April 26, 2021

Pages 155-157
Whole Number 15


In an ancient trunk in the attic of many an old house are to be found family papers dating back many years--the records which our grandparents carefully preserved for one reason or another. Frequently these faded manuscripts have a story to tell which not only illuminates history but often reveals family relationships otherwise unknown. All too often these papers are deliberately destroyed by careless descendants who fail to recognize their historical value. It is hoped that members of the Sparks Family Association will never be guilty of this sort of negligence. Harry L. Sparks of Milton, Kentucky, has carefully preserved several documents which have been handed down in his family, the oldest being a contract which was penned nearly a century and a half ago. It is an agreement entered into by Martin Sparks (great-grandfather of Harry L. Sparks) and a wealthy planter of Madison County, KY, named Green Clay. Because this agreement should make fascinating reading for anyone interested in American history, it is presented below word for word, except that capitalization and punctuation have been modernized. Martin Sparks was the son of 21.1.3 Humphrey and Milly (Nalle) Sparks (see pp. 136-37 of the June, 1956, issue of the Quarterly) and was born ca. 1780. His parents migrated from Virginia to Scott County, Kentucky, in 1795 and it is not illogical to assume that Martin came with them. by 1800, however, Martin Sparks was living in Woodford County, KY, (his name appears on an August 1800 tax list) and the following year he married Catty Middleton in Woodford County (the marriage bond is dated October 3, 1801, with Lewis Sullivan as bondsman). The 1810 census of Kentucky lists Martin Sparks as living in Madison County, KY, with four sons under ten years of age. by 1826 he had moved from Madison County to Owen County, KY, where his parents had settled earlier, for on April 10, 1826, Martin Sparks purchased from William Marston for $500 a tract of land 'at the mouth of Sparks Spring Branch.' (Owen County Deed Book B, p. 274) He is described in this deed as 'of Owen County.'

Martin Sparks died in Owen County early in 1849--he made his will on January 18, 1849, and it was probated in April of that year. He left two-thirds of his estate to his son, Abraham Gregory Sparks, and the other third to his daughter, Milly Sparks. Milly also received a horse 'called Davy Crockett.' (The witnesses to this will were W. H. Smither and Robert Smither.) Martin Sparks made no mention of his wife in his will and it is assumed that she had died earlier. Whether there were other children than the two named who survived infancy is not known, although Harry L. Sparks believes that there was a son named Humphrey. Abraham Gregory Sparks (grandfather of Harry L. Sparks) was born ca. 1810 (his age is given as 50 on the 1860 census) and he died July 18, 1886, in Owen County. In 1858 he married a widow named Sarah Francis (Martin) Moore (she died in 1875) and had children: Martin Sparks, born 1859, died 1860; Sarah Sparks, born 1863, died 1940; and John Abraham Sparks, born 1863,

The document which follows is dated October 2, 1810, and from the contents it is apparent that Martin Sparks was living in Madison County, KY, at the time it was written. Green Clay (1757-1826), with whom Martin Sparks signed this contract, was one of the wealthiest men in Kentucky during the early part of the nineteenth century. He had migrated to Kentucky from Virginia in 1781 and there studied surveying. He was soon in great demand as a surveyor and, as was the custom of that day, he exacted a half of the land called for by the warrants he surveyed. As a result of his sagacity and good business sense, he amassed a fortune and settled in Madison County. There he built the first hewn log-house in that county on the uplands of Tate's and Jack's Creeks near the Kentucky River. Later he built a mansion near the cabin and turned the cabin over to his overseer. In 1813, as a major-general in the state militia, he led 3,000 Kentuckians to the relief of General Harrison at Fort Meigs in Ohio and afterwards succeeded in beating off an attack by General Proctor and Tecumseh. Thus he proved himself as effective a soldier as a man of business.

The following document is of historioal interest because it reveals the manner in which a wealthy slave owner managed one of his farms through an overseer. Green Clay is said to have been much ahead of his time in introducing more modern farming techniques, a fact which this contract illustrates.

Page 156-157
Whole Number 15

Articles Between Green Clay & Martin Sparks

The said Sparkes undertakes to do the said Clays busaines as an Overseer where he now lives for the term of five years, to commence the first day of next Jan; to have under him the same hands, to wit, Peter, Stephen, Henry, Adam, Spencer, Lender & Clary--alsc Hannah to cook for the negroes & milk so that no time be lost on that account by the hands under him; put in the orop & what time Hannah has to spare over cooking & milking she is to spin one pound for Sparkes & six for Clay; & Clay is to put 12 head of horses at least there & not over 24; for every six head Clay puts, Sparks is to put one, & they are to be feed together out of the crop, there is to be no difference paid to them in care nor feeding & all to run togather in the pasture but none in the fields, winter and summer, without the consent of both parties; & these horses are to fare alike in all respects. Near New Years day Sparks is to furnish one seventh part of as many sheep, hogs & cattle as Clay hath on that plantation, & in that proportion of vallue, into a general stock; this stock is to be keep & feed [i.e.kept and fed ] out of the crop of corn, hay, fodder & oats; the hogs are to be fattened yearly & then divided by weight, so also the beeves as they are fattened or sold are to be divided, Clay to have six parts, Sparks one. The wool of the sheep are to be divided in the same way. Any loss of sheep, hogs or cattle are to be the loss of the general stock or fund.

Clay is to furnish as many as four work horses if necessary & an ox cart & Sparks is to brake two yoaks of oxen out of the stock before they are thrown into a general fund and keep that many allways on sd place for the use of the farm out of Clay's stock. There is to be no division of corn, fodder, hay [or] oats but that part of the crop is to be appropriated to the support of the place, to wit, the corn to bread, black & white, the ballance to be stilled, and any oats, hay [or] fodder over feeding the stock to he sold & the money divided according to each partys proportion.

All the Rye & Corn over what is necessary for the usual seeding is to be stilled if possible, but if any cannot be stilled it is to be sold & the money divided as aforesaid. All the grain got by tole at the horse mill is to be applyed as a part of the crop & so divided. Sparks is to have one seventh part of all the crop of every description made for market, to wit, tobacco, hemp, flax, cotton, whisky, brandy, cider, cider royal, sugar, & other things as aforesaid, pears & perry. Sparks is to carry on the destillery there as here to fore until said Clay shall build a mill & erect a destillery on Tates Creek; then all the grain is to be taken there to Tates Cr. & stilled. While stilling at Sparkes's he is to have the stills supplyed with chops & wood & do all the planters part, with his hands, & also all fixing; the stiller, if one is hired, is to be paid according to each man's proportion. When the destillery is set up at Tates Creek, Sparks is to take all his grain for stilling there & to cut & hawl his proportion of wood & vessells to the stillhouse, that is, if Clay has more grain stilled there than Sparks raises, in that case, the partnership hogs at Sparks's are to be sent to the Tates Creek destillery annually to eat the slop in proportion to Clays other hogs & grain sent from other plantations.

Clay is to have a house covered with shingles on the hill for Sparks's family hut Sparks is to do the other part with his hands.

At the end of the said five years the stock of cattle, hogs & sheep are to be divided according to each proportion. The negro men hereby put under Sparks are to assist in diging the mill race at a leasure time from the crop when the destillery shall be erected at Tates Creek. Clay is to find a miller to attend the mill but such hands as necessary to still the grain that Sparks sends there are to be found out of Sparks' hands put under him, & if a stiller is hired to manage the destillery at Tates Creek, Sparks is to pay his proportion of his hire while stilling his grain. Whenever a wagon is needed at Sparks's plantation, he is to have one. The four work horses are to be out of Clay's part of horses. Should any of the negroes die in the said five years Clay is to put [manuscript torn] their place at the end of that year that they shall die & the said Clay has the priviledge of selling Peter & Spencer & putting another good hand in their places.

October 2d 1810

Test                                                                                                                                   [signed] Green Clay
Mary Clay                                                                                                                         [signed] Martin Sparks