April 6, 2018

Pages 2202-2204
Whole Number 110


A member of the Association recently sent us a clipping from the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise of August 24, 1978, which contains a reference to a Solomon Sparks. This newspaper account by W. T. Block recounts an old legend that is still repeated along the lower Sabine River separating Louisiana from Texas. We have been able to identify the Solomon Sparks who is mentioned but would welcome help from our members regarding his parentage and descendants.

The legend involves Pavell's Island, which is the delta formed near the mouth of the Sabine where the deep river abruptly divides into its east and west forks. This island marked the journey's end for the Sabine River flatboatmen who, prior to the Civil War, floated their cargoes of cotton to market. This terminus of the cotton trade attracted a German merchant named Augustine Pavell, a native of Prussia, to take up residence on the lonely island and to give it its name. In 1854 he built a store building and a cotton warehouse along with a wharf and there he prospered by buying the cotton from the flatboat trade and storing it until he could transport it to market. Gus Pavell had a wife named Sophie who, according to the legend, was both beautiful and clever in matters of business.

Alone on the island for days, even weeks, at a time, while her husband sailed his schooner between their home and New Orleans buying and selling merchandise, Sophie Pavell was quite able to pages herself. "A buxom female, Sophie often wore a fiber bag, tied at her waist, which usually bared a portion of her yarn and knitting needles, but never the cap and ball Colt upon which they rested."

The Paveil's nearest neighbor was SOLOMON SPARKS who lived a mile upstream, in Jefferson County, Texas. Sparks would play a key role in the discovery that would create the Pavell legend.

While "A. Pavell & Co., Cotton Factors" prospered, with merchandise valued at $10,000 in 1860, Gus Pavell had one great regret: Sophie was apparently barren. As she approached her 35th birthday, knowing her husband's strong desire for an heir, Sophie's hopes to bear a child became increasingly forlorn.

The story goes that one day, upon her husband's return from Orange with some cattle, Sophie joyfully informed him that she was with child. Never doubting her, Gus was delighted. "Time passed, the gold coins clinked on the counter, and Sophie, pregnant with new life and hope, whiled away her days with laughter, planting flowers and knitting tiny garments."

As the 1858 cotton shipping season approached, Gus Pavell was required to sail for Galveston to replenish his stock of merchandise. He proposed closing the store and taking Sophie to a hotel in Sabine Pass while he was gone, but she refused, noting that the baby was not due for two or three months. Upon his return a week later, he was met by a tearful Sophie who led him to a tiny grave. Shortly after he had left, according to her account, she had been frightened by a snake in her kitchen--she had fallen against a table and shortly thereafter, alone on the island, she had given birth to a stillborn daughter. Later she had made a coffin from some cypress boards and buried her infant. Consoling her husband, she assurred him that, having conceived once, she was confident that she could give him another child. Pavell sent away for a tombstone on which was incribed: "In Memory of Our Darling Daughter, Ann Eliza Pavell, Born and Died September 10, 1858."

Sophie never conceived again and in her grief tended the tiny grave site with the same devotion that she would have given a child. In the center of the grave, Sophie placed a bronze urn, "its rim neatly decorated with cherubims." Steamboatmen often saw Sophie placing fresh flowers in the urn.

The Civil War brought a new prosperity to the Pavells. While a Union blockade soon choked off all imports, Gus assumed the role of blockaderunner and, as the war raged, lined his pockets with gold. Sophie continued to tend the grave and to keep fresh flowers in the urn.

Two events drastically changed life for the Pavells in 1865--the surrender of General Lee and the great storm of September 13, 1865 3 which destroyed the city of Orange and pounded their island unmercifully. A month later, they suddenly abandoned their store and moved to Galveston. There they opened a new store and moved into a fine house. In 1867, Gus suddenly died of yellow fever. Sophie inherited most of the wealth she had helped to accumulate and eventually she married a second time. So far as is known, she lived out her life in comfort.

But it was a discovery made by Solomon Sparks that has wrapped the story of the Pavells in mystery. Shortly after their hurried departure. Sparks visited the island with the thought of purchasing it himself. He had heard that Sophie had insisted upon digging up the coffin she had made for her stillborn daughter seven years earlier and taking it to Galveston with their other belongings. Sparks was drawn naturally to the grave site. He was startled to discover that, while the coffin had been exhumed, the little tombstone had been left behind along with the bronze urn. Upon examining the urn, he found that it -was not really an urn at all--it was a two-foot section of bronze pipe, one end of which had apparently extended down to the coffin itself. Noting the square corners of the excavation where the coffin had lain, Sparks's eye was caught by a $20-gold piece that had been left behind. Had the cypress coffin been a box in which to hide the Paveils' mounting treasure rather than a box for a tiny skeleton. And had the hollow pipe been a conduit for gold coins rather than a container for fresh flowers? Solomon Sparks could only speculate, but as he recounted these observations to family and neighbors in the years to come, a legend was created which is still told on dark nights along the lower Sabine River.

Who was this Solomon Sparks? We do not know his parentage, but he married Martha Caroline Smith in Hardeman County, Tennessee, on March 23, 1841. She was born ca. 1819 in South Carolina. Solomon, a native of Tennessee, was also born ca. 1819. Remaining in Tennessee for a few years, Solomon moved his family to Louisiana ca. 1847 where their third child was born. by 1849 they had moved to Texas. When the 1850 census was taken the family was in Jefferson County. There were then four children, Lucy Ann Sparks, born ca. 1842 in Tennessee; John Sparks, born ca. 1844 in Tennessee; James E. Sparks, born ca. 1847 in Louisiana; and Mary Susan Sparks, born ca. 1849 in Texas. Also in the household in 1850, according to the census of that year, was a Jacob Sparks, aged 22 (thus born ca. 1828) and a native of Tennessee. We can speculate that he may have been a brother of Solomon.

Solomon Sparks appears to have lived the rest of his life in Jefferson County, Texas. He apparently died before 1880 for, according to the census of that year, his widow, Caroline (Smith) Sparks, was living with a son in Jefferson County, J. M. Sparks, age 26. (This must have been a different son from the James E. Sparks shown on the 1850 census as born ca. 1847.)

Can anyone tell us more regarding SOLOMON SPARKS and his family?