April 20, 2018

Pages 3847-3848
Whole Number 155

THE MURDER OF ELIZABETH SPARKS
IN CASWELL COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA - 1787



In the spring of 1787, there was a murder in Caswell County, North Carolina. The victim was Elizabeth Sparks; we have no information about her at this time except what is contained in the court record. The accused murderer was named William Smith. According to the minutes of the Caswell County Court (File No.020.301.4 at the North Carolina Archives in Raleigh), on April 18, 1787, the court

ordered that the Corroner be Directed Imediately to call an Inquisitionand raise the body of Elizabeth Sparks Deceasd, and examine into the Circumstance, of her Death and report accordingly to the Superior Court of Law & Equity to be held for the District of Hillsborough at the Town of Hillsborough on the first day of Oct next.

The next item in these court minutes reads:

On the examination of William Smith who is brought before this Court on a Charge of having been Guilty of Feloniously murdering one Elizabeth Sparks late of this County and on hearing the Testimony of Spillsby Coleman, Esquire, a Witness in behalf of the State against the Prisoner at the Barr, Ordered that the said William Smith Stand Committed to the Publick Jail of the District of Hillsborough and there to remain in the Custody of the Jaylor of the said Jail untill he shall be Discharged by the course of Law. Ordered that the Sheriff of the County convey the said prisoner accordingly.

On Thursday, July 19, 1787, the Caswell County Court ordered that Thomas Neeley, the county coroner, be paid the sum of 16 shillings "for his Services in Taking the Inquision on the Dead Body of Elizabeth Sparks." It was also ordered that 16 additional shillings be paid for "the Jurors Services in attending the Dead body at the Inquision."

According to the State Records of North Carolina, in an item dated December 15,1787, Smith was convicted of murder in the death of Elizabeth Sparks, but subsequently several members of the jury along with "a few others" endorsed "the Petition by Judge Ashe, which he concludes with this observation, ‘that Smithwas guilty of the greatest in humanity in beating a helpless Woman so cruelly, but did not think from the whole transaction he intended to take her life'. "This record continues: -As this helpless woman was murdered by beating her with a stick or Switch and riding over her with a Horse, the conduct of Smith appears to have been cruel and deliberate. Yet the above opinion of the Judge carried with it official weight, which joined by the common feelings of humanity, without doubt justified the interposition in the eye of the Executive, and will probably excuse him to the Public." From this, it appears that Smith did not suffer execution, but what other punishment he received we do not know.

Caswell County was created in 1777 from a portion of Orange County. In 1791, the eastern half of Caswell County was cut off to form Person County. Today, Caswell County is adjoined two Virginia counties, Pittsylvania and Halifax, and by four North Carolina counties: Person, Orange, Alamance, and Rockingham. We cannot be sure, of course, whether Elizabeth Sparks lived in that portion of Caswell County which remained after Person County was cut off, or whether she lived in the part that became Person County. Hillsborough (now spelled Hillsboro) was/is the seat of justice of Orange County. At the time of this murder and trial, Caswell County was included in the Hillsboro District Superior Court.

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