March 9, 2021

Pages 1440-1446
Whole Number 76

32. RICHARD SPARKS (born ca. 1725, died ca. 1792)

by Russell E. Bidlack

For many years the writer of this sketch has been searching for information on a 32. Richard Sparks who was born sometime prior to 1730, ca. 1725, and who lived in Middlesex County, New Jersey, as a young man. Between 1760 and 1770, he moved to what is now Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, where he died between 1790 and 1800, probably in 1792. He is believed to have had five sons:

32.1 James Sparks, born in the early 1750's; a pioneer in Kentucky.
32.2 Benjamin Sparks, born in 1754; he remained in Pennsylvania.
32.3 Richard Sparks, Jr., born ca. 1757; he was stolen by the Shawnee Indians when he was a small child and he was reared as an Indian; he eventually rose to the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army.
32.4 Walter Sparks, born 1760; died in 1827; a pioneer in Kentucky. He married Phoebe MNU and
32.5 Daniel Sparks, born in 1763; a pioneer in Kentucky.

Our earliest official record found thus far pertaining to Richard Sparks is dated 1750. On September 3 of that year, he signed as a witness to the Will of William Story, who was a resident of the town of New Brunswick in Middlesex County, New Jersey. (William Story described himself as "yeoman" in his will.) There were two other witnesses: Stephen Warne and Walter Wall. (See the published New Jersey Archives, Vol. 32, p. 312.) The Warne family and the Wall family continued to be associated with the Sparks family and doubtless lived near the Richard Sparks family in New Jersey prior to the time that all three families moved to Pennsylvania.

Six months after he witnessed the will of William Story, Richard Sparks witnessed the will of James Wall, who was also a resident of Middlesex County, New Jersey. This document is dated March 13, 1750/51. Again, Stephen Warne was a witness, along with John Bazley. (New Jersey Archives, Vol. 32, p. 345.)

In order to qualify as a witness to a last will and testament, Richard Sparks must have been at least 21 years of age in 1750. Therefore, he could have been born no later than 1729. In all probability he was connected with the Sparks family of Salem County, New Jersey, where the name Richard Sparks also appears. (See notes on a Richard Sparks of Salem County which follow this sketch.)

On February 2, 1752, Benjamin Applegate, a resident of Nottingham Township, Burlington County, New Jersey (which adjoins Middlesex County), made his will and named Richard Sparks and Walter Ward as his executors. (New Jersey Archives, Vol. 32, p. 14.) Because the Sparks family and the Applegate family were closely associated in later years, there is a strong possibility that Benjamin Applegate and Richard Sparks were somehow related. (Relatives were usually named as executors when men made their wills in Colonial times.) Benjamin Applegate had married Elizabeth Parent in Middlesex County, New Jersey, on July 18, 1729; they were the parents of the following children:

Thomas Applegate,
Benjamin Applegate,
William Applegate,
Richard Applegate,
Daniel Applegate,
Johannah Applegate, who married 32. Richard Sparks
Alse Applegate, and
Jemima Applegate.

Benjamin Applegate died prior to May 16, 1753, on which date Richard Sparks and Walter Ward appeared in Court at Burlington to accept the task of administering the estate.

Our last reference to Richard Sparks in New Jersey is his subscription of three pounds on February 6, 1758, toward the building of the parsonage of the Presbyterian Church in the village of Cranbury in Middlesex County. (This document is preserved in the First Presbyterian Church on King George's Road, Cranbury, New Jersey.) 32.1 James Sparks, eldest son of 32. Richard Sparks, who was born in the early 1750's, stated in his application for a Revolutionary War pension in 1832 that he had been born near the village of Cranbury, although the clerk mistakingly spelled it "Brandberry." (See the Quarterly of September 1954, Whole No. 7)  It would appear that Richard Sparks was a member of the Cranbury Presbyterian Church. Unfortunately, very few early records of this church survive - - it was frequently without a minister during the 18th century and the records were largely lost.

The exact whereabouts of Richard Sparks and his family between 1758, our last reference to him in New Jersey, and 1773, our first written reference to him in Pennsylvania, is something of a mystery, We do know, however, that early in the 1760's the family was living somewhere on the western frontier in an area frequented by the Shawnee Indians, for it was there that a very young son named 32.3 Richard Sparks, Jr., was stolen by the Shawnee Indians between 1763 and 1765. He was held captive by the Indians, having been adopted into the family of Chief Pukeesheno, father of the famous Tecumseh, until the Shawnees were defeated in October 1774 at the Battle of Point Pleasant, after which they were forced to give up their white captives. (A biographical sketch of Richard Sparks, Jr., whom the Indians called "Shantunte", will appear in a later issue of the Quarterly.) Point Pleasant is located in what is now West Virginia, where the Kanawha River flows into the Ohio River. Word quickly spread following the Battle of Point Pleasant that the Shawneas had agreed to give up their white captives, and families who had lost relatives to the Indians journeyed from all directions to Point Pleasant hoping that their loved ones might be found among the prisoners. Years later, Richard Sparks, Jr., recalled that his father and mother had come to look for him, but that he had no memory of them. His mother recognized him by a small birthmark. An historian named Lyman C. Draper interviewed the brother-in-law of Richard Sparks, Jr., in 1844 and left rather complete notes of that interview. This brother-in-law was Colonel G. W. Sevier. who stated that Sparks had told him he was 13 or 14 years old at the time, that he "hid himself - - didn 't want to leave the Indians - - had lived with them so long, had entirely forgotten his own language - - was returned to his friends; & when returned, seeing his mother & sisters weeping - - no doubt from his Indian look & talk - - he thought he was to he burned - - for he had often observed the squaws cry when some white prisoner was about to be committed to the stake."

Richard Sparks, Jr., retained many of his Indian habits for the remainder of his life, even though he eventually rose to the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army. After his parents had succeeded in civilizing him to a degree, he became a scout for the American Army during the Revolution. He has been the subject of a number of historical studies, but no one can be positive regarding where his family was living when the Indians kidnapped him. According to Draper's notes from his interview with Col. Sevier in 1844, young Sparks was three or four years old and "while out at play, a party of Shawnees took him prisoner." An army officer named James Magoff in, who had once acted as his secretary, stated in a letter dated November 5, 1852, that Col. Sparks had told him he had been captured "by the savages, when a child, near Wheeling, on the Ohio," (Letter from Magoffin to Henry R. Schoolcraft, November 5, 1852, published in Schoolcraft's Information Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, Part IV, Philadelphia, 1854, pp. 629-632.)  From Draper's notes of his interview with Col. Sevier, it appears that Sevier was uncertain where Sparks was captured, but Draper added at the end of his notes: "Col. Geo. Wilson thinks Col. Sparks was captured near Pittsburg, when 4 or 5 years old - - kept till 17 or 18. A Cherokee was taken & burned & the Squaws cried." (The famous Draper manuscripts are preserved in the library of the Wisconsin Historical Society; the notes taken during his interview with Col. Sevier are filed in a section labeled "30-S.)

Of the two locations suggested as the spot where little Richard Sparks was stolen, that of the Pittsburg area seems the more probable.

In the later 1760's, a number of New Jersey families settled in the area between the Youghiogheny River and the Monongahela Rivers, often called "the Forks of the Yough," in what is now western Pennsylvania. Members of the Applegate family and the Wall family visited the area in 1766 and their glowing descriptions attracted so many of their New Jersey neighbors that the settlement became known as the "Jersey Settlement." It comprised what is now Forward and Elizabeth Townships in Allegheny County.  Perhaps Richard Sparks had first settled at Pittsburgh, then later joined his old neighbors on "the Forks of the Yough." His farm was located in about the center of present-day Forward Township, which is located in the southwest corner of Allegheny County, across the Monongahela River from Union Township in Washington County. Point Pleasant, where the Shawnees released their prisoners in 1774, is located about 100 miles from where Richard Sparks lived at the time.

The "Forks of the Yough" was the wild west of the 1760's and 1770's. Surrounded by hostile Indians, the white settlers ventured there at the peril of their lives. Furtheremore, the area was claimed by both Pennsylvania and Virginia, a dispute that was not finally settled until 1785, although a tentative agreement that it belonged to Pennsylvania was reached in 1780. It was not until 1786 that Richard Sparks obtained from Pennsylvania a clear title to his tract of land comprising 308 acres. (For a full account of the rival claims of Virginia and Pennsylvania to the area, see the article entitled "Virginia Claims in Southwest Pennsylvania" by William Perry Johnson in the Quarterly of June 1963, Whole No. 42, pp. 735-37.)

Few records survive relating to the early years of the "Jersey Settlement at the Forks of the Yough." Record keeping on the frontier was always meager, and for this settlement there was the added problem that the area was claimed by both Virginia and Pennsylvania. In 1775, Virginia created the District of West Augusta, which included what is now much of western Pennsylvania as well as much of the present state of West Virginia. In December 1776, this District of West Augusta was divided into three counties, Yohogania, Ohio, and Monongalia. Yohogania County comprised what is now a portion of Washington County, as well as Allegheny, Westmoreland, Fayette, and Greene Counties in Pennsylvania. Fortunately, the "Minute Book" for the court oi' Yohogania County has been preserved (1776-1780) in which there are a number of references to Richard Sparks and his Sons.

Pennsylvania likewise organized this area into a county called Bedford, with the Jersey Settlement included in Rostraver Township. Richard Sparks was listed by Pennsylvania as a taxpayer in Rostraver Township in 1773. His tax was four shillings. That same year, Bedford County was divided to create Westmoreland County, of which Rostraver Township became a part.

The "Minute Book" of the Virginia Court held for Yohogania County, Virginia, for the period from 1776 to 1780 has survived and has been published. (See Records of the District of West Augusta, Ohio County, and Yohogania County, Virginia, Ohio State University Printing Dept., Columbus, 1970; published earlier, in 1902, in Vol. 1 of Annals of the Carnegie Museum.) The first mention of Richard Sparks in this "Minute Book" is found on page 55: on August 24, 1778, Richard Sparks, Andrew Pearce, Richard Johnson, and James Wall were ordered to 'appraise the Estate of Samuel Ketchum, decd, and make return to next court." Elizabeth Ketchum, widow of Samuel, and William Ketchuin, his brother, were appointed administrators of the estate. It was noted at a meeting of the court on October 26, 1778, that the inventory had been completed. (p.81). It is interesting the Daniel Sparks, son of Richard, named his eldest son, born in 1786, Samuel Ketchum Sparks. There was probably a connection between the Sparks and the Ketchum families.

On April 27, 1779, the Yohogania County Court recorded: "On the Petn. of Andrew Heath and others, Orded that Thos. Applegate, Richd. Sparkes, Jas. & Walter Wall or any three of them do view a Road from Wm. Andersons to Thos. Applegates and make retn. to next Court." During the same session of the court, it was also "Ordered that Richd. Sparks, Jas. Wall & Walter Wall & Andrew Fearse, Jr., do view a Road from the new store on Monongehala to the dividing Ridge Road near Jas. Wilsons & leading to Colo. Cooks." (p. 159) At the next court on May 24, 1779, the report of these road viewers was accepted: "Thomas Applegate is appointed overseer of sd. Road and [it is ordered] that the Titahables within three miles do cut open and keep sd. Road in repair." (p. 172)

At this same meeting of the Yohogania Court on April 27, 1779, a man named James Gray was summoned for operating an unauthorized ferry across the Monongahela River. Among those listed as having paid him an illegal charge was Richard Sparks who had been ferried across with one horse. (p. 169) When the court met on December 27, 1779, it was "Ordered that James Wall, Walter Wall, Richd. Sparks & Andrew Pearce, Jr., do Review a road the nearest and best from the New Store on the Monaungohela River into the road near Andrew Dye 's, and make return of the Conveniency and Inconveniences to next Ct." (p. 238)

by 1783, the Jersey Settlement had become, under Pennsylvania law, a part of Rostraver Township in Westmoreland County. The tax list for that year for Westmoreland County has survived and was published in the Pennsylvania Archives (3rd Series, Vol. 22). Three members of the Sparks family were taxed that year, as follows: (p. 379)

32.3(?) Richard Sparks, 170 acres, 2 horses, 4 cattle, 8 sheep, 4 white inhabitants
32.2 Benjamin Sparks, 200 acres, 2 horses, 2 cattle, 2 sheep, 4 white inhabitants
32.4 Walter Sparks, 150 acres, 1 horse, 1 cow, 3 sheep, 4 white inhabitants

We cannot be sure whether the Richard Sparks listed on this tax record of 1783 was the father or the son by that name. The son 32.3 Richard had been married the year before (1782) to Frances Nash, daughter of Thomas Nash, but it is doubtful that he had a home of his own in 1783. Both Benjamin Sparks and Walter Sparks named on this 1783 tax list were sons of the elder Richard Sparks.

The 1786 tax list for Rostraver Township, Westmoreland County, has also been preserved and was published in the Pennsylvania Archives (3rd Series, Vol. 22). Richard Sparks was taxed in the amount of 4 shillings and Benjamin for 3 shillings, 4 pence. Walter Sparks was not listed, having apparently moved to Kentucky by 1786.

As counties in western Pennsylvania were divided in subsequent years, Rostraver Township, which had become part of Westmoreland County in 1773 when it was cut off from Bedford County, became part of Allegheny County in 1788. The area known as the old Jersey Settlement formed two townships in the new county of Allegheny in 1788, that of Forward and Elizabeth.

A map was drawn many years ago by a surveyor showing the original land grants of Elizabeth Township, Allegheny County, which had been made in 1785 and 1786 following the settlement of the disputed authority of Virginia and Pennsylvania. The land owned by Richard Sparks is shown as consisting of 308 acres. The warrant was dated July 10, 1786, and the survey was made on May 15, 1878. Without doubt, Richard Sparks and his family had lived on that land for many years prior to 1786, but only with the settlement between the two states could he obtain a clear title. It appears from this map that by the 1830's, the land once owned by Richard Sparks had come into the possession of Hezekiah Douthitt, Brisbin Wall, and Isaac Prangbourn. A careful search of the recorded deeds of Allegheny County would probably reveal much more than we know at present. From this map, it appears that the men who obtained tracts of land in 1785 and 1786 adjoining that of Richard Sparks were Daniel Applegate, Samuel Applegate, James Wall, Benjamin Applegate, James Dean, and Andrew Pearce. Other near neighbors were Joseph Beckett, John Imbly, Joseph Liming, Daniel Thompson, Alexander Craig, John McClure, William Fleming, and Robert Craighead.

When the first federal census was taken in 1790, Richard Sparks was listed as well as two of his sons, Richard Sparks, Jr., and Benjamin Sparks. His other sons (James, Walter, and Daniel) had gone to Kentucky by that time. These three families were listed as follows in 1790:

32. Richard Sparks:

1 free white male over 16 (himself)
0 free white males under 16
4 females (all ages)

32.3 Richard Sparks:

2 free white males over 16 (one being himself)
0 free white males under 16
5 females (all ages)

32.2 Benjamin Sparks:

1 free white male over 16 (himself)
3 free white males under 16
2 females (all ages)

Unfortunately, the census taker did not distinguish which Richard Sparks was senior and which was junior.

Close neighbors of the Sparks family in 1790, judging from the order in which the names were listed by the census taker, were James Wall, Cornelius Quick, Moses Quick, John Wright, Frederick Brown, Andrew Pearce, Obediah Robins, Benjamin Fauster, William Taylor, Samuel Lemon, Thomas story, William Ketchum, and a number of men named Applegate.

Only one Richard Sparks was listed on the tax list of 1791 for Elizabeth Township. (Pennsylvania Archives, 3rd Series, Vol. 22, p. 663) His tax was 9 shillings and one pence; the tax of Benjamin Sparks that year was 4 shillings and 2 pence.

We have no record of the elder Richard Sparks after 1791; there is strong reason to believe that he died in 1791 or 1792. On April 2, 1792, 32.3 Richard Sparks, Jr., and his brother, 32.2 Benjamin Sparks, sold a tract of land to Hezekiah Douthitt (spelled Dowthwitt in the deed.) Nothing is said in the deed regarding the manner in which they had acquired this tract, but it seems probable that they had inherited it from their father. This is the tract that is shown on the survey map mentioned earlier as having been part of the original grant to Richard Sparks, Sr. The three Sparks brothers who had gone to Kentucky about a decade earlier, probably played no part in the settlement of their father's estate, although their rightful claim for a share may have prevented Richard and Benjamin Sparks from providing a proper deed for Hezekiah Douthitt. The sale of this tract is recorded in Allegheny County Deed Book C, page 3, and reads as follows:

Know all men by these presents that we Benjamin Sparks and Richard Sparks, both of Elizabeth Township of the one part, and Hezh. Dowthwitt of the same County and Township of the other part, Witnesseth that we have sold, bargained, released and confirmed, a certain parcel of land being situate as follows, viz. - - Beginning at the Mouth of Lick Run and runing a strait line up said run till it strikes Richard Sparks line, and then along said line till strikes Sam'l. Applegates line; from thence till it strikes Elijah Harts line; thence up Daniel Applegates line to the place of beginning. For and in consideration of one hundred pounds lawful money of the State of Pennsylvania and the above mentioned Benjn Sparks and Richard Sparks, doth obligate themselves to give said Hezh. Dowthwitt a deed of conveyance as soon as they obtain the real deed for said land and moreover we obligate ourselves to obtain the aforesaid deed. In witness whereof we have signed our hands and affixed our seals this second day of April one thousand seven hundred and ninety-two.

                Witnesses  Samuel Applegate                        Signed Benjamin Sparks (seal)
                                     Ezra Brant                                                     Richard Sparks (seal)

Allegheny County, Came before me the subscriber one of the Justices of the Peace for said County afforesaid, Benjamin Sparks and Richard Sparks the within mentioned grantors and aclaiowledged the within Instrument of wrighting to be their act and deed and desired the same to be recorded as such for the purpose therein mentioned. Witness my hand and seal this 18th day of May 1792.

                                                                                              Signed  Joseph Beckett (seal)

The will of Garret Wall, who married 32.3.1 Mary Sparks, eldest daughter of 32.3 Richard Sparks, Jr., adds another bit of information regarding the elder Richard Sparks. At the end of his will, dated May 29, 1846, Garret Wall explained his ownership of a tract of land that had once been the property of Richard Sparks, Jr. Garret Wall explained that shortly after he had married Mary Sparks on February 16, 1800, his father-in-law, Richard Sparks, Jr., had promised to give him a tract of land if he would take care of his other children. (Frances Nash Sparks, wife of Richard Sparks, Jr., had died in 1794) and, according to Garret Wall's statement, had left six children "who were bileted amongst their friends in this neighborhood after their mother's death until I married his eldest daughter." Wall stated that he had then taken his father-in-law's children (his wife's sisters and brother) into his home and had even paid some of his father-in-law's debts in Pittsburgh in exchange for this land. He complained that Richard Sparks, Jr., had never provided him with a proper deed for the land. He was fearful, even as late as 1846 when he made his will, that the heirs of the other children of Richard Sparks, Jr., or even the heirs of Richard's brothers, might try to claim this land. The significance of Wall's statement here is the following: "... he [Richard Sparks, Jr.] considered the land, altho poor, and with the incumbrance of his Stepmother's dower wright, to be worth five hundred dollars. . ." Later in his statement, Wall added: "... Forty six years ago [1800] this land was thought but of little value, there was, when I came to it, but thirty four acres cleared, besides some eight or ten acres in possession of Grandmother Sparks, the thirty four acres had been in the hands of tenants for some thirteen years, was much wasted, bore little else than peneroyel, and in a manner destitute of fences. . .'

Although Garret Wall complained that his father-in-law had never given him a proper deed to his farm, a power-of-attorney is on record in Allegheny County dated July 6, 1801, in which Richard Sparks, Jr., appointed Joseph Beckett, a justice of the peace in Allegheny County, to "execute a good firm Warrantee deed to my old farm or plantation situate in the Township aforesaid lately in the Tenure of Ezra Brant, Joining lands with Garret Applegate and others, to Confirm it over to rry Son in law Garret Wall and Marey his wife." It is interesting to note that Ezra Brant is here identified as the tenant to whom Garret Wall had referred. It was this same Ezra Brant who signed as a witness the agreement of sale by Benjamin and Richard Sparks, Jr., to Hezekiah Douthitt.

In this same power-of-attorney, Richard Sparks, Jr., directed Joseph Beckett to "execute a good Warrantee deed to Hezekia Doughet for the tract of Land Said Douthet now lives on agreeable to a article I signed for that purpose." This is in reference to the sale of land recorded earlier on page 1444-45.

Further evidence that the land which Richard Sparks, Jr., was here concerned with was being claimed by Richard and Benjamin as their inheritance from their father is found in the following instructions to Beckett in this same power of attorney:

"... and my said attorney to grant Bargain and Sell all my part portion and share of the grist Mill Built in partnership with Joseph Applegate in the County and Township afforesaid, Together with my part of the lot of Land it is situaged on Containing about Twenty Acres to Such person or persons for such price or prices as he shall think proper..." It seems probable that the grist mill referred to here had been built by the elder Richard Sparks in partnership with Joseph Applegate.

The "Grandmother Sparks" referred to by Wall, whom he also called his father-in law's "Stepmother," was obviously the second wife of the elder Richard Sparks. She was still living in 1800, according to Wall's statement. Doubtless, she was the Sarah Sparks who was listed on the 1800 census as living in Elizabeth Township, Allegheny County. Benjamin Sparks was living nearby. There were no males living in the household of Sarah Sparks, but there were three females. She, herself, was doubtless the female aged over 45; there was also a female in her household aged between 16 and 26, and another aged between 10 and 16.

As mentioned earlier, we have been able to identify five sons of the elder Richard Sparks: James, Benjamin, Richard, Walter, and Daniel. There must also have been daughters, but we have no record of their names. A sketch of each of these five sons, with a record of their descendants, is planned for future issues of the Quarterly. We are sure that in the land and court records of Middlesex County, New Jersey, and Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, additional references to the elder Richard Sparks will be found. If any reader has additional information on this branch of the Sparks family, the present writer will be delighted to correspond with him or her.