convention of 1789, at which delegates voted to ratify the Constitution.

According to a late nineteenth-century magazine, Spencer died in 1794, when, while sleeping in a chair under a tree, he was attacked by a wild turkey. On this account, he died almost certainly not from a wound inflicted by the turkey but, rather, from falling out of his chair.


  1. Walter Clark, "The Supreme Court of North Carolina," The Green Bag: An Entertaining Magazine for Lawyers 4, No. 10 (1892);
  2. Louise Irby Trenholme, The Ratification of the Federal Constitution in North Carolina (New York, 1967);
  3. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, ed., An Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography (New York, 1915), 91;
  4. Bessie Lewis Whitaker, The Provincial Council and Committees of Safety in North Carolina (Chapel Hill, 1908).

Justice wasn't blind, but he was fatally asleep

March 20, 2015 by Lew Powell North Carolina Miscellany

On this day in 1793: Samuel Spencer, justice of the state supreme court, dies as a result of wounds inflicted by a turkey gobbler.

Spencer was sitting on the porch of his home near Wadesboro when he became sleepy and began to nod; his bobbing red cap apparently provoked the turkey to attack. The 59-year-old judge was thrown from his chair and suffered numerous scratches, which became fatally infected.

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Hon. Samuel Spencer's Timeline

January 21, 1734
June 25, 1770
Wadesboro, Anson, North Carolina
March 20, 1793
Age 59