February 18, 2004

Pages 3651
Whole Number 151


A member of our Association commented recently that as he reads The Sparks Quarterly, he tries to imagine what life was like in early America. To your editor, one of the aspects of life in Colonial America, particularly in Puritan New England, which he finds difficult to fathom was the severe punishment meeted out by the courts to women, and sometimes to men, who had children out of wedlock. The woman found guilty of this conduct could not, of course, escape notice, as was true of Hester in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. The father of the illegitimate child, however, was punished only if the unwed mother identified him.

In Suffolk County, Massachusetts, in which the city of Boston is located, there lived in 1674 a young woman named Margery Sparkes. She was an indentured servant and was bound to a man named Thomas Walker. He had probably paid for her passage from the British Isles. For such payment, the immigrant was usually required to labor for seven years. The court records for Suffolk County, which have been printed, tell a part of Margery Sparkes's sad story. An entry dated April 28, 1674, reads as follows:

John Lorin bound over to this Court to answer for his committing of Fornication with Margery Sparkes by whome shee is now with Child. The saide' Lorin Ownain Court that hee had fellowship with the saide Sparkes severall times & that the last time was about the middle of last July; but would not Own the Childe shee now goeth withall thinking shee had overgone the usuall time & refused to marry with her. The Court upon due consideracion hereof sentencd the saide Lorin to bee severely whipped with thirty stripes & to pay fees of Court; as also to give in bond of 60lb with Sureties for his appearance at the next Court of this County and abiding the order of the Court; or to bee continued in prison till the Court of this County next after the sd Sparkes her delivery of the Childe shee now goeth withall standing committed untill hee performe this Sentence.

Just when the illegitimate child of Margery Sparkes was born is not revealed in the Suffolk Court records, but we know that it occurred sometime between April 28 and August 3, 1674. An entry in the court records of August 3, 1674, reads as follows:

Margery Sparkes being committed to prison to answer for her committing Fornkation with John Lorin by whome she hath had a bastard Childe; which confessed in Court. The Court Sentenced her to bee whipt with ten Stripes or to pay Fifty Shillings in mony as a Fine to the County & fees of Court standing committed untill the Sentence bee performed. And the Court Orders her Master Thomas Walker to pay her prison charges.

We have no further record of Margery Sparkes nor of her child, whether boy or girl. Often in cases of this nature, an indentured servant's master, if he were a kind man, would pay the fine rather than permit his servant to be whipped, but would then usually add another year or two to the servant's period of servitude to him.

There is one other reference to a Sparks in the Suffolk County Court records of the decade 1671-1680. This is dated July 24, 1678, and reads as follows:

Henry Sparkes late of Exiter now Sojourning at Chelmsford, personally appearing before John Leverett Esqr, Govr, and Edwd Tyng Esqr, Assist. 240 July 1678. confessed Judgement against his Estate & person unto Simon Bradstreet, Esqr for the Summe of twenty pounds to bee paid in good Merchantable pay. as attests. Js Addington, Cler.