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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!


Hi Eric,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and taking the time to share your question. I will send your comment to our Reference Team at so they can help you further. 

Best wishes,

Elizabeth Hayden, Government & Heriatge Library 



Ramona Staton
Dear Ramona I would be pleased to discuss my Gillespie roots and provide info relative to their slaves
I was raised on the David Gillespie plantation Lebanon in Bladen County Carvers Creek Dr Gillespie built a school for the black sllaves following the war named zarro this community still exists my dear friend Leana and Dudley Neal were slaves at Oakland plantation near Ells Well Ferry
I know where there are 3 slave grave yards also where the Gilespie's graveyard is Kenansville
Please forgive my not getting back to you earlier!!!!
I'm the author of Quest for Freedom greatly admire Martin Luther King who adopted the Puritan Martin Luther philosophy Liberty of Conscience which my Scots Irish forefathers used against the English Crown and brought to America drafting our Bill of Rights
Best Regards
Bill Moore

Isaac wright husband of Jane Gillespie had over a hundred slaves and mistreated them

"Quest for Freedom" - The Presbyterian struggles for Political and Religious Freedom. I've heard of this book and I thank you for your thought and reason throughout history! You guys used this to fight the English government and believed that too much government isn't good.

I would love to know if my great-great-grandfather was one of the original slaves. I heard that Issac Wright mistreated his slaves but knew that James Gillespie did not.

When can we meet?

Bill would love to know more about Lebanon and Golden Grove, I am ancestor of James Gillespie, through Joseph/Susanna and Clement Montgomery/Mary Ann Gillespie, He is my 5th Great Grandfather. From Wilson County NC but living in Wilmington now.

eELTON ASSUME Joseph James's son he is buried across 2 miles south from country squire restaurant read my book my book pic of Joseph's grave Known as the old Gillespie place Congressman James acquired large acreage following rev war Joseph was given old home place why not David his eldest son Builder of Lebanon where I was born and raised
My tel is 703 200 6603 Many Gillespie relatives my family live in Wilmington and Elizabeth town Book : Quest for Freedom the Scots Irish Presb struggles for political and religious freedom

Regards. Bill moore

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

Betsy wish you could have attended the road marker ceremony sponsored by the local Daughters of American Revolution Spearheaded by myself and Terry Smith Our major accomplishment is finally Our famous forefather has received long deserved recognition in his homestead VIllage of Grove This quaint village of famous Scots Irish Presbyterians has been to a large extent overshadowed by the modern day Kenansvillle Amazing the many founding fathers with Village of Grove roots including a Vice President of U S. Due to our famous forefathers modesty living by our family motto Esse Que Videra to be rather than to seem I had to spend many hours of research to uncover the many famous accomplishments Our founding father Congressman Gillespie achieved
Best Regards
Bill Moore

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