April 6, 2018

Pages 4057-4062
Whole Number 160

RAMSOM SPARKS (ca.1824-ca.1892)

by James T. Sparks

[Editor's Note: The following article was written in February 1992 by James T. Sparks, R.R. 1, Box 289A, Elizabethtown, Illinois, 62931, a great-grandson of Ransom Sparks. He has spent a great deal of time and effort trying to reconcile census records of his branch of the Sparks family with information that had been passed on to him by relatives. He has come to some tentative conclusions which he is sharing in this article. Other articles about this branch of the Sparks family have been published in the December 1954; the December 1983; and the September 1991 issues of the Quarterly, Whole Nos. 8, 124, and 155, respectively. While the editor has made minor changes in the wording of some sentences in this article in keeping with his editorial policy, he assumes no responsibility for the accuracy of nor the conclusions reached by its author.]

At the outset, I should like to extend my thanks to the officers of the Association for their willingness to publish this article. I should like, also, to give special thanks to my brother, Robert E. Sparks, of West Frankfort, Illinois, for the photographic reproductions and the family information that he has contributed for this article.

The articles in the Quarterly (referred to above) have attempted to explain the incongruity in the census records of my great-great-grandfather, James Sparks. The 1830 census shows James as the head of a household that included a female, presumably his wife, and two children, a boy born ca. 1824 and a girl born ca. 1828. Both were listed as under the age of five at that time. Perhaps this can be accounted for by considering the fact that Ransom was a very small man. When grown, he was approximately five feet, four inches tall and weighed about 125 pounds. His sons, Edmond and Rufus Harvey (known as "Uncle Harve") were also small men. Uncle Harve's grandson, Harvey Sparks, who is 88 years old and resides at Frakes, Kentucky, is also small of stature. He is approximately five feet, three inches tall and weighs about 120 pounds. We can speculate that the children of James Sparks were somewhat undersized, causing their ages to be misjudged by the census taker in 1830.

The 1850 census shows James Sparks as married to Kiziah (maiden not given, of course) and residing in Anderson County, Tennessee, with four children. One of them, James M. Sparks, was born ca. 1836, and another, Mary M. Sparks, was born ca. 1840. The 1850 census also shows Ransom Sparks to be 26 years old; his wife, Martha, was 29. They then had four children, the oldest, Sally A. Sparks, was born ca. 1842, establishing the time of Ransom's marriage to Martha Rainey as being ca. 1841, when he was about 17 years of age.

The 1840 census of Claiborne County, Tennessee, shows James Sparks as the head of his household with two children, but no wife. In the article about him in the September 1991 issue of the Quarterly, an attempt was made to reconcile this obvious incongruity which shows him as married to Kizziah in 1835 and as the head of a different household in 1840. The attempt was not successful because not all of the facts about this family were then available. I am, by no means, in possession of all of the facts, either, but I do have some important information to contribute.

There are two basic reasons why I am writing this article. The first is that there is complete incongruity in the previous articles that James Sparks (my 2nd (great-grandfather) was in the same home with Ransom on the day the census taker arrived, while maintaining another home with wife, Kiziah, and two children, a son, James Madison Sparks, born 1836, and his sister, Mary Sparks, born 1840. I must admit that it is certainly possible that a man would be recorded as head of a household on the one day in ten years, on the one day of the month, on the one day in the week, and at the right time of day, to meet the census taker, but it is about as likely as being hit by a falling star or to win the state lottery. As has been pointed out repeatedly in the Quarterly, the census taker was at the mercy of the person he was interrogating who, sometimes, was a visitor, a neighbor, a hired hand, or even a child. Therefore, it seems more congruent with the known facts to assume that the name of James Sparks as the head of the household in 1840 was probably given to the census taker by Ransom, himself, who was then sixteen years old, and his sister, who was twelve.

We believe the girl, shown as under five years in 1830, was Ransom's sister and to have been the same person as Elizabeth Murry, who was named as a member of Ransom's household on the 1850 census of Claiborne County, Tennessee. Perhaps she had been married to a Murry ca. 1845, but the other possibility is that she actually was a Murry. My great-uncle, Harve Sparks, married Matilda Murry in 1878; therefore, there were Murrys in the area. Logical proof suggests that this was the case, since we know that the oldest child, Ransom Sparks, was illegitimate. It would follow that his younger sister was illegitimate, also. This scenario would also explain why James Sparks never brought the two children, ages six and ten, into his marriage with Keziah ca. 1834. They were simply left with their mountain mother, to whom he was never married. She had probably died prior to 1840, for we know that James was not married at that time (according to the census).

James Sparks was somewhat promiscuous, and we are positive that the census taker did not ask to see a marriage license. This is the only logical way to explain how James could could have been married to Keziah ca. 1835. Further logical proof is the fact that Elizabeth Murry, age 22, was in Ransom's household on the 1850 census of Claiborne County. No woman that I know of would tolerate another twenty-two-year-old woman to be in the same cabin (probably measuring twelve feet by twenty feet), unless she was a close relative. Her age of twenty-two in 1850 fits perfectly with the 1830 census, showing James then having one girl under five years of age.

Elizabeth Murry was only thirteen years old when Ransom took her into his home when he married Martha Rainey in 1841. Elizabeth Murry could be, and probably was, the mother of Matilda Murry born in 1857, to whom my great-uncle, Harvey Sparks, was married in 1878 Elizabeth Murry, Ransom's sister, would have been twenty-nine when Matilda Murry, who married my great-uncle Harve, was born in 1857. Matilda Murry was Harvey's second wife.

In such a case, this would mean that Harvey Sparks married his first cousin, which was not an unusual event, considering that it was almost a total forest where they lived in those days, with no roads for miles and miles. If you wanted a wife, you married the woman on the next ridge.

While there are no records to provide absolute proof, which is generally the case in this area between the years 1800 and 1850, reasonable evidence that James Sparks was the father of Ransom Sparks seems to be beyond cavil for the following reasons:

1.In the census of 1830, there were no other Sparkses listed in Claiborne County, Tennessee.

2.In 1830, both children were too young to know, so the name James Sparks was given to the census taker, either by the woman living with him or by James, himself. Either one should surely have known.

3.On the 1840 census of Claiborne County, James Sparks was listed, again, as Ransom's father, probably by Ransom, himself. He was sixteen at the time.

We now come to the second motivation for this article. My mother, Sallie (Forest) Sparks, whom I believe to have been truthful, and having no conceivable reason to lie about such a thing, told me shortly before her death on September 8, 1989, that Ransom was an illegitimate son of James Sparks. I did not press her on that point, and she did not elaborate. This is the reason I have stated that Ransom was an illegitimate son. This is the reason I have written dozens of letters and spent many hours in research to establish the birth date of James's son by Keziah (James Madison Sparks) as being in 1836, thus proving that my mother was correct. James married Keziah in 1835 and no doubt was at home with her and their two children when the 1840 census was taken. It was, therefore, Ransom or his sister, Elizabeth, who gave the census taker the name of James Sparks as the head of their household.

My mother, Sallie (Forest) Sparks, was born January 10, 1897, at Pleasant View, Kentucky. She married my father, Henry Everett Sparks, in 1917 about one and one-half years before my grandfather, Edmond Sparks, died of a bowel disorder which necessitated his being diapered like an infant. My mother fell heir to this ministry, so she knew my grandfather and the whole Sparks family very well. Saxton, Kentucky, was only a short distance from Pleasant View.

Bryants Store was approximately a mile down the road in Knox County, Kentucky, and it was there that Ransom spent his last days. by 1860, Ransom and his family had moved to Union County, Tennessee, and his father, James Sparks, was in adjacent Campbell County. Ransom's children were listed on the 1850 census as: Sally A., 8; Rebecca, 6; William E., 5; and Edmond, 3. by 1860, the number of children had increased to seven. The three additional children shown on the 1860 census were: Lucinda E., 7; Nancy E., 3; and Rufus Harvey ("Uncle Harve"), 1. They no doubt migrated on the Powell River that runs through both Union and Campbell Counties, because they were trappers as well as farmers.

It was from Union County, Tennessee, that Ransom journeyed to Maynardsville, Tennessee, to be enrolled in the Union Army on August 9, 1861; he was mustered at Barboursville, Kentucky, on August 16, 1861. His captain, James W. Branson, of Company D, was also enrolled at the same time and was mustered on August 17, 1861. Ransom served in Branson's Company D of the 1st Regiment East Tennessee Infantry, commanded by Col. Robert K. byrd. byrd had organized the regiment at Camp Dick Robinson in Kentucky, and it was composed of refugees from Tennessee.

Ransom's regiment was engaged in the Battle of Fishing Creek (or Logan Cross-Roads) on January 19, 1862. It also served at London and Somerset, Kentucky, and in front of Cumberland Gap. It was then returned to duty at London and along the Kentucky-Tennessee border. Col. byrd was wounded in a skirmish near Cumberland Gap and was incapacitated for about a month thereafter. On March 21-23, 186,2, the regiment took part in skirmishes near Cumberland Gap. On April 14, 1862, the regiment was assigned to General S. P. Carter, commanding officer of the 24th Brigade of General George W. Morgan's 7th Division of the Army of the Ohio. On September 17, 1862, Morgan evacuated Cumberland Gap and withdrew to Greenup, Kentucky.

The date of the withdrawal of Morgan's Brigade is to be especially noted because Ransoms military record preserved at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., states that he was left sick at Cumberland Gap on September 17, 1862, and that he was later discharged by Col. byrd on July 5, 1863. In spite of these military records, Ransom was later falsely charged with desertion on September 17, 1862. (See pages 3828-29 of the September 1991 issue of The Sparks Quarterly, Whole No. 155, for an abstract of the pension file of Ransom Sparks.)

About 1865, after the Civil War had ended and in which Ransom Sparks had served, he and his family, including sons, Edmond Sparks and Harvey Sparks, moved to Tackett Creek in southern Whitley County, Kentucky. His other son, William Sparks, had disappeared in 1860 and was never heard from again.

According to the marriage records of Whitley County, Rufus Harvey Sparks ("Uncle Harve"), son of Ransom, married his first wife, Elizabeth Bennett, on August 24, 1875. He was listed as age 15 and Elizabeth was age 18. There is a story about this woman that is handed down to the present generation and has been confirmed by 88-year-old Harvey Sparks of Frakes, Kentucky, a grandson of Uncle Harve. It is that she was traded one night in a tavern to another man for a plug of tobacco and five cents.

There is a branch of Tackett Creek called Sarah Sparks Branch. This, apparently, is where Ransom took his family when he moved from Union County, Tennessee. This was probably where my grandfather, Edmond Sparks, met and married my grandmother, Sarah Wambless, in 1877. She was born in Kentucky in 1861. My grandfather was born in Claiborne County, Tennessee, in April 1847. He died in Saxton, Kentucky, in 1918. Sarah followed him in death in 1945.

The family apparently remained on Tackett Creek until what appears to have been the final move for Edmond Sparks and his family to Saxton, Kentucky, where they joined his father, who had preceded them there by a few years. This move was made ca. 1895 because my father, Henry Everett Sparks, born on Tackett Creek in 1890, remembered helping to tie the chickens' feet and placing them in the wagon for the move.

Prior to the move of Edmond Sparks and his family to Saxton, Kentucky, ca. 1895, his father, Ransom Sparks, had moved a mile or so down the road to Bryants Store in Knox County, Kentucky. Pictured on page 4060, is Ransom's son, Rufus Harvey Sparks ("Uncle Harve"), who died on October 11, 1954, at the alleged age of 111 years, six months.

Pictured above is a 1903 store which my brother, Robert E. Sparks, contributed. He saw the original store and states that this is a very close replica. The original building was torn down in 1987. It was in an upstairs room of a building similar to this that Ransom's pilgrimage on this earth ended ca. 1895. He was probably buried in the old Hackler Cemetery, a short distance from Saxton, where his son, Edmond Sparks and Edmond's wife (my grandparents) were buried.

The unjust decision that branded Ransom Sparks as a deserter, when the government's own records show differently, is presently being appealed through the American Legion and the Department of Veteran Affairs. I shall inform the Sparks Family Association of the outcome.

My father's close friend whom he companied that Plez Bryant, who was the grandson of Bryant family and owner of Bryant's store, with in his youth was none other Joe Sire Bryant, the patriarch of the the last known address of Ransom.

[Editor's Note: In the Quarterly of December 1954, Whole No. 9, page 58, we reported the death of "Uncle Harve" Sparks as having occurred on October 11, 1954. This was the Rufus Harvey Sparks, son of Ransom and Martha (Rainey) Sparks, who was shown on the 1860 census of Union County, Tennessee, as the youngest member of the household of Ransom Sparks. His age was given there as one year. Prior to his death in October 1954, it was claimed in several Kentucky newspaper accounts that "Uncle Harve Sparks" was the oldest man then living in the state, he having celebrated his 111th birthday on April 17, 1954. It was said that he claimed to have been born on April 17, 1843.

[As noted by James T. Sparks in the preceding article, and confirmed by census records as well as the record of his marriage in Whitley County, Kentucky, at age fifteen in 1875, "Uncle Harve," who had "never seen a city larger than Middlesboro, Kentucky" (population in 1954 of 14,482), was actually about 94 years old when he died in 1954, not 111. Except during the decade from 1852 to 1862, there was no law in Kentucky requiring the registration of births in county courthouses until 1911 (see the Quarterly of March 1958, Whole No. 21, page 288). Without a birth certificate, and if no family record had been made and preserved of one's birth, an elderly person can easily come to believe, and even convince his/her children and grandchildren, that he/she is older than is actually the case. Perhaps "Uncle Harve Sparks" had convinced himself, and other members of his family, that he had been born prior to the birth of his brother, Edmond Sparks (born April 1847) rather than being about thirteen years younger.]