March 12, 2021

Pages 1714-1718
Whole Number 89

32.2.6 Benjamin P. Sparks (1798-1882)

For a number of years we have been attempting to identify the parents of 32.2.6 Benjamin P. Sparks who was born in Pennsylvania on June 27, 1798, and died on July 29, 1882. He was buried near his home in the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery at Raymilton, Pennsylvania, near the county line separating Venango and Mercer Counties.

A granddaughter of 32.2.6 Benjamin P. Sparks, Rose Sparks McKean of Sayre, Pennsylvania, who is now 80 years old, remembers her father (32.6.4 Trafford William Sparks) telling only a few things about his father, Benjamin P. Sparks. One of these bits of information was that Benjamin's father died either a short time before or shortly after he, Benjamin, was born. She believes that there was an older brother, or uncle, named Richard Sparks and a sister named Addie. She also remembers a story that Benjamin was bitter toward his family because he had not received a proper share of his father's property. When Benjamin was old enough, as the story goes, he left home never to return. He told his children little more than that he was a native of Pennsylvania. He was a traveling tailor and worked in Virginia as well as Pennsylvania.

Another descendant of Benjamin P. Sparks, Calvin C. Sparks, has provided valuable information regarding this branch of the Sparks family.

When the 1830 census of Mercer County, Pennsylvania, was taken, Benjamin P. Sparks was listed as living by himself in French Creek Township.

We believe Benjamin Sparks married Phoebia (or Phebe) J. Corey ca. 1839. According to The Cory Family by Harry Harmon Cory (Minneapolis, The Argus Publishing Company, 194.7, page 93, Phoebia J. Corey was born April 4, 1821; she was a daughter of Benijah Cory and Deborah Talford Williams, who were married on February 20, 1799.

Benijah Cory was born October 4, 1778, and died on March 4, 1870; Deborah, his wife, was born September 10, 1780, and died on August 25, 1872. Two of their sons changed the spelling of their name from Cory to Corey "for good luck" and apparently Phoebia spelled the name as Corey also.

When the 1840 census was taken, Benjamin P. Sparks was living in French Creek Township, Venango County. by 1850, he and his family had moved to Mahoning Township, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, where he was listed on the census of that year as a Laborer, born in Pennsylvania.

From a record that Phoebia (or Phebe) J. (Corey) Sparks made in 1884 to support her claim to a Civil War pension based on the service of her son, we know the dates of birth of the children of Benjamin P. and Phoebia (Corey) Sparks. They were as follows: Permelia Sparks, born June 22, 1840. She married Samuel C. Niece. They were listed on the 1880 census as living in Sandy Lake Borough, Mercer County, Pennsylvania; he was described as a wagon maker, aged 40. Permelia was called "Amelia" on this census. Their children, as named on the 1880 census, were named: Nettie Niece, William Niece, Maud Niece, Fred Niece, Jennie Niece, and Nellie Niece.

According to Calvin C. Sparks's records, Permelia died in 1898 or 1899 at Sandy Lake. Euphemia Sparks, born June 22, 1840 (twin of Permelia). She married Abram Hart. When the 1880 census of Mercer County, Pennsylvania, was taken, they were living in Worth Township; he was a farmer, aged 40. Their children, as named on the 1880 census, were: James A. Hart, William T. Hart, Benjamin E. Hart, Jennie May Hart, Howard B. Hart, and Lewis H. Hart. John Pierce Sparks, born October 22, 1842. He died as a Union soldier in the Civil War on July 3, 1864. (See below.) Trafford William Sparks, born June 24, 1844. (See below.) James H. Sparks, born September 24, 1846, died November 25, 1850. Moses Corey Sparks, born November 23, 1848. Mrs. McKean reports that he moved to Round Up, Montana, in 1903 or 1904 and was still living there in 1926. She believes that he had no children. According to Calvin C. Sparks, relatives have reported that he settled at one time in Elgin, Kane County, Illinois, and that he was a watch maker. Lewis B. Sparks, born February 17, 1851. Mrs. McKean reports that he was murdered in April 1903 in Sistersville, West Virginia, and that his murderer was sentenced to prison. He married Nellie MNU. Mrs. McKean believes there were no children. William P. Sparks, born August 15, 1853; died May 28, 1854. Pereilla (or Priscilla) J. Sparks, born August 3, 1855; died November 3, 1856. Elizabeth M. Sparks, born November 2, 1857. She married Frank A. Rathburn. Mrs. McKean reports that they lived in Sheffield, Pennsylvania, and had daughters named Mable Rathburn and Beulah Rathburn. She died ca. 1933. Charles B. Sparks, born July 26, 1860. Mrs. McKean reports that he married Alice Lockwood and moved ca. 1904 to Lawler, Minnesota to work as a telegraph operator. They had eleven children. Ellen N. Sparks, born May 23, 1862; she married Logan Mark. Mrs. McKean reports that his nickname was "Dan" and she believed his name was Mook. They lived at Erie, Pennsylvania.

We have this complete list of the names and dates of birth of the children of Benjamin P. and Phoebia J. (Corey) Sparks as a result of the fact that on June 25, 1880, Phoebia applied for a pension on the basis of her son, John Pierce Sparks, having died in service during the Civil War. In her application (filed at the National Archives as Certificate Number 212,647), she stated that her son, John P. Sparks, had enlisted in the Union Army on February 27, 1864, at Meadeville, Pennsylvania, in Company G and was later transferred to Company H of the 100th Regiment of Pennsylvania Infantry Volunteers. She stated that he had died at Petersburg, Virginia, while in the service of the United States "from erysepelos contracted in the army and lived only a few days after the attack."

He died on July 4, 1864. She stated that her son left neither wife nor children and that she had been "almost entirely dependent upon said son for support," because "her husband, the aforesaid Benjamin Sparks, aged 81 years and nine months, is and has been since the date of her son's death, unable to support her by reasons of old age and sciatica and general debility." She gave her residence as Raymilton, Mineral Township, Venango County, Pennsylvania. She stated that prior to his death, her son John had supported the family, but that after his death she had supported herself and family through "her own industry"- - that "she kept a boarding house, worked on the farm, helped to make hay, worked in the garden, raised turkeys, chickens, and other poultry to sell, made butter for sale, raised and sold calves and sheep, and her children all helped her when they were at home."

In support of her application for a pension, a number of people made affidavits in an attempt to assist her. On November 22, 1884, her son-in-law, Samuel C. Niece, wrote that he had known Benjamin and Phoebia (he called her Phebe) Sparks since 1862, adding: "In 1864 the son told me he was about to buy 40 acres of land in Mineral Twp. for a house for his parents, he afterwards bought the same lands and his parents built a small house on it since their son's death. Benjamin Sparks died July 29, 1882. He was always a weak and decrepid man and unable to work, except for light chores."

Another son-in-law, Abram Hart, made an affidavit on May 24, 1884, stating that he had lived near the family for the last 20 years. "I knew the son John Sparks. He worked out for the neighbors and helped support his parents, he was a hard working boy and kind to his parents. I was in same company with him; he told me that he had sent part of his bounty home to his parents. Benjamin P. Sparks was very feeble. The 40 acres of land on which they lived was left to the mother of the son, John P. Sparks; he paid, I think $250 for the land; it is a poor farm, stony and only about 12 acres cleared. John P. Sparks was a strong able bodied man prior to enlistment. He died unmarried and without children."

Phoebia (or Phebe) Sparks's application was finally approved in March 1885 and she was granted a pension of $8.00 per month retroactive to 1864. This was later increased to $12.00 per month and continued to be paid until her death on July 1, 1902.

As part of her attempt to obtain a pension by proving that her son, John P. Sparks, had been her chief means of support prior to his death in the Army, Phoebia Sparks sent along the last letter that she had received from him. It has, of course, been preserved in her pension file at the National Archives. It reads as follows:

Camp Near Annapolis Maryland. April 3d., 1864.

Dear father and mother:

I take the present opertunity of addressing to you a few lines to let you know that I am well at present and I hope that this bit of lead as it is all that I can get to write with will find you all in good helth it began to rain the day before yesterday and rained all day yesterday and has this morning let in for a wet day but still it is not muddy the soil is sandy and the rain runs in the ground whe have good tents but no stoves in them; they are a little damp we are now in Maryland and I expect that we will stay here for some time I have written several letters and have received no letters from you I want you to write and tell me where Will is I heard that he was a going to enlist and I wouldnt have him come here for a good deal he had better stay there where he can rove over the entry and be his own man wages will be very high and he can make more there than he can here I want you to write and tell me how you all are I am sorry that I cant be with you but my affections is whe must not forget that providence has a protecting hand my prayer is that we may once again meet. We all oght to live so that if we doant on earth that we will met where parting is no more where the sorrows of the world is all forgotten when I left Greenvild we went down to Books and I stayed there over night and started to Newcastle the morning it being Wednesday I soon got to Newcastle   I found out where William Sankey lived but I hadent time to go and see them   I got in the cars at 1 oclock and found Myself in Pitts at 4 oclock   I had to hurry over to the Connelsville railroad depot. I just got there in time to jump in the cars as the whistle blew for them to start an hour after and I was in camp Copland   I found that the regiment had left for Annapolis Maryland I saw an officer of the 100 refit and he sent me on to the regment the next day   I started at 3 oclock   I rode all night in the cars and found myself in harrisburgh at 9 oclock a Saturday   I got my breakfast at the soldiers rest   I liked harresburgh very well   we stayed there till 1 oclock and then we march across two large rivers to another depot where we took the cars for baltimore and got there at daylight Saboth   stayed there till we got our grub and then we started for the regt.   I stayed all night at the [several words illegible]... running trains for camps and was soon there where I have been ever since enjoying myself as best I could

John P. Sparks C Co., H 100 regt. Annapolis Maryland.
C Co. G. 100 refit., Pvt. Annapolis Md.
forward to regiment.

According to Calvin C. Sparks, Trafford William Sparks, brother of John P. Sparks, was often called William Trafford Sparks after their brother, William P. Sparks, died in 1854. Without doubt, the "Will" to whom John P. Sparks referred in the above letter was his brother, Trafford William Sparks. Trafford William Sparks was born June 24, 1844, at Edinburg, Pennsylvania, and died on August 15, 1924, at Eagle Rock, Pennsylvania. He was married twice. He married (first) Mary E. Henderson who died on February 8, 1870. They had two children who remained with their maternal grandmother after their mother's death. These two children of Trafford William and Mary E. (Henderson) Sparks were: Frances Sparks, born 1862. William Alver Sparks, born August 31, 1869, at Rouseville, PA. He married Florence Snider in 1893.

Trafford William Sparks married (second) Miranda Luella Crooks on January 20, 1876. She died in May 1933. They were the parents of the following children: Amberetta May Sparks, born September 16, 1877 (or 1878); she died March 25, 1841. Elmer A. Sparks, born June 24 (or 25), 1879; he died in Pithole, PA. James Storey Sparks, born May 4, 1882; he died at Eagle Rock, PA. Louis E. Sparks, born April 4, 1884; he died July 29, 1913, at Eagle Rock, PA. Harry B. Sparks, born April 16, 1886. Emmett J. Sparks, born March 15, 1888 (or 1889). Carl H. Sparks, born September 16, 1891; he died at Titusville, PA. Rose Cornelia Sparks, born April 24, 1895.

In attempting to identify the parents of Benjamin P. Sparks, we have been confused by the listing of him and his family on the 1880 census of Mineral Township, Venango County, Pennsylvania. He was listed as a farmer, 80 years old, born in Pennsylvania. One of the questions asked for the 1880 census was the place of birth (but not the names) of each individual's parents. According to this record, the mother and father of Benjamin P. Sparks were both born in Ireland. It is this editor's belief, however, that this information was recorded by the census taker in 1880 by mistake. Some member of the family, rather than Benjamin Sparks himself, probably supplied the information to the census taker. It is also possible, of course, that if the tradition is correct that Benjamin avoided talking about his family, he could have said that his parents came from Ireland deliberately to mislead people.

There are a number of clues that point to Benjamin P. Sparks being a son of the Benjamin Sparks who died in 1801 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. In his will, dated July 26, 1801, Benjamin Sparks of Elizabeth Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, mentioned "my third son Benjamin Sparks." We do not know the date of this son's birth, but we believe that he was very young when his father died. He may have reached his majority in 1817 when the property was divided. He was then (1817) a resident of Allegheny County, but we have no later record of him.

As was noted in the article on Col. 32.3 Richard Sparks in the September 1974 issue of the Quarterly, the 32.2 Benjamin Sparks who died in 1801 and Col. Richard Sparks were brothers and had land dealings in Allegheny County. There were family difficulties involving this land in which Col. Richard Sparks's son-in-law played a role. Mrs. McKean recalls her father saying that his father (Benjamin P. Sparks) had spoken of "the hard feelings concerning Richard Sparks." Mrs. McKean also remembers her father talking about the Wall family; Col. Richard Sparks's son-in-law was Garret Wall.

Should anyone reading this article have further information regarding this branch of the Sparks family, please write to the editor, Russell E. Bidlack, 1709 Cherokee Rd., Ann Arbor, Michigan (48104).