March 20, 2020

Pages 3674-3681
Whole Number 152 CHARLES SPARKS (ca.1730-ca.1771)

by Paul E. Sparks

[Editor's Note: In the following article, Dr. Paul E. Sparks, president of our Association, traces another of the seven sons of 1.2.5 Joseph and Mary Sparks of Maryland. Joseph Sparks was a son of 1.2 William Sparks who came from Hampshire County, England, to the Colony of Maryland in or ca. 1663; he died in Queen Annes County, Maryland, in 1709. (See the Quarterly of March 1971, Whole No. 73, pp 1381-89, for further information regarding William Sparks.) As the youngest son of William Sparks, Joseph was not yet of age when his father's estate was settled in 1709. He had been born ca. 1689. Sometime after 1738, Joseph Sparks moved his family west to the area of Maryland that became Frederick County in 1748, and it was there that he died in the spring of 1749. (See the Quarterly of March 1990, Whole No. 149, pp. 3554-3561, for a biographical sketch of Joseph Sparks, and note on page 3561 of that article the record of what has been published in the Quarterly thus far on each of the seven sons of Joseph, including Charles.)]

1.2.5 Joseph Sparks, father of Charles Sparks, died intestate. In the settlement of his estate, it is fortunate that all of his twelve children, seven sons and five daughters, were named in a Frederick County, Maryland, Court memorandum which was approved at the August 1750 term of the Court. This memorandum reads as follows:

Memorandum this day towit: The twenty second day of August Anno Dom seventeen hundred and fifty. Mary Sparks, Col. Henry Munday and Thomas Wilson (Toms Creek) of Frederick County entered into and executed a certain writing obligatory in one hundred and fifty three pounds, one shilling, current money, to be paid unto Solomon, Joseph, Charles, Jonas, Jonathan, William, George, Merum, Mary, Ann, Rebecka, and Sarah Sparks on condition that the above bounden Mary Sparks, or some person on her behalf, shall and do well satisfie and pay unto the above named Solomon, Joseph, Charles, Jonas, Jonathan, William, George, Merum, Mary, Ann, Rebecka, and Sarah Sparks, their executors, administrators, assignd or lawful guardian or guardians, their respective parts or portions of Joseph Sparks, deceased, his estate according to Act of Assemply in such cases made and provided. Charles Sparks was born ca. 1730 and was probably married in Frederick County ca. 1752. His wife's name was Margaret MNU. It was also about this time that Joseph agreed to buy a 50-acre tract of land which was a portion of a larger tract known as "Brothers Agreement." Whether he ever lived on the tract, we have not learned, but ultimately it was purchased by his brother, Joseph Sparks, on November 17, 1761. Here is an abstract of this deed:

Book G, Page 271. Recorded 18 November 1761. Rachael Taney of St. Marys County, Gentleman, to Joseph Sparkes of Frederick County, 21 Pds. [i.e., pounds] all that tract or parcell of land laid out for Charles Sparkes being part of the resurvey on Brothers Agreement beginning at the two bounded white oaks of a tract of land layed out for the said Joseph Sparkes. 50 acres. Signed: Raphael Taney.

Wittnesses: John Darnall & George Dickson. Proven 17 November 1761.

About 1770, Charles Sparks, probably with his brothers, George and William, moved from Frederick County, Maryland, westward across the mountains where they settled in an area then claimed by both Pennsylvania and Virginia. Virginia had organized this area into West Augusta District. Then, in 1776, Virginia divided what it had called West Augusta District into three counties: Ohio, Yohogania, and Monongalia.

In 1780, when the boundary between Pennsylvania and Virginia was finally settled, Pennsylvania received as its share what now constitutes the Pennsylvania counties of Allegheny, Beaver, Fayette, Greene, and Washington, along with part of old Westmoreland. The portion that went to Virginia now consists of the following counties in West Virginia: Brooke, Doddridge, Hancock, Marion, Marshall, Monongalia, Ohio, Pleasants, Preston, Randolph, Tucker, Tyler, and Wetzel. (See the Quarterly of June 1963, Whole No. 42, for a more detailed article about this disputed territory, pp. 735-37; that issue also contains an an article, pp. 727-734, about George Sparks and William Sparks, brothers of Charles, although at the time this was written, we had not learned that they were sons of the Joseph Sparks who died in Frederick County, Maryland, in 1749. George and William Sparks lived in what was organized in 1781 as Washington County, Pennsylvania, although when they settled there they assumed they were in Virginia.)

Sometime prior to 1770, Charles Sparks had acquired 100 acres of land in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, and it was there, apparently, that he died, probably early in 1771. From later records, it appears that Charles and Margaret Sparks had five children at the time of his death. He did not leave a will.

On July 21, 1771, the Bedford County, Pennsylvania, Court granted letters of administration of Charles Sparks's estate to Robert Moore. (The Moore and Sparks families had been closely associated for a number of years. William Sparks, brother of Charles, had married Martha Moore, daughter of Alexander and Margaret Moore.)

In 1773, Robert Moore was taxed, as administrator of Sparks's estate, described as comprising 100 acres of land in Providence Township, Bedford County. On February 9, 1773, the Orphans Court of Bedford County allowed a man named Henry Nelson 45 pounds for "cloathing, educating & maintaining" three children of Charles Sparks. These three children were identified as Absalom Sparks, "maintenance for one year"; and Phebe Sparks and Charles Sparks, [Jr.], maintenance for three years."

From the records referred to above, it seems apparent that some of the children of Charles Sparks were approaching the age of independence when their father died. If this assumption is correct, we believe that the son named Absalom was born ca. 1753 and would thus have been 21 years of age in 1774; Charles, Jr. was born ca. 1755, and would thus have been 21 in 1776; and Phebe Sparks was born ca. 1760.

From subsequent records, we know that the Henry Nelson, who was allowed 45 pounds from the estate of Charles Sparks for maintaining three of his orphaned children, had been married to Margaret Sparks, widow of Charles Sparks.

As was noted earlier, between 1776 and 1780, Virginia had divided what she had earlier called West Augusta District into the counties of Ohio, Yohogania, and Monongalia. During those four years, the land which George and William Sparks claimed was included in Virginia's Ohio County, although after 1780 it was determined to be in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Court records were maintained in what Virginia called Ohio County from January 6, 1777, to September 4, 1780, and these have been published (see RECORDS OF THE DISTRICT OF WEST AUGUSTA, OHIO COUNTY, AND YOHOGANIA COUNTY, VIRGINIA, Ohio State University Printing Department, Columbus, Ohio, 1970.) According to these records, on March 3, 1777, when the five justices of the Ohio County Court met, "Henry Nelson Came into Court and Complains that Wm. Sparks had in an illegal manner taken away his Child & njustly detains the same without his consent." The justices then ordered that "the sd Sparks be summoned to attend our next Court & answer make to the above complaint." (See page 11 of the printed minutes for the Ohio County Court.)

When this Court met on April 8, 1777, William Sparks appeared as ordered, but "having not had an opportunity of Convening his Evidence," the Court "ordered that it lay over unto the next Court & that the Child Continue in the Care of Wm. Sparks untill that time." (page 12)

The Ohio County, Virginia, Court next met on June 2, 1777, but there is no reference in the minutes of that meeting to the charge that had been made by Henry Nelson against William Sparks. William Sparks was mentioned in those minutes of June 2, 1777, however, as having been appointed ensign of the county militia, under David Shepherd as colonel.

In the minutes of no subsequent meeting of this Court was there ever any fur ther reference to the charge by Henry Nelson that William Sparks had "taken away his Child." The following record is found, however, in the Court's minutes for its meeting on August 3, 1778 (p. 26).

Absolum Sparks vir Jas. Jno. Carpenter, P.S. Then came the parties & the Defendant pleads the general Issue & the same is ordered to lye over till tomorrow until the defendant has the benefit of his evidence.

The Ohio Court minutes for August 4, 1778, contains the following entry (page 32):

The issue Absolum Sparks against John Carpenter, in case, by petition & summons is ordered for a hearing. Then came the parties and Pleads upon the Issue joined in Debt for one Deer skin, & the Court gives a Judgment for the plaintiff to have his account of 1 pound, 10 shillings. & Costs in this behalf Expended.

Henry Nelson an Evidence, 2 days attendance allowed.

Whether the charge brought by Henry Nelson against William Sparks was settled out of court or simply dropped, we do not know. The "child" in question must surely have been one of the children of Charles and Margaret Sparks who had been removed from the child's stepfather's home to that of the child's uncle, William Sparks. It is possible that this "child" had come of age by 1778 and thus no longer subject to Henry Nelson's authority.

The final disposition of the property of Charles Sparks in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, appears in that county's Deed Book D, page 372. It is this document which proves that the widow, Margaret, had married Henry Nelson and that there were five children of Charles and Margaret Sparks, although the youngest son was not named. Following is an exact copy, except for the addition of punctuation:

Know all men by these Presents that I Absalam Sparks, Charles Sparks, Feby Sparks, March gret Nelson, Henry Nelson, Margret Newell & James Newell, all of us of the one part And John Paxton, Junr. of Bedford County of the other part, Witnesseth that I Absolm Sparks and all the rest of the heirs aforesaid Do Bargain and given unto John Paxton aforesaid all our write and title of that place formerly knowen by the name of Charles Sparks's place at Tuseys narrows on Juneata Creek and Bedford County, we aforesaid Absolm Sparks and the rest of the Heirs Do give and make over all our right, title, and Clam of said place from us Our heirs or assigns unto sd John Paxton His heir or Assigns all our Rite, tile, and Claim of said place, the Receit of which We Do Acknowledge to Be Good for our pay.

I Absolm Sparks Do Bind me by me, my heirs or assigns in the pannal sum of forty pounds Penn. currincy to keep him undamaged from the youngest Heire when he comes of age, I will Pay unto sd Paxton The sum of forty Pounds if ever the youngest heir Does Breach This Bargain, to which we have hereunto Set our hands and seals this 23rd Day of November 1786.

   Absolm    A   Sparks (seal)

Witness Present:
Samuel Paxton his
      Charles  C  Sparks (seal)
          Margret M  Newell (seal) Al

James Newell (seal)

     Henry           Neilson (seal)

Margret X Neilson (seal)
Feby    X  Sparks (seal)

Bedford County to wit: Samuel Paxton, Junr. Personally came Before me the subscriber, one of the justices of the peace in and for the said county and on his solemn oath saith that he saw the within named Solomon Sparks, Charles Sparks, Margret Newel, James Newel, Margret Nilson, Feby Sparks Sign, seal, and Deliver the within Instrument of Wrighting. Sworn and Subscribed the 18 Day of January 1788. Before James Martin, Esq. Recorded and compared with the original 28 day of April 1795.

David Erfield [?] Recorder       Samuel Paxton

As can be seen from the above deed, the heirs of Charles Sparks sold his land in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, on November 23, 1786, to John Paxton, Jr. These heirs consisted of the widow of Charles now married to Henry Nelson and four of the five children of Charles Sparks. Absalom was obviously the eldest son; the other three were Charles, Jr., Margaret, and Phebe (or Feby). Henry Nelson (or Neilson), the second husband of the widow, Margaret, also signed the deed as did James Newell, husband of the daughter, Margaret. The daughter named Phebe had not married when this deed was prepared. Because he was not yet of age in 1786, the youngest child of Charles Sparks, a boy, could not enter into the legal sale, but Absalom agreed to repay Paxton the 40 pounds Pennsylvania currency which the heirs had received from Paxton if at any future time this younger son should challenge his siblings' and mother's right to sell the land.

As frequently happened, the witness to this deed, Samuel Paxton, who was doubtless a relative of John Paxton, Jr., did not swear before a county official that he had witnessed the signing until later. Samuel Paxton did so on January 18, 1788. In listing the names of the heirs who had made the sale, it is interesting to note that Samuel Paxton gave first the name "Solomon Sparks" and omitted entirely the name of Absalom Sparks. He may simply have made a slip of the pen, although his use of the name of Solomon may suggest that the minor son of Charles and Margaret Sparks who was not named in the deed may have had the name Solomon. Charles Sparks had a brother named Solomon, and this name was used by several of his siblings in naming their own children.

This deed was not recorded in the Bedford County courthouse until April 28, 1795. Such delays were frequent in those days.

As has been noted, the children of Charles and Margaret Sparks were as follows: Absalom Sparks was born ca. 1753 in Frederick County, Mary land, and was almost grown when his father died. As noted above, he was involved in a lawsuit in what was then Ohio County, Virginia, in 1778 and appeared before the justices on March 3 and 4. The case was decided in his favor, a witness on his behalf being Henry Nelson, his step-father. As has been noted, from 1776 to 1780, the Virginia county of Ohio included what later became Washington County, Pennsylvania, and there can be no doubt that Absalom was living there in 1778.

In 1777, the General Assembly of Virginia had directed that all white males over the age of 21 living in Virginia be required to take an oath of allegiance to the Commonwealth. William Scott, one of the justices of the Ohio County Court, was charged with administering this oath and recording the names. Scott's record for Ohio County survives and was published in the GENEALOGICAL REFERENCE BUILDERS NEWSLETTER, Whole No. 32, dated February 1971. According to this listing, Absalom Sparks took this oath on November 5, 1777. Four other men did so on the same day, which may suggest that they were close neighbors; they were Robert Cavin, Ezekiel Boggs, Samuel Taylor, and William Boggs. The fact that Charles Sparks, Jr.'s name does not appear on this list may suggest that he had not reached the age of 21 by 1777. George Sparks, uncle of Absalom Sparks, and Henry Nelson, his step-father, both took the oath on October 6, 1777. There were some men, however, who refused to take the oath--they were called "recusants." William Sparks, the other uncle of Absalom, was one of nine men listed as "recusants" in Ohio County. It may mean that these "recusants," including William Sparks, were expressing their loyalty to King George, III when they refused to take this oath. Another possibility is that they considered themselves to be citizen of Pennsylvania rather than Virginia.

William Scott was not only a justice of the Ohio County Court, but after the settlement of the boundary line between Pennsylvania and Virginia, he became captain of a company of militia in Washington County following its organization as a Pennsylvania county in 1781. A return of Capt. Scott's company, which was part of the Fourth Battalion of Washington County Militia, shows Absalom Sparks as a member of the 7th Class in the Company in 1782. (See the 6th Series of the PENNSYLVANIA ARCHIVES, Vol. II, pp. 158-9.)

Among the papers of THE CONTINENTAL CONGRESS, 1774-1789, there is a document dated October 30, 1784, listing "Inhabitants near the Ohio River." Among those listed are Absalom Sparks and his uncle, William Sparks. Also among these papers is a petition to the President of the Continental Congress dated April 11, 1785, from "Inhabitants of the Old Northwest." Among the names appearing on this petition is that of Absalom Sparks as well as his brother, Charles.

The last reference to Absalom Sparks found thus far among Pennsylvania records is the deed of November 23, 1786, noted earlier.

While we have not found positive documentary proof, we believe that it is highly probable that, following the settlement of their father's estate in 1786, Absalom Sparks and his brother Charles moved from Washington County, Pennsylvania, southward to the general area where present-day Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee meet. If this assumption is correct, their move may have been motivated by the general national expansion westward, or they may have been influenced by their knowledge that two of their father's brothers, Solomon Sparks and Jonas Sparks, along with some cousins, had settled in this general area some 30 years earlier. We know for certain that there was an Absalom Sparks, whom we have been unable otherwise to identify, living in Washington County, Virginia, from 1799 to 1805. Likewise, there was a Charles Sparks whom we have been otherwise unable to identify, who was living in Wilkes County, North Carolina, from ca. 1789 to 1806.

Among the very few early marriage records preserved in Washington County, Virginia, is that of Absalom Sparks and Elizabeth McQuann on January 5, 1801. Considering that the Absalom Sparks who was a son of Charles Sparks was born ca. 1753, it would seem probable, if he was the same person as the Absalom who married Elizabeth McQuann in Wilkes County, North Caro lina, this would have represented a second marriage for him.

Absalom Sparks paid taxes in Washington County, Virginia, in 1799, 1802- 1805, and then in Lee County, Virginia, in 1811. He moved to Knox County, Kentucky, in 1819 and settled in that part of the county that was cut off the same year to form Harlan County. He was taxed in Harlan County, Kentucky, from 1820 to 1829. He died, apparently, ca. 1829.

There were three households in Harlan County shown on the 1830 census as headed by men named Sparks. Whether there was a relationship among these individuals to Absalom Sparks is not known. They were:

(1) James Sparks who was one of the two males enumerated opposite his name as aged between 20 and 30; also comprising his household were 4 females aged 20 to 30, one male under 5 and two females under 5;

(2) William Sparks was shown as aged between 60 and 70, and enumerated as comprising his household was one female also aged 60 to 70, 2 females aged 20 to 30, one female aged 10 to 15, one male aged 5 to 10, one male under 5, and one female also under 5; and

(3) William Sparks, Jr. was shown as aged 20 to 30; comprising his household was one female also aged 20 to 30, and one male under 5 years. (See the Quarterly of September 1959, Whole No. 27, pp. 419-422, for a full listing of Sparkses shown on the 1830 census of Kentucky.) Charles Sparks, Jr. was identified as a son of Charles Sparks, deceased, in the 1786 deed in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, by which the land once owned in Bedford County by this elder Charles Sparks was sold by his heirs. He was born between 1755 and 1760. He served in the Washington County, Pennsylvania, militia at the time of the American Revolution, as did his older brother, Absalom. Charles was shown as a private in Lieutenant Harned's company in a roster printed in the PENNSYLVANIA ARCHIVES, Sixth Series, Vol. II, p. 242. In another roster (page 245) he was shown as a member of Sergeant Leatherman's Party. In a petition from a group of "Inhabitants of the Old Northwest" to the President of the Continental Congress dated April 11, 1785, Charles Sparks's name appears with that of his brother, Absalom, and also his two uncles living in Washington County named George Sparks and William Sparks. A David Sparks is also shown in this listing. (See Vol. IV, page 4939, of THE PAPERS OF THE CONTINENTAL CONGRESS, 1774-1789.)

As we noted in the sketch of Absalom Sparks, above, we believe that it is probable (but NOT proven) that both Charles and Absalom, following the settlement of their father's estate in 1786, moved from Washington County, Pennsylvania, southward to the general area where present-day Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee meet. Two of their father's brothers, Solomon and Jonas Sparks, along with several cousins, had moved to this area some 30 years earlier. A Charles Sparks was living in Wilkes County, North Carolina, from ca. 1789 to 1806 whom we believe to have been this same Charles Sparks, Jr. His name first appears in the land records of Wilkes County when he witnessed a deed between Abraham Cook and John Dawson on March 22, 1796. (Book D, p. 14) He signed by mark.

Charles Sparks purchased land for the first time in Wilkes County, North Carolina, on March 2, 1797. He paid 30 pounds for a tract of 200 acres which had been granted to Rosannah Roberts by the state in 1784. Charles purchased this tract from Rosannah Roberts. It was described as lying on the Duggars Branch of Hunting Creek and adjoined land owned by Luke Adams, Leonard Sales, and Widow Williams. John Williams and James Roberts served as witnesses. (Deed Book D, p. 202)

Charles Sparks's name appeared on the 1800 census of Wilkes County, his household consisting of only himself (aged between 26 and 45) and one female aged between 10 and 16. This may suggest that he was a widower.

On November 27, 1802, Charles Sparks sold to John Walker for 42 shillings, 81 acres from the 200 acres which he had purchased in 1797. In this deed, Duggars Branch was called Duggars Creek, and the adjoining land owners were named as Luke Adams, Leonard Sales, and Cook. John Wilson and John Harrison were the witnesses. Again, Charles Sparks signed by mark. (Deed book F-i, p. 368) We have not been able to learn if or when Charles Sparks sold the remainder of his land.

Our last record of Charles Sparks in Wilkes County, North Carolina, is found in a file preserved at the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh. This is a record of "Bastardy Bonds" and is marked File C. R. 104.102.  At that time, when an illegitimate child was born to an unwed mother, North Carolina law required that she be brought before the county court and asked to identify the father, pay a fine, or be placed in jail.  If the father was identified, he was required to sign a bond with two responsible citizens serving as securities pledging that the child would not become a financial burden to the parish. On August 9, 1806, Charles Sparks acknowledged in court that he was the father of a son named Archibald Felts born to Polly Felts. The two men who signed the bond as securities were Thomas Ferguson and Isham Harvel. Then on August 8, 1807, Charles Sparks was again brought before the Wilkes County Court and acknowledged that he was the father of Nathan Felts, also born to Polly Felts, except that she was called Mary Felts. (Polly is a common nickname for Mary.) The securities for this second bastardy bond were John Wilcox and Wm. Chambers.

Charles Sparks was not listed on the 1810 census of Wilkes County nor in any other North Carolina county that we have found. Perhaps he moved out of the state following the scandal of his two illegitimate children. Phebe (or Febe) Sparks was named by her step-father, Henry Nelson, in his request for reimbursement from the estate of Charles Sparks, for the maintenance of three of the Sparks children; he claimed to have provided cloathing as well as "educating & main taining" Phebe and her brother, Charles Sparks, Jr., for three years. His claim was dated February 9, 1773.

When the land that had been owned in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, was sold by his heirs on November 23, 1786, Feby signed the deed by mark as "Feby Sparks." Whether she married subsequently to this, we do not know. Margaret Sparks signed the deed by which the heirs of Charles Sparks sold the land that they had inherited, Margaret signed by mark as "Margret Newell." James Newell's name also appears on the deed as an heir, so there can be no doubt that he and Margaret had been married prior to 1786. We have found no further information regarding them. Son Sparks was identified as an heir of Charles Sparks when his siblings, mother, and step-father signed the Bedford County, Pennsylvania, deed dated November 23, 1786. Unfortunately he was referred to only as "the youngest Heire" not yet "of age." This means that he was born after November 1765. As was noted earlier, when the witness to this deed, Samuel Paxton, swore to its validity on January 18, 1788, he recalled incorrectly that "Solomon Sparks" had been one of the signers, and omitted Absalom Sparks, the oldest child of Charles and Margaret. This may suggest the possibility that this youngest son may have been named Solomon. We have no further information regarding him.