May 9, 2021

Pages 3232-3233
Whole Number 142


Thanks to a "story" told to her great-grandmother and handed down through the family, Alfa Copeland has been able to extend her knowledge of her SPARKS ancestry quite dramatically. Ms. Copeland, whose address is Route 2, Box 184, China Spring, Texas, 76633, records the "story" just like it was told to her great-grandmother, Amanda Ellen Shaw, by Amanda's uncle, Robert T. Sparks, many years ago.

You [Amanda Ellen] were born in Peoria, Illinois, on July 2, 1865. Your mother was my sister, Amanda Ellen Sparks. She died the day you were born. Your father was John Shaw. He was a riverboat captain of a big boat called the Sultana. It exploded on the Mississippi River while coming back from New Orleans just about three months before you were born. The explosion killed over 1500 people. Your father went down with his boat.

When we found out that my sister had died, Mother sent me to get you, because I was the oldest. You were three weeks old when I first saw you. When I returned with you, I was made your guardian."

Robert Thomas Sparks who told this "story" was only sixteen years old when he made the trip from Indiana (probably Jefferson County) to Peoria, Illinois, to get his weeks-old niece. For this reason, we believe he was not made her guardian until his family moved to Howell County, Missouri, ca. 1866. It was in Howell County that Amanda Ellen Shaw ("Ellie" as she was called) grew to womanhood in the home of her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth (Levi) Sparks.

(Editor's Note: The handed-down story, involving the tragic end of the riverboat, The Sultana, is based upon fact; however, her captain was not John Shaw. Her captain (and part-owner) was Cass Mason who stayed aboard his ill-fated ship helping his passengers to escape. He went down with his ship, and his body was never recovered. The story of this tragic event is told in a book, Transport to Disaster, written by James W. Elliott and published by Holt, Rinehart & Winston Co. in 1902.

(Briefly told, the story of the fate of The Sultana is this: Built to accommodate only 400 passengers, she left Memphis, Tennessee, for St. Louis on April 28, 1865, loaded with nearly 2400 persons. They included nearly 1900 federal soldiers, formerly prisoners-of-war at the infamous Andersonville Prison, who had boarded the boat at Vicksburg, Mississippi. About eight miles north of Memphis, a boiler exploded and set the boat on fire. She burned to the water's edge, and nearly 1600 persons died. Perhaps John Shaw was a member of her crew, or one of the soldiers from the prison.) Amanda Ellen Shaw married Henry Westmoreland in Howell County on February 27, 1883. Her uncle, John Solomon Sparks, gave his consent to the marriage. She and Henry continued to live in Howell County until 1895 when they moved to Denton County, Texas. There they settled near her uncle, Robert Thomas Sparks. He had moved to Denton County shortly after his marriage in Howell County to Amanda Caroline Collins on November 19, 1876.

Ellie and Henry Westmoreland had seven children before his untimely death in September 1900 at Bryan, Oklahoma. Ellie survived him over fifty years, dying at Wilson, Oklahoma, on March 6, 1951. Before her death, she gave a ruby ring, which she had kept for over 85 years, to her great-granddaughter, Alfa Copeland.

The children of Ellie and Henry Westmoreland were: Minnie Harris Westmoreland was born July 5, 1884. She married Duncan T. Fleming on December 24, 1903, in Bryan County, Oklahoma. He was born in 1875 and was a son of John B. and Fereby (Bowdin) Fleming. They were the grandparents of Alfa Copeland. They had seven children: Perl Fleming, Lawrence Fleming, Ocie B. Fleming, S.A. Fleming, J.D. Fleming, Hubert Fleming, and Elsie Fleming. Ida Westmoreland was born in 1887. She died in 1904. Hestor Westmoreland was born in 1889. She died in 1983. Fred Westmoreland was born in 1892. He died in 1922. Tommie Westmoreland was born in 1895. He died in 1913. Charles Westmoreland (twin of Andrew) was born in 1898 and died when quite young. Andrew Westmoreland (twin of Charles) was born in 1898 and died when quite young.

(Editor's Note: This branch of the Sparks family has been the subject of several articles in The Sparks Quarterly, and our readers are referred to them for further details about the family. The issues are:

the March 1963, Whole No. 41;

September 1964, Whole No. 47;

the June 1968, Whole No. 62; and

March 1983, Whole No. 121 and Union Pension application for Elizabeth Levi Sparks.)