May 16, 2021

Pages 4603-4610
Whole Number 173 JOHN SPARKS (Born ca. 1775 - Died prior to 1810)

by Russell E. Bidlack John Sparks was born ca. 1775 in Surry County, North Carolina. His father, whom this writer believes was William Sparks, Jr., had been born ca. 1750 in Frederick County, Maryland. As a lad of about thirteen or fourteen, William, Jr. had accompanied his parents, William and Ann Sparks, with several siblings, in their move from Maryland to the Forks of the Yadkin in Rowan County (now Davie County) North Carolina, in 1764. Then, in or ca. 1771, William Sparks, Jr. moved from the Forks of the Yadkin to Surry County, North Carolina. His parents and siblings made the same move a little later. (See the lengthy article on the elder William Sparks in The Sparks Quarterly of June 1991, Whole No. 154.)

Surry County had been created in 1770 from a portion of Rowan County and was thus within the vast land holdings of Lord Granville in England. Prior to 1763, tracts of one hundred or more acres of this land could be purchased from Lord Granville's agent in North Carolina for a relatively small amount of money, although there was an annual quit rent that also had to be paid. Lord Granville died in 1763, however, and because of the unrest in the colony that was leading up to the American Revolution, his heirs never reopened the Granville land office. Like a great many other pioneering settlers, William Sparks, Jr., and later his father and siblings, simply "squatted" on vacant land of their choice in Surry County, hoping that the time would come when they could acquire it legally. This opportunity came with the end of the Revolution when the state of North Carolina acquired the power to sell land in what had been Lord Granville's domain. Our earliest record of land ownership by William Sparks, Jr. is thus dated September 17, 1778, when he obtained a grant from the state of North Carolina of 340 acres located where he had been living for several years and on which he had made improvements, on "the top of Brushy Mountain." He paid the state at the rate of fifty shillings per 100 acres, and there was no annual quit rent required. (His grant was Surry County Grant No. 734)

On October 24, 1782, William Sparks, Jr. obtained another grant from the state of North Carolina at the same rate. This tract was described as being also "on top of Brushy Mountain near Rich Knob" in Surry County. (See Surry County Deed Book B, p. 245.) On August 9, 1787, William Sparks, Jr. obtained from the state still another tract of 100 acres for which he paid "fifty shilings." That, also, was located on "the rich knob of Brushy Mountain." (Grant No. 1467, also recorded in Surry Co. Deed Book D, p. 236.) Other members of the Sparks family obtained similar grants in Surry County.

When the 1790 census was taken of Surry County, William Sparks, Jr. was shown as living very near his father and his brothers, George Sparks and Thomas Sparks. Besides himself, his household in 1790 consisted of one male who was over sixteen, another male under sixteen, amd five females. (The nation's first census in 1790 gives only the name of the head of each household, followed by an enumeration of the males, including the head, over sixteen, the males under sixteen, and the number of females of all ages.) The number of slaves in each household was also recorded--William Sparks, Jr. had no slaves in 1790.

One of the five females in the household of William Sparks, Jr. in 1790 was doubtless his wife, although we have found no clue regarding her name. We believe that the male enumerated as over sixteen (in addition to William, himself) was his son, John Sparks, born ca. 1775, who probably turned sixteen in 1789; the male under sixteen may have been a son named Larkin Sparks, born ca.1784. The four females, in addition to William's wife, were probably their daughters.

We know that William Sparks, Jr. moved from Surry County to Burke County, North Carolina, sometime before the summer of 1798. On August 10, 1798, he sold to David Weatherspoon for "six hundred Spanish milled silver dollars" the 340-acre tract to which he had obtained a legal title in 1778; in this deed, William Sparks, Jr. was described as a resident of Burke County. Whereas it was customary for the person selling land to appear personally before the county court to acknowledge the sale and pay a fee of six shillings, it was Hyram Russau, a subscribing witness when the deed had been was signed, who appeared and paid the six-shilling fee on behalf of William Sparks, Jr. (Recorded at the meeting of the Surry County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions on November 12, 1800.) It had been three years earlier, on August 1, 1793, that William Sparks, Jr. had sold his 100- acre tract to Hugh McAlyea for fifty shillings. (Surry Co. Deed Book F, p. 146) This deed was not acknowledged before the county court until November 12, 1794, at which time Jeremiah Sparks, brother of William Sparks, Jr., who had been a witness when the deed had been signed in 1793, acknowledged it on behalf of his brother, paying the six-shilling tax for him. (Jeremiah later followed his brother to Burke County.) John Sparks, whom we believe was the oldest son of William Sparks, Jr., was probably married to Elizabeth MNU shortly before his father moved to Burke County. Although he would later follow his father there, he was still in Surry County when the census of 1800 was taken. John's household was enumerated in 1800 as consisting of one male (himself) aged between 26 and 45; one female (doubt less his wife, Elizabeth, whose maiden surname we have not discovered) aged between 16 and 26; and two boys under ten years of age.

(A United States census has been taken every ten years since 1790, each one providing for a more detailed enumeration of each household until 1850. In 1850 and thereafter, each member of each household has been named, along with his/her age and place of birth.)

We believe that John Sparks followed his father to Burke County, North Carolina, soon after 1800. Two Sparks households were shown on the 1800 census of Burke County. One was headed by William Sparks, Jr. and the other by his brother, Jeremiah Sparks.

Before many years passed following John Sparks's move to Burke County, he died as a relatively young man, leaving Elizabeth a widow with four young sons. She was listed as head of her household in Burke County when the 1810 census was taken. Her name appeared as "Eliza Sparks," Eliza probably being intended by the census taker as an abbreviation for Elizabeth. She was enumerated as aged between 16 and 26, and her four boys were all shown as under ten. From other records that will be noted further in this sketch, it would appear that she had been born between 1775 and 1785-she could neither read nor write, and she likely became uncertain of her exact age in later years. The only record indicating her place of birth was the 1850 census, which gave the state as Virginia.

Genealogical research in Burke County, North Carolina, is extremely difficult because in 1865 most of the county's records were burned. The exact cause of this destruction is unclear-it happened after the Union Army forces had left Morganton, the county's seat of justice. (Burke County had been created in 1774 from a portion of Rowan County; Surry County had been created out of Rowan County in 1770.)

While Burke County's land and probate records prior to 1865 have thus been lost, (although some residents arranged to have their deeds re-recorded), some of the county's court records did survive. From these, we learn that when the county court met in April 1812, it was ordered that 14-year-old William Sparks, who was described as an "orphan of John Sparks," be bound (i.e. apprenticed) to a man named Jesse Hall. (This was a common practice by which orphans could learn a trade.) At an earlier sitting of the court, in January 1812, it had been ordered that Absalom Sparks, who was identified as an orphan aged 12 years, be bound to Crispin D. Gibbs. Absalom's father was not identified in this January 1812 court entry, but there can be little doubt that he was a brother of William Sparks, and like William, also an orphan son of John Sparks. Malone Sparks, born ca. 1802, another of the children of John and Elizabeth Sparks, appears, because of his youth when his father died, to have remained with his mother. We have found no clue regarding the name of the apparent fourth son of John and Elizabeth Sparks.

According to her own sworn statement made in 1853, which will be noted in more detail later, we know that Elizabeth Sparks, widow of John Sparks, was married in Burke County, North Carolina, on October 17, 1814, to George Hodge, a widower who had been born in 1761. He was thus some fifteen or twenty years Elizabeth's senior. He was a man of some means and status in Burke County, so it would seem that this was probably a fortunate second union for Elizabeth.

According to a biographical sketch of George Hodge written by a great-great-grand daughter, Abbie Seals Hildebrand, for The Heritage of Burke County (page 237) published in 1981, he was the only heir of his father, Francis Hodge, and in 1788 had received from his father a tract of 580 acres on Muddy Creek in Burke County. (We have not succeeded in getting in touch with Ms. Hildebrand in the research this writer has done for this article.)

When the 1790 census was taken of Burke County, George Hodge was shown as living in the "Sixty Company," his name appearing immediately following that of his father, "Frank Hodge." George Hodge headed a household in 1790 that included three females and one male (this male was under age 16), besides himself. In her biographical sketch of George Hodge, Ms. Hildebrand stated that only one child of George Hodge by his first wife had been discovered. This was a son named Francis (named obviously for his grandfather) who had been born in 1802. The name of George Hodge's first wife has not been discovered, but from the 1790 census record it would appear probable that there had been daughters by George Hodge's first wife, as well as this son. It seems quite certain that two of these daughters later were married to two of the sons of John and Elizabeth Sparks. Among the early marriage records preserved for Burke county are the following:

May 2, 1819. William Sparks married Rachel Hodge. Witness: B. S. Gaither.
July 19, 1823.Absalem Sparks married Esther Hodge. Witness: Wm. Stallcups.

According to Abbie Seals Hildebrand, George Hodge "was a carpenter, a farmer, a maker of shuttles, bobbins, looms, spinning reels, and reel winders as well as fine furniture of walnut and cherry." He served in the American Revolution, and in 1832, when any surviving veteran of the Revolution could qualify for a pension regardless of his financial need, George Hodge made an application from Burke County on October 22, 1832. In his application, he gave his age as 72; he stated that, based on what his parents had told him, he had been born on April 13, 1761. He stated that he had volunteered for service in the Revolution at Morganton on June 1, 1780. He provided a detailed record of his service, which included fighting both Tories and Indians. He was approved for a pension of $25.66 per year.

George Hodge died on May 5, 1845. On February 3, 1853, Congress had passed a more liberal act providing pensions for widows of Revolutionary War veterans, and on May 24, 1853, Elizabeth Hodge appeared before a justice of the peace in Burke County named S. A. Bettis to assist her in applying for a pension under this act. Besides giving the date of her husband's death, Elizabeth stated in her application that she, herself, was then (1853) 78 years old. This would place her birth in 1775, but on April 5, 1855, when she applied for bounty land with the aid of her son, George Hodge, Jr., she then gave her age as 70, which would place her birth in 1785. She probably had no written record of her date of birth and was thus uncertain of her age as she grew older.

In her application in 1853, Elizabeth Hodge stated that she had been married to George Hodge on October 17, 1814. To provide legal proof of her marriage, she, or someone on her behalf (perhaps her son, George Hodge, Jr., who was now a justice of the peace) arranged on September 9, 1853, for the clerk of the Burke County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, William S. Suddeth, to make a certified copy of the marriage bond, then still on file in the courthouse, which had been obtained by George Hodge, Sr. on October 12, 1814 to authorize his and Elizabeth's marriage. The wording of this bond was, of course, essentially the same as all marriage bonds in North Carolina at that time, as the following transcription illustrates. Without doubt, the original of this document was destroyed in the 1865 fire in the Burke County courthouse, but this certified copy, made in 1853, has been preserved with Elizabeth's pension papers at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. It reads as follows:

State of North Carolina, Burke County.

Know all men by these presents that we George Hodge and John Hodge in the State aforesaid are held and firmly bound unto the Governor of the State of North Carolina for the time being in the just and full sum of Five Hundred pounds current money of this State, to be paid to the said Governor or his survivors or assigns; to the which payment will and truly to be made and done, we bind ourselves, our heirs, executors, and Administrators. Sealed with our Seals and dated this twelfth day of October 1814.

The condition of the above obligation is such that whereas the above bounded George Hodge hath made application for a License for a Marriage to be celebrated between him and Elizabeth Sparks of the County aforesaid. Now in case it shall not appear hereafter that there is any lawful Cause to obstruct the said marriage, then the above obligation to be void, otherwise to remain in full force and virtue.

Sealed and Delivered inPresence of

[signed] George Hodge (Seal)
[signed] John Hodge (Seal)
[signed] E. Coffey

Obtaining a marriage bond like that above was customary for families of some means. The alternative was for a marriage to be announced (the "crying of banns") on three successive Sundays at church or for a notice to be posted in a public place, to enable anyone having legal or moral objections to the proposed marriage to make those facts known.

We cannot identify John Hodge, who served as bondsman for George Hodge.

According to Abbie Seals Hildebrand, George and Elizabeth Hodge had a son born on August 3, 1815, at their home on Muddy Creek. He was named George Hodge, Jr., and, like his father, he spent his life in Burke County, dying on September 11, 1889. He was the son who assisted his mother in making her bounty land application. (Abbie Seals Hildebrand identified herself in the Burke County history cited above as a great-granddaughter of George Hodge, Jr. and his first wife, Lucinda Dill.) He was a well educated man for his time and became a justice of the peace and a justice of the Burke County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions.

When the 1850 census was taken, Elizabeth Hodge was shown as head of her household in Burke County (Vol. 2, p. 730). Her age was given as 73, which would place her birth in or ca. 1777; she was shown as having been born in Virginia. Living with her in 1850 were Jane Metcalf, aged 33, with children named Alex T. Metcalf (age 8) and Elizabeth Metcalf (age 6); also Leah Upright (age 32) with 8-year-old Margaret Upright. All were shown as born in North Carolina. We wonder whether Jane Metcalf and Leah Upright may have been daughters of Eliza beth and George Hodge, and that both were widows in 1850.

A household shown on the 1850 census located just two farms beyond that of Elizabeth Hodge (on page 731), was that headed by her son, George Hodge, Jr. (age 35). With him was his first wife, Lucinda, also age 35, and their first two children, Robert (age 6) and Martha (age 2). Also shown as a member of George Hodge's household was Jesse Sparks (age 23), whose occupation was given as "laborer" and his place of birth as North Carolina. Jesse was probably a grandson of Elizabeth and John Sparks.

Living very near Elizabeth, listed just one farm above her household on the 1850 census, was that of her son, William Sparks, age 57. It will be recalled that he had been apprenticed, at age 14, in 1812, to Jesse Hall, and that he had been married to Rachel Hodge in 1819. On this 1850 census, Rachel was shown as 56 years old. Living with William and Rachel Sparks in 1850 were John Sparks (age 19) and Margaret Sparks (age 16) who were doubtless their son and daughter. It is quite possible that the Jesse Sparks (age 23) living in the household of George Hodge, Jr. as has been noted, was another son of William and Rachel. There is also the possibility that he was a son of Absolom Sparks, brother of William.

The household shown on this 1850 census immediately before that of William Sparks (also on page 730) was that of George Sparks, age 31, with his wife Nancy, age 32. Living with them were children named

Susannah Sparks (10),
Joseph Sparks (5), and
Emily Sparks (3). James Sparks, age 24, and Erwin Sparks, age 20, both shown as minors, were also living in the household of George and Nancy Sparks. We believe that James and Erwin were brothers of George, and that all three were sons of William and Rachel.

Francis Hodge, son of George Hodge, Sr. by his first wife, shown as 45 years old on this 1850 census, was living with his wife, Elizabeth, very near his half-brother, George Hodge, Jr. Elizabeth was 45. With them were Harriet Hodge (age 14) and Mary Hodge (age 9). Both George Hodge, Jr. and Francis Hodge, were shown as farmers, each with land valued at $1,000. Without doubt, they had inherited the land of their father, George Hodge, Sr. Elizabeth appears not to have owned any land in 1850, nor did her son, William Sparks, although he was called a farmer, as was, also, 31-year-old George Sparks (who, likewise, owned no land).

William Sparks was still living in Burke County when the 1860 census was taken, where his age was shown as 63. (Ages on census records often appeared as estimates, of course.) His wife, Rachel (Hodge) Sparks, was shown on the mortality schedule that year-she had died between June 1, 1859, and June 1, 1860, at the age of 68. This would place her year of birth as ca. 1792.

Absolom Sparks, the son of John and Elizabeth Sparks born in or ca. 1799, who had been apprenticed, at age 12, in January 1812, to Crispin D. Gibbs, and who had been married to Esther Hodge in 1823, was shown on the 1830 and 1840 censuses of Burke County. Judging from the enumeration of his household in 1840, it appears that he then had seven children, three boys and four girls. by 1850, how ever, Absolom Sparks had moved west to Buncombe County, North Carolina, where he and his family appeared on the census for that year. He was shown as 50 years old in 1850. His wife, age 45, was called Margaret on this census, indicating, no doubt, that his first wife, Esther Hodge, had died, and that he had remarried. Living in their household in 1850 were Sidney Sparks, age 18; John Sparks, age 15; and Gate Sparks, age 12. We have not traced Absolom's descendants further.

Note was made earlier that we are certain that another son of John and Elizabeth Sparks, besides William and Absolom, was Malone Sparks. He was born in or ca. 1802. Our first record of Malone Sparks in Burke County is that of his marriage on November 16, 1822, to Rachel Haney. The witness to this marriage was James Haney (he signed his name by mark; he may have been Rachel's father).

The record that convinces us that Malone Sparks was a son of John and Elizabeth Sparks is found in the surviving documents of the Burke County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions dated October 1828. There appears the following entry:

"Malone Sparks to Elizabeth Hodge - Bill of Sale for various property therein mentioned dated September 30th 1828, proved in open court by the oath of Francis Hodge, a witness thereto."

There can be little doubt that the Elizabeth Hodge to whom Malone made this sale of "various property," was his mother. The witness, Francis Hodge, was the Francis Hodge mentioned earlier as a stepson of Elizabeth, he being a child of George Hodge by his first wife. Married women were rarely involved directly in the purchase or sale of property at this time in North Carolina, and we wonder whether this transaction may have had something to do with Malone's inheritance from his father. This bill of sale was probably recorded in full in a deed book in Burke County, but all records of this nature were lost in the courthouse fire of 1865.

Malone Sparks has not been found on the 1830 census of Burke County, the reason probably being that he had moved away soon after making this sale of property to his mother, Elizabeth Hodge. We believe that he moved to Habersham County, Georgia, where he appeared on the 1840 census. (We have found him on no cen sus in 1830, however.)

From the enumeration of his household in 1840 in Habersham County, it appears that Malone Sparks was then between 30 and 40 years of age (thus born after 1800). His household consisted of a female (doubtless his wife) aged between 20 and 30, along with three children, all girls; two of whom were between 5 and 10 years old, while the other was under 5 years. From this and family data that will be noted below, it appears that, although he had been married to Rachel Haney in 1822 in Burke County, he had had no children (at least none had survived) prior to 1834. It is probable that Rachel had died without leaving surviving children, and that he had been married a second time ca. 1833.

Also appearing on the 1840 census of Habersham County, Georgia, was a Barsheba Sparks, her age given as between 30 and 40. In her household was a male, age 15 to 20 (thus born between 1820 and 1825), and a female between 5 and 10 (born between 1820 and 1825). Barsheba Sparks was probably a widow; whether she was in any way related to Malone Sparks, we do not know.

Some thirty-five years ago, a great-granddaughter of Malone Sparks, Margaret (Sparks) Singletary of Blakely, Georgia, wrote that Malone's second wife was Irene (or Irena) Branch, and that she and Malone had been married in Lumpkin County, Georgia, in 1823. She could not be sure of the date or place of the marriage, however. While it is true that Malone Sparks, age 48, appeared on the 1850 census of Lumpkin County, Georgia (in the Dahlonega District), with a wife named Irene, her age was given as 38 and her place of birth as North Carolina. If her age was reported correctly in 1850, this would mean that she had been born in or ca. 1812 and would thus have been only eleven years old in 1823, the year Mrs. Singletary thought she and Malone had been married. We think it more probable that they were married in or ca. 1833.

From the listing of the children in his household on the censuses of 1850 and 1860, it appears that Malone Sparks probably did not have children by his first wife, Rachel Haney. The oldest of his apparent children by his second wife, Irene Branch, was Rachel, who was shown as 16 on the 1850 census, thus born ca. 1834, in North Carolina. It seems probable that she was named for Malone's first wife. This was a frequent way of paying tribute to a first wife in those days.

Malone Sparks's occupation in 1850 was given by the census taken as "miner." There had been a "gold rush" to the part of Georgia where Habersham and Lumpkin Counties are located, which is probably what had attracted him there.

Malone was still in Lumpkin County, a farmer, when the 1860 census was taken. His age was given then as 58, while his wife's age appeared as 48--thus each was ten years older than they had been shown in 1850. Her name, however, was given as "Julia W. Sparks" in 1860. We believe that this must have been an error made by the census taker, because Irene Sparks did not die until 1895.

According to Margaret Sparks Singletary, writing in 1958, Malone Sparks died in Lumpkin County, Georgia, in 1863. Shortly before he died, he had received a letter (preserved later in his family Bible) informing him that his oldest son, Archibald Wimpey Sparks, had been killed in action as a soldier in the Confederate Army. He had enlisted under his middle name, Wimpey Sparks, on March 4, 1862, in Company E of the Infantry Battalion known as Phillips' Georgia Legion. A document compiled by Lillian Henderson, Director of Confederate Pension and Record Department, entitled "Roster of the Confederate Soldiers of Georgia," states that the unit in which "A. W. Sparks" of Lumpkin County served was known officially as "Co. D, 52nd Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry, Army of Tennessee, C.S.A." Beside his name in this official record appears: "Private, March 4, 1862; Missing at Atlanta, Georgia, July 22, 1864." (Page 483 of Vol. 5) Another Confederate soldier who served in the same regiment and company from Lumpkin County has the entry:

"Sparks, J. - Private, January 1863. Sick at Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1865." This "J. Sparks" may have been Archibald Wimpey Sparks's brother, Joseph W. Sparks, who was born ca. 1852 according to the 1860 census.

The letter informing Malone Sparks of his son's death indicated that Wimpey Sparks had enlisted at Dahlonega, the county seat of Lumpkin County, Georgia, which was near where Malone Sparks lived. In 1958, Mrs. Singletary owned this letter which informed Malone Sparks that no one had made a claim for the amount of wages that had been due Wimpey Sparks when he was killed. His company commander had been a Captain Hamilton. This letter also mentioned the fact that Wimpey Sparks had been killed in action in an engagement on the Rappahanock River in Virginia.

Based largely on census records, it appears that Malone and Irene (Branch) Sparks were the parents of the following children: Rachel Sparks, born ca. 1834 in North Carolina. Valencia Sparks, born ca. 1836 in North Carolina. Judy E. Sparks born ca. 1838 in North Carolina. Mary Sparks, born ca. 1840 in Georgia. Archibald Wimpey Sparks, born ca. 1842/43 in Georgia; killed in the Civil War (see above). Nancy Sparks, born ca. 1845 in Georgia. William Stephen Sparks, born April 28, 1849, in Lumpkin County, Georgia. He married Mary Carolyn Knowles in 1874. He died on April 22, 1932, in Terrell County, Georgia. His sons, George Marion Sparks, born April 9, 1882, was the father of Mrs. Singletary, who was born June 12, 1912 John Albert Sparks, born April 12, 1885, in Chattooga County, Georgia; he died on July 29, 1955, in Norfolk, Virginia. A son of John Albert Sparks is John A. Sparks, Jr. of Chesapeake, Virginia, born November 29, 1926, He has provided the photograph that appears below.


(picture) Joseph W. Sparks, born ca. 1852 in Georgia. Rebecca Sparks, born ca. 1855 in Georgia.