April 29, 2021

Pages 728-734

by Russell E. Bidlack

(Editor's Note: The data on which the following sketch is based have been gathered from many sources over a period of several years. A number of Sparks descendants have contributed valuable information. Among the contributors are Mrs. Enos G. Huffer, Miss Gertrude Sparks, Dr. Alan L. Sparks, and Miss Rita M. Pierce.)

According to separate statements made by George Sparks and William Sparks in 1780, they had both settled in what is now Washington County, Pennsylvania, in the year 1773. They had come as pioneers to what was then the West. There is little doubt but that they were natives of Maryland, probably the county of Frederick. A descendant of William Sparks stated many years ago that William Sparks had lived near Fredericksburg, Maryland. There was never a town named Fredericksburg in Maryland, however, and he doubtless intended Fredericktown which is now called simply Frederick and is the county seat of Frederick County. Another descendant of William Sparks stated many years ago that the family had lived near Baltimore before immigrating to Pennsylvania. Baltimore is about 20 miles from Frederick County.

George and William Sparks were probably brothers--at least we can be sure they were closely related. They chose tracts of land which almost adjoined (see cover), although on a modern map George Sparks's land is located in Hopewell Township in Washington County while William Sparks's tract is just over the line in Independence Township. Only a few miles separate these tracts from the line separating Washington County, Pennsylvania, from Ohio County, West Virginia.

When George and William Sparks settled in western Pennsylvania in 1773 it was the custom for a newcomer simply to choose a tract of land which he liked and which had not been claimed by anyone else, to deaden a few trees around the edge or at the head of the spring which watered it, and to chop his initials in one or more of the deadened trees. This crude method of registering one's claim came to be called a 'tomahawk right.' A descendant of William Sparks recalled many years ago that there was a family tradition that William Sparks had taken up a 'tomahawk right' in Pennsylvania, although this descendant did not know the meaning of the term.

We can only speculate upon the dates of birth of George Sparks and William Sparks. We know that George's eldest son, Salathiel Sparks, was born in 1756 while William's oldest son, James Sparks, was born in 1759. It seems probable, therefore, that George and William were about the same age and were probably born in the early 1730's. George's wife's name was Mary MNU and she was still living in 1803 when he made his will. Since one of their sons was named William Bostwick Sparks (at a time when middle names were unusual) it is possible that her maiden name was Bostwick. According to descendants, William Sparks married Martha Moore.

The area in which George Sparks and William Sparks settled in 1773 was then claimed by both Pennsylvania and Virginia. (William Perry Johnson has prepared a detailed history of this famous controversy for this issue of the Quarterly.) Since each commonwealth believed the area to be a part of its domain, each attempted to govern, tax, and protect its own settlers. From later records it is apparent that George and William Sparks, coming as they did from Maryland, considered themselves to be citizens of Virginia, as did the other settlers in their immediate area. The section in which the Sparkses lived was designated by Virginia as comprising a part of West Augusta County, then in 1776 as Ohio County. Pennsylvania, on the other hand, included this section in its county of Cumberland until 1771 when it formed a part of Bedford County; in 1773 Pennsylvania made it a part of Westmoreland County. Finally, in 1781, this area became a part of Washington County, Pennsylvania. Thus, records pertaining to George and William Sparks are found in both Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The most important Virginia record pertaining to George and William Sparks has to do with the final settlement of this controversy between Pennsylvania and Virginia. Virginia agreed in 1780 to give up her claim to western Pennsylvania with the understanding that she could issue certificates to her settlers for their land claims which would be honored by Pennsylvania. About 400 settlers in what is now Washington County applied to Virginia f or certificates. To obtain a certificate, it was necessary for the applicant to state the year in which he made his first settlement in the disputed area. Both George and William Sparks stated that they had settled on their claims in the year 1773. (The official copy of these certificates retained by Virginia is now preserved in the library of the University of West Virginia, a microfilm of which was loaned to the present writer.)

George Sparks received two certificates in 1780--one for the tract originally settled by him, the other for a tract which he had purchased from another settler. The first of these, dated January 29, 1780, was for 400 acres 'on the waters of Buffalo and Cross Creek to include his Settlement made in the year 1773.' The other certificate also dated January 29, 1780, 'was also for 400 acres and was for land which had been settled originally by William Bailey in 1775, but which George Sparks had purchased. This latter tract, which adjoined the first tract, was described as being 'on the waters of Cross Creek.' (These references to Buffalo Creek and Cross Creek did not mean that these tracts necessarily adjoined the creeks, but that these were the nearest large streams of water.)

The Virginia certificate issued to William Sparks was dated February 5, 1780, and was for 400 acres 'on the waters of Buffaloe to Include his Settlement made in the year 1773.'

A good many years passed before Pennsylvania issued patents for these Virginia certificates, although they were surveyed in 1786. In most instances, the surveys revealed that the tracts were smaller than they had been described originally. George Sparks's home tract was found to contain 353 acres, while that which he had purchased from William Bailey contained only slightly over 258 acres. It was then a Southern custom, especially in Maryland, for the original owner to give to each tract a name by which it would be known thereafter in land and tax records. George Sparks gave the name 'Sparta' to the tract on which he had settled in 1773, while the tract he had acquired from Bailey was called 'Elenoroon.' It was not until April, 1798, that George Sparks finally obtained a permanent Pennsylvania title to his land, and then he had to pay a fee of 2 pounds, 18 shillings and 8 pence for 'Sparta' and 2 pounds, 3 shillings and 4 pence for 'Elenoroon.'

When William Sparks's tract was surveyed in 1786, it was found to contain slightly over 323 acres. Prior to 1786, however, Thomas Bines had purchased this tract, probably from William's heirs since it seems probable that William Sparks had died prior to 1786. When Thomas Bines obtained a patent from Pennsylvania for this tract in 1787 it was called 'Benington', probably having been given that name originally by William Sparks.

While Virginia and Pennsylvania were engaged in their conflict over western Pennsylvania, about 2000 inhabitants signed a petition asking that the struggle be settled simply by creating a new state out of the disputed area. This petition, which is preserved among the papers of the Continental Congress, is undated, but was prepared sometime between 1776 and 1780. This list of signers was recently published by Raymond Martin Bell of Washington & Jefferson College--it contains the signature of William Sparks but not that of George Sparks. At about the same time that this petition was being circulated, the state of Virginia asked that all settlers sign 'An Oath of Allegiance to the Commonwealth of Virginia.' A man named William Scott, who was a militia captain and whose land nearly adjoined that of George Sparks, was charged with obtaining these oaths in his district. On February 2, 1778, Scott reported to the clerk of the County Court of Ohio County, Virginia, that on October 6, 1777, George Sparks had given his oath, but that in December, 1777, William Sparks (among many others) had refused. This probably means that, while George Sparks wished to remain a subject of Virginia, William Sparks favored the forming of a separate state out of the disputed land.

In 1782, this same William Scott commanded a company in the 4th Battalion of Washington County Militia and a William Sparks was listed as a private in his company. This probably refers, either to William Bostwick Sparks, son of George Sparks, or to William Sparks, Jr., son of William Sparks. George Sparks, Jr., son of George Sparks, was also a member of this company. (See the Pennsylvania Archives, 6th Series, Vol. 2, pp. 138, 158, and 159.)

According to a biographical sketch of Allen Sparks (grandson of William Sparks) which was written by Elijah Sparks (great-grandson of William Sparks) for the History of Clinton County, Indiana published in 1886, William Sparks served in the American army during the 'Revolution' and was at the storming of Stony Point, the battle of Brandywine, and surrender of Cornwallis.' According to Joseph Claybaugh's History of Clinton County, Indiana, published in 1913, in an article on James Allen Sparks (another great-grandson of William Sparks), it was William's son, James Sparks (32.1?), who served in the American Revolution. Since William Sparks was at least 45 at the time of the Revolution, while his son James was a young man of 17 when the war began, it would seem more probable that it was James who fought the British rather than his father. He was probably the James Sparks who was a member of Capt. Zadock Wright's company of the 2nd Battalion of the Washington County Militia in 1782. (Pennsylvania Archives, 6th Series, Vol. 2, pp. 27, 33, and 61.)

The Ohio County, Virginia, Court records contain a number of references to George and William Sparks. (These records were published in the Annals of the Carnegie Museum, Vols. 1-3, Pittsburgh, 1902-05; Inez R. Waldenmaier prepared an index in 1957.) In 1780, for example, a reference was made to a lawsuit involving a man named Miller vs. George Sparks and his wife, Mary. Unfortunately, the record does not reveal the nature of the suit. On June 2, 1777, durIng a meeting of the Ohio County Court, William Sparks took the oath of office as Ensign of the Militia--his Colonel was named David Shepherd. At a meeting of the court held October 4, 1779, William Sparks was ordered along with Samuel Teter, Joseph Worley and John Fergusson to 'view the nearest and best way for a road from John Boggs Mill to Alexander Wells, on Cross Creek, and make report to next Court.' All of these persons named lived in what is now Independence Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania. On November 1, 1779, William Sparks was called to serve on a grand jury in Ohio County, and on March 7, 1780, be was ordered, along with John Doldridge, Arthur McConnel, John Huff, and Thomas Uri to settle a dispute between John Carpenter and James Kerr. The latter lived on a farm adjoining that of William Sparks.

The most intriguing reference to William Sparks among these Virginia Court records is that dated March 3, 1777, when it was recorded that Henry Nelson came into Court and complains that William Sparks had in an illegal manner taken away his child and unjustly detains the same without his consent.' William Sparks was then summoned to appear at the next Court to answer this complaint, which he did on April 8, 1777, when it was recorded: 'William Sparks appeared before this court, and having not had an opportunity of convening his evidence ordered that it lay over unto the next Court & that the child continue in the care of William Sparks until that time.' There is no further record of this dispute, so perhaps it was settled out of court, There can be little doubt, however, that this Henry Nelson was the same Henry Nelson who, on February 9, 1773, had been allowed 45 pounds by the Orphans Court of Bedford County, Pennsylvania (which then had jurisdiction under Pennsylvania law over that area which became Washington County), for 'cloathing, educating & maintaining the following children of 59. Charles Sparks, deced.:

For Absolom Sparks for 1 year at £ 3 per annum £ 3-0-0
For Phebe Sparks for 3 years at £ 6 per annum & one quarter schooling £ 18-5-0
For Charles Sparks for 3 years at £ 8 per annum £ 24-0-0
  £ 45-5-0.

Only two other records have been found pertaining to this 59. Charles Sparks, father of 59.1 Absolom Sparks, 59.2 Phebe Sparks, and 59.3 Charles Sparks, Jr. One is a Bedford County Court record dated July 22, 1771, granting letters of administration on the estate of Charles Sparks to Robert Moore. Then, in 1773, Robert Moore was taxed, as administrator of the estate of Charles Sparks consisting of 100 acres of land in Providence Township, Bedford County. (Pennsylvania Archives, 3rd Series, Vol. 22, p. 261). Charles Sparks must have been related to William Sparks and George Sparks, and it may be significant that a Robert Moore was administrator of Charles Sparks's estate while William Sparks had married Martha Moore. (A Robert Moore received a Virginia certificate in 1780 to a tract of land in what is now Robinson Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania.) The child whom Henry Nelson accused William Sparks of taking from him may have been one of these children of Charles Sparks. Both Charles Sparks, Jr., and Absolom Sparks, sons of Charles Sparks, served in the Revolution. Charles Sparks, Jr., served as a Ranger on the Frontier between 1778 and 1783 (Pennsylvania Archives, 3rd Series, Vol. 23, pp. 214 and 218.) Absolom Sparks was a member of Capt. William Scott's company in the 4th Battalion of Washington County Militia and later in Lt. Earned's company. (Pennsylvania Archives, 6th Series, Vol. 2, pp. 158-59 and 242.)

Washington County, Pennsylvania, was created in 1781, having been carved out of Westmoreland County. The first tax list for the new county has been preserved; it is dated 1781 and was published in the Pennsylvania Archives, 3rd Series, Vol. 22. Both William Sparks and George Sparks were taxed in Hopewell Township; William's taxable property consisted of 340 acres of land, 2 horses, 4 cattle, and 8 sheep; while George's consisted of 400 acres, 2 horses, 4 cattle, and 8 sheep. (When Independence Township was cut off from Hopewell Township in 1856, the dividing line separated the land once belonging to George and William Sparks, so that today William's tract is in Independence Township while George's is still in Hopewell Township. For a map showing how Virginia's county divisions compare with Pennsylvania's see the cover of Sparks Quarterly for September, 1954, Whole No. 7, (page 39).

After 1781 it is impossible, with the records which we have been able to gather thus far), to trace William Sparks further. (We have not been able to have a detailed search made of court house records in Washington County.) We know that sometime prior to 1786 the land once owned by William Sparks had passed into the hands of Thomas Bines. The name of William Sparks does not appear on the extant tax lists of Hopewell Township for 1785 or 1793.

A William Sparks was taxed in Fallowrield Township, Washington County, in 1784, but not in 1793;
a William Sparks was taxed in Stabane Township in 1793 but had not been there in 1784.

In both instances this was probably either William Bostwick Sparks, son of George Sparks, or William Sparks, Jr., son of William Sparks.

It seems probable that William Sparks died in the 1780's. Only one William Sparks was listed on the 1790 census of Washington County--this was probably either William Bostwick Sparks or1. William Sparks, Jr. William Sparks, who came to Washington County in 1773, must not be confused with the 7. William Sparks who died in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, in 1788; this latter 7. William Sparks, whose wife's name was Rachel MNU, named the following children in his will:

7.1 Isaac Sparks,
7.2 William Sparks,
7.3 James Sparks,
7.4 Rachel Sparks,
7.5 Margaret Sparks,
7.6 Elizabeth Sparks,
7.7 Sarah Sparks,
7.8 John Sparks, and
7.9 Ann Sparks,

So far as we have been able to learn, William Sparks of Washington County did not leave a will. According to descendants, he and his wife, Martha Moore, had the following children: James Sparks, born in September, 1759, in Maryland. According to descendants, he was 13 or 14 years old when he came with his parents to what is now Independence Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania, in 1773. He was probably the James Sparks who served in the American Revolution as a member of Capt. Zadock Wright's company, 2nd Battalion, Washington County Militia. (See Peima. Archives, 6th Series, Vol. 2, pp. 23, 33, and 61). He was married in Washington County to Margaret Ray, a daughter of Thomas and Margery (Spear) Ray, who had also emigrated from Maryland to Washington County. Margaret Ray was born in May, 1761. James Sparks and his family moved from Pennsylvania to Richland County, Ohio, between 1820 and 1830; he later moved to Clinton County, Indiana, where he died in October, 1855, at the age of 97. James and Margaret (Ray) Sparks were the parents of twelve children born between 1799 and 1815: Marthy Sparks, Margaret Sparks, Sarah Sparks, William Sparks, James Sparks, Margory Sparks, Mary Sparks, Joseph Sparks, Thomas Sparks, Robert Sparks, Allen Sparks, and Elizabeth Sparks. William Sparks, Jr. Richard Sparks. Pernina Sparks. Marjory Sparks. Martha Sparks. Margaret Sparks.

With regard to George Sparks of Washington County, Pennsylvania, our records are much more complete. A number of deeds are recorded in Washington County which pertain to him and his wife, Mary MNU. On October 10, 1798, they deeded 153 acres from the tract called 'Elenoroon' to their son Solomon Sparks (Deed Book 1-0, p. 426). On December 30, 1800, they deeded to their son William Bostwick Sparks 127 acres and 93 perches from the home place called 'Sparta' (Deed Book 1-Q, p. 318). Also on December 30, 1800, Mary Buxton, their daughter, purchased for 50 pounds a small part of 'Elenoroon' containing 5 acres and 57 perches 'in behalf of her daughter, Mary Buxton, jr, Mary Buxton senior retaining unto herself an estate for life in the land conveyed.' (Deed Book l-Q, p. 411). On May 9, 1800, George and Mary Sparks conveyed slightly over 14 acres to their son, William Bostwick Sparks (Deed Book l-Q, p. 566).

On July 9, 1803, George Sparks drew up his will, which reads as follows:

In the Name of God Amen, I, George Sparks of Hopewell township, Washington County and State of Pennsylvania, being weak in body but of a sound and perfect mind and memory Blessed be Almighty God for the same do make and publish this my last will and Testament in Manner and form following (that is to say) First I give and bequeath unto my oldest son Salathial Sparks, one Dollar, I give and bequeath unto my son William Bostwick Sparks, one Dollar. I give and bequeath unto my son Solomon Sparks, on Dollar, and I give and bequeath unto my daughter Mary Buxton, one Dollar, I give and queath unto my beloved wife, Mary Sparks, the Bay Mare and Mare colt with three cows, and ten sheep, a feather bed with all the household furniture together with my other freehold estate whatever to her my said wife during the time of her natural life and at her death I give and bequeath unto my son James Sparks his heirs and assigns forever all my freehold estate containing one hundred thirty seven acres more or less lying and being in the township County and State aforesaid and further it is my will that all movable property that is not mentioned above be sold at publick sale and my debts to be paid out of the monies arising from the Sale thereof, and the overplus (if any) to my said beloved wife Mary Sparks, whom together with my son William Bostwick Sparks, I hereby appoint Executors of this my last will and testament hereby revoking all former wills by me made.

In witness Whereof I have hereunto set my hand and Seal this ninth day of July, in the year of our Lord One thousand eight hundred and three.

[signed] George X Sparks (Seal)

Signed, Sealed published and declared by the above named George Sparks to be his last will and Testament in the presence of us who have hereunto subscribed as witnesses in the presence of the Testator -

[signed] James Heney
John Buchanan
Jacob Walter

On May 23, 1806, John Buchanan and James Heney, two of the witnesses to the above will, appeared before the Register for Probate in Washington County, and swore that they 'were personally present and heard and saw the within named Testator George Sparks sign Seal publish pronounce and declare the within Instrument in writing as and for his last will and Testament, That at the time of the execution thereof he the said Testator was of a sound and disposing Mind Memory and understanding - That they signed their Names thereto as witnesses in the presence of the Testator and at his request and in the presence of each other and that they saw Jacob Walter the absent Witness sign his Name thereto.'

From the above statement, it is apparent that George Sparks died in 1806, probably a few days prior to May 23rd.

George and Mary Sparks were the parents of the following children: Salathiel Sparks, born 1756; he moved to Adams County, Ohio, in 1804 where he died at the town of West Union on July 20, 1823. He married and had children named: Levi Sparks, John Sparks, Delilah Sparks, and George Sparks. William Bostwick Sparks, born ca. 1765. According to census records, he was still a resident of Hopewell Township, Washington County, as late as 1820. He married and had at least three sons and five daughters. Solomon Sparks, born November 15, 1767. Like his brother, Salathiel, he moved to Adams County, Ohio, where he died March 19, 1838, at Winchester. He married Catherine Hillegas; they were the parents of the following children, born between 1793 and 1820: John Sparks, Ezra Sparks, Levi Sparks, Elizabeth Sparks, Solomon Sparks, Catherine Sparks, James Sparks, Mary Sparks, Abner Sparks, George Sparks, Jonathan Boston Sparks, and John Oliver Sparks. Mary Sparks, married Jacob Buxton of Washington County, Pennsylvania. She had at least one daughter, named Mary Buxton. George Sparks, Jr., born in the 1750s; he married Rachel Norris in 1785 and moved to what is now Taylor County, West Virginia, where he died near Proutytown in 1802. He served in the American Revolution and was a prisoner of the British in New York in November, 1782. George and Rachel (Norris) Sparks were the parents of the following children: Solomon Sparks, Polly Sparks, William Sparks, Betty Sparks, George Sparks, and Anna Sparks.

Following the death of George Sparks, Jr., in 1802, his widow Rachel married Thomas Little and had children named Jane Little, Amos Little, and Lydia Little. James Sparks. It is said that he went to Mississippi Territory in an early day.

(Editor's Note: In future issues of the Quarterly we hope to publish records of the descendants of these children of George Sparks and of William Sparks. Miss Gertrude Sparks of 804 E. Lexington Blvd., Eau Claire, Wisconsin, has prepared a splendid record of the descendants of Ezra Sparks, son of Solomon and Catherine (Hillegas) Sparks (see above) which we plan to publish in the next issue of the Quarterly. Our record of the descendants of Salathiel Sparks, son of George and Mary, is rather complete, and we shall publish it in the near future. Mrs. Enos G. Huffer of 1328 Noble Ave., Springfield, Illinois, has been collecting material on the descendants of James Sparks, son of William, for many years and we hope to publish the results of this research also in the near future.

Our records of the other children of William Sparks and of George Sparks, however, are very incomplete. We shall be delighted to receive additional material from any descendant of this family who sees this appeal.)

Page 3249
Whole Number 142


In the Quarterly of June 1963, Whole No. 42 (pp. 728-734), we published an article entitled "George Sparks and William Sparks of Washington County, Pennsylvania." In that article, we indicated that there were family records stating that William Sparks had married Martha Moore, but we had found nothing to give us either the date or the place of this marriage. We are now able to report that a record has been found providing this information. The marriage of William Sparks and Martha Moore is recorded in St. James's Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as having taken place on March 12, 1761.

Further information regarding this family appeared in the Quarterly of March 1984, Whole No. 125, in an article which traced the life and descendants of a son of William and Martha (Moore) Sparks named James Sparks, born ca. 1765. William Sparks was born April 27, 1738, in Queen Annes County, Maryland. He was a son of 1.2.5 Joseph and Mary Sparks. His birth and baptism (on June 4, 1738) were recorded in St. Luke's Parish Church located at Church Hill in Queen Annes County. (See page 1389-1391 of the March 1971 issue of the Quarterly, Whole No. 73, for a list of the Sparks records found among the records of this church; also page 3231 of the present issue of the Quarterly, Whole No. 142 where William Sparks is identified as a grandson of the 1.2 William Sparks who died in 1709 in Queen Annes County, Maryland, item No. 35.) William Sparks's parents moved west to Frederick County, Maryland, where William's father, 1.2.5 Joseph Sparks, died in 1749. William was only nine years old when he lost his father, and we do not know at what age he left Frederick County to move northeast to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but it was sometime before 1761, the year in which he married Martha Moore. The Moore family appears to have lived in Lancaster County for many years.

Martha Moore was a daughter of Alexander Moore who died sometime prior to May 31, 1766, when a deed was prepared settling a portion of his estate.

(See Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Deed Book L, page 224b.) In this deed, three daughters of Alexander Moore were identified: Hannah, who had married Moses Irwin; Agnes, who had married John Dickson and lived in York County, Pennsylvania; and Martha, wife of William Sparks. The widow of Alexander Moore was identified as Margaret Moore. William and Martha (Moore) Sparks were identified as living in Drumore Township in Lancaster County at the time this deed was written (July 12, 1766). Drumore Township is very near the Maryland border of Pennsylvania. Family records indicate that James Sparks, believed to have been their oldest son, was born ca. 1765 in Frederick County, Maryland. Perhaps William Sparks moved his family back to Frederick County before James's birth, or the family record may be mistaken. We do know, however, that in 1773 William Sparks moved his family west by pack-horse, across the Allegheny Mountains, and settled in that area of Pennsylvania that became Washington County in 1781. He acquired 323 acres of land in what is now Independence Township, quite near present-day Ohio County in West Virginia. We believe that William Sparks died there prior to 1786.

Descendants of James Sparks, son of William and Martha (Moore) Sparks, believe that William and Martha had children with the following names: James Sparks, William Sparks, Jr., Richard Sparks, Pernina Sparks, Marjory Sparks, Martha Sparks, and Margaret Sparks.