May 15, 2019

Pages 172-175
Whole Number 16


by Ben Sparks

(Editor's Note: It is the hope of the founders of The Sparks Family Association that the older members of the organization will make a determined effort to put into writing their memories of the past, not only of what they recall about their ancestry, but also some of their own experiences which illustrate the way people lived at an earlier time. With the passing of each generation, countless anecdotes and fascinating family stories are lost forever unless they are put into writing before it is too late. Our way of life has changed so completely during the past half-century that those who are children today can scarcely imagine how people lived before the day of the automobile and the electric lamp. American history will be much more exciting and understandable to these children as they grow up if their grandparents will record some of their experiences in those distant days. Knowing that ones ancestors participated in an historical event, such as the westward movement, makes that episode in the history books much more meaningful to a young person. We shall gladly give space in the Quarterly to memoirs of this kind. The following account by Ben Sparks will interest many of our present-day readers as well as readers of the future, and we hope that it will encourage others to send us similar material for publication.) Ben Sparks was born August 6, 1889, in Rushville, Indiana, being the second child of John and Rebecca (Conner) Sparks. On August 23, 1913, I married Ethel Faye Lowe, daughter of Frank and Ella Lowe. My wife was born November 1, 1887. We have two children, Ben Sparks, Jr., born October 14, 1918, and John Frank Sparks, born October 20, 1928.

My brother and sisters were as follows: Harry Sparks, born September 16, 1887, died September 16, 1942 (he married Jessie Miller who died ca. three years ago; they had no children); Mary Ellen Sparks
, born January 28, 1895, now living in Indianapolis; she married, April 7, 1917, Curtis Raymond McGuire; they have four children. Ruby McGuire Hogan, Fern McGuire Hair, Jane McGuire, and John McGuire; Ruby Sparks, born January 25, 1901, died January 2, 1925 (she married Eugene Van Winkle who died a few years after Ruby's death; they had no children).

My father, John Sparks, was born January 8, 1854, in Franklin County, Indiana, and died June 20, 1921, at Rushville. My mother, Rebecca Conner, was born March 22, 1863, in Rush County, Indiana, and died November 12, 1945, at Rushville. She was the daughter of John and Elizabeth Conner. My parents were married in 1885.

My father was the only child of 28.1.2 William and Sarah (Knotts) Sparks.
28.1.2 William Sparks, my grandfather, was born in 1828 and was the son of 28.1 Hugh and Rebecca (Purvis) Sparks.
28.1 Hugh Sparks
, my great-grandfather, was the son of 28. David and Sarah Sparks.

My father never told me much about his relatives, except to tell me the story of the time that he went as a small child with his father, William Sparks, to Brownsburg, Hendricks County, Indiana, to visit David and Sarah Sparks, who were my father's great-grandparents. I also remember very well of my own grandfather, William Sparks, telling me of this trip, and I remember his pointing out that David Sparks, my great-grandfather, was born a little more than 100 years before I was born in 1889. He gave me the day and date in the 1700's, but I have forgotten it now.

In 1923 I received a letter, which I have preserved, from my father's cousin, Malinda (Sparks) Curran, later Worland, telling what she knew of our Sparks ancestors. She said that my great-grandfather, Hugh Sparks, came from Virginia to Kentucky with his parents when he was a child, and that he later married my great-grandmother, Rebecca Purvis. Rebecca's mother's name was Jones and was a relative of the famous John Paul Jones. Mrs. Curran stated: "David Sparks had three or four sons that were half brothers to Hugh, which accounts for the great number of Sparks families."

Hugh Sparks, my great-grandfather, appears with his wife and children on the 1850 census of Laurel Township, Franklin County, Indiana. There his birth place is given as Kentucky, rather than Virginia--perhaps he was so little when he came to Kentucky from Virginia that he forgot that he was not actually born there; or perhaps my cousin was mistaken in thinking he was born in Virginia.

Mrs. Helen Sparks Robbins of Charlottesville, Virginia, is a granddaughter of my grandfather's brother, 28.1.1 James Sparks (born 1826, married Mehetabel Davidson in 1846). Mrs. Robbins' father, William Tennis Sparks (1849-1938), wrote a history of his life during his old age in which he stated that Hugh Sparks was born July 11, 1806, in Somerset, Kentucky, which is in Pulaski. County. (In the 1810 census of Pulaski County a David Sparks is listed.) William Tennis Sparks described Hugh Sparks as being "five feet, eleven inches tall, erect, with clear blue English eyes and mouse colored hair." He further stated that it was in 1825 that Hugh Sparks married Rebecca Purvis and that she was the daughter of William Purvis who was born in Virginia in 1770, came through Kentucky to Indiana, crossed at Fort Washington, now Cincinnati, and settled near Laurelville. At that time there were only three cabins in southeastern Indiana: the one which William Purvis built at Laurelville, one where Connersville now stands, and another to the west on Big Blue River. The following is quoted directly from the account of William Tennis Sparks: "My grandfather, Hugh Sparks, was born in Somerset, Kentucky, July 11, 1806, and was reared in Madison County, Ohio, near London. I always believed him a native of Ohio until I saw him for the last time when he was 82. I then asked him if he was not a native of Ohio? He replied that he was not, but was born in Kentucky, giving me the facts of his birth as stated above."

As I mentioned before, my father and grandfather used to tell me about their visit to Brownsburg, Indiana, near Indianapolis, to see David and Sarah Sparks when my father was a little boy. Since my father was born in 1854, this visit probably took place ca. 1860. Brownsburg is in Hendricks County, Indiana, and, according to John V. Hadley's History of Hendricks County (Bowen and Company, 1914), David Sparks settled in the county (Brown township) in the year 1827 "three years before any definite settlement had been made in this portion of the country." David and Sarah Sparks appear on the 1850 census of Hendricks County in Brown Township, where the age of each is given as 62. In the 1860 census David's age is given as 72 while Sarah's is given as 70. From these census records it would appear that David Sparks was born in 1788. This would check with my grandfather's statement that David was born a little more than 100 years before I was born. On each of these census records, David Sparks gave his birth place as Tennessee and Sarah gave hers as Kentucky. (William Tennis Sparks believed that David Sparks had been born in England.)

On the 1850 census of Hendricks County, Indiana, the following persons were listed as living with David and Sarah Sparks: Lydia Sparks (aged 37); Mary Sparks (aged 11); Sarah Ann Sparks (aged 9); Hannah Sparks (aged 5); and Martha E. Poynter (aged 10).

Perhaps this Lydia Sparks was the widow of one of David's sons and Mary, Sarah Ann, and Hannah were probably her children. Martha E. Poynter was doubtless the same Martha E. Poynter whom David Sparks named as a granddaughter in his will.

David Sparks died sometime between the fall of 1860, when the census was taken, and September, 1861, for on September 2, 1861, his will was probated in Hendricks County. (The complete text of his will is given at the end of this article.) Unfortunately, David Sparks did not name all his children in his will; in fact, he named only one, his son Thomas to whom he left all of his real estate. He left the proceeds of his personal property to seven grandchildren, (children of two daughters, one of whom had married FNU Poynter and the other a man name Roy). Thomas Sparks (whose full name was Thomas John C. Sparks) is listed with his family in the 1860 census of Hendricks County (Middle Township, not far from where David Sparks was living) as follows:

Page 785 Thomas Sparks 38 Farmer $1000 Kentucky
No. 716 Martha A.  " 40     Indiana
  David W.   " 18        "
  Deborah A. " 14        "
  Aaron A.   " 11        "
  Mary A.    " 7        "
  Prucer P.   " 7/12        "

28.1 Hugh Sparks (born 1806, son of David) and his wife, Rebecca (Purvis) Sparks, had the following children:

28.1.1 James Sparks, born June 27, 1826, married Mehetable Davidson in 1846
28.1.2 William Sparks, born 1828, married Sarah Knotts
28.1.3 Martha Sparks, born ca. 1830, married Daniel Urtle
28.1.4 Elizabeth Sparks, born ca. 1836, married John Williams
28.1.5 Melinda Sparks, born ca. 1834, married Dennis Curran
28.1.6 Lury Sparks, born ca. 1840, married Passwell Long
28.1.7 Sarah Sparks, born ca. 1842, married Ira Shafer
28.1.8 Samuel Taylor Jenks Sparks, born 1849, never married
28.1.9 Albert Sparks, apparently died in youth
28.1.10 George Sparks, apparently died in youth

Fifty-five years ago I went with my father and grandfather to see the old home of Hugh Sparks located three miles east of Laurel, Indiana. This was many years after Hugh had died but the home was still known as the "Hugh Sparks Place." I visited it again a year ago and found it still standing and in good condition, just as I remember the place fifty-five years ago.

My grandfather, William Sparks (born 1828) owned and operated a canal boat on the Whitewater Canal between Hagerstown, Indiana, and Harrison, Ohio. I do not know the length of time or date of beginning, but the operation of the canal boat was during the very early years of the Whitewater Canal and during the very early "teen" years of my father--I believe my father was not more than 14 years of age and learning to make boots and shoes and to repair them as well. The canal boat operation, of course, was a hauling service, but, on all trips, orders for boots and shoes were taken from local people enroute and my father and grandfather worked on the boots and shoes, as the boat traveled, and delivered the articles on the return, or later, trips. Thus, canal boating was a means of more boot and shoe work, as well as some income from hauling service.

The canal boating was ended when the Whitewater Valley Railroad was built. This resulted from so many bridges being built back and forth across the canal, as it wandered in curves following through the Whitewater Valley, and all of these bridges were built much too low, or near the canal water level, to permit the mules and/or horses that pulled the boats to pass under. Therefore, at each bridge they had to be unhitched and driven up over the railroad and down to the towpath and rehitched to the boat towline after the boat floated, or was pulled, under the bridges. This made so much additional work and took so much time that the canal boat operation became worthless to all owners, all of whom, like my grandfather and father, felt that the railroad company had ruined the canal business by design in order to take over all the hauling service. At that early date there were no laws by which the boat owners could force the railroad owners to build their bridges high enough over the towpath so that mules and horses could pass under hitched to the boat towline. Thus ended the Whitewater Canal as a service waterway.

My grandfather and his wife, Sarah, and my father, John Sparks, then moved to Metamora, Indiana, where they all worked in a "woolen mill" on the bank of the canal right near the old stone canal lock, which can still be seen at Metamora. Of course, my grandfather and my dad also kept up their shoemaker business, as, if, and when; people did not wear out boots and shoes in those days as now, and, moreover, there was no change of style in those days.

My father left Metamora and set up a shoe shop in Andersonville (date unknown) and married there, but in a few years moved to New Salem, Indiana, and then to Rushville in 1890. As a matter of fact, my brother, Harry Sparks, now deceased, and I were born on a farm two miles southeast of New Salem in an old log house set almost in the middle of 540 acres, which were mostly woods at that time and for many years later.

I remember very well of my grandfather telling me that his grandfather, David Sparks, entered land "up near where Indianapolis is now" and that Hugh Sparks entered land on Blue River in Shelby County. Indeed, I remember grandfather showing ae a sheepskin patent of this land, part of which Shelbyville, Indiana, now stands on. My grandfather (William Sparks) also had title to joining land and, believe it or not, just moved away and left it and never again returned to that land, even though he had paid for it in full before he left.

One of my prize possessions is a grandfather's clock which my great-grandfather, Hugh Sparks, purchased at Laurel, Indiana, in 1862, and took to his log cabin home on the farm three miles east of Laurel. It ticked away the last moments of the lives of my great-grandparents, as well as those of several of their descendants. It is still in good order, running every day in my home.