March 7, 2021

Pages 4934-4937
Whole Number 181


by Eula Ray (Sparks) Cook

[Editor's Note: The March 1988 issue of The Sparks Quarterly, Whole No. 141, was concerned with some of the descendants of Reuben and Cassa (Buttery) Sparks of Wilkes County, North Carolina. Among them was a great-grandson, Isaiah Sparks. (See page 3199, Item A, 6, b.) The item concluded that no date of his death had been found. A great-granddaughter, Eula Ray (Sparks) Cook, has now supplied us with not only the date of her ancestor's death, but the sad and unusual circumstances surrounding it.

[Editor’s Note: We are grateful to Mrs. Cook for sharing this information with us. She lives at 923 Roslyn Road, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 27104. We are also grateful to Wayne Calton Sparks for permission to use the photograph of his great-grandfather, Josiah Isaiah Sparks, on the cover of this issue of the Quarterly, as well as that of the family of his grandparents, John and Jennie (Edwards) Sparks. The above record is presented exactly as written by Mrs. Cook because of the sensitivity of the subject.]

I guess we will never know the complete story of Josiah Isaiah Sparks and the reason he was charged and convicted with the stealing of the horse from his father-in-law's pasture or why he had to die at such an early age. Because of this we are left with a tremendous void that is a big part of us all.

The story was told many times as I grew up about Isaiah being charged with stealing a horse, a mare that belonged to Col. Granville Willey. Col. Granville Willey was the father of Levi Willey and Charity's grandfather.

I will try to piece together the story as I have heard it over the years, along with the facts as we now have, to create an understanding as to what happened. Isaiah Sparks was a son of Reuben J. and Nancy (McGrady) Sparks. His only brother was killed in the Civil War: the battle of Petersburg, Virginia. Reuben J. Sparks left his family and went to Russell County, Virginia in 1868. Isaiah was about 17 years of age then. Isaiah married Charity Willey on January 01, 1871. Charity was the daughter of Levi Willey.

Isaiah worked at odd jobs and was a horse trader. The story goes that he would make frequent trips to Raleigh, North Carolina. He would walk, most of the time, to Elkin, North Carolina, which is in Surry County and catch a train to Raleigh. To my knowledge the why of these trips was never told. But apparently the incident where he was caught and charged with horse theft, his sole mission was to go to Elkin and back.

So on this early November day in 1882, he took the mare from his father-in-law's pasture and went to Elkin. Needing a way to Elkin, Isaiah may have asked to borrow the horse and upon being refused, took the horse anyway. (The validity of this is pure speculation on our part and cannot be verified.) We do know there were hard feelings toward Isaiah by the Willey family. Why this was so we may never know. But Carroll Sparks said this was repeated throughout his growing up. Some say that Isaiah was quick to temper and loved to fight.

The horse was reported missing right away. Col. Granville Willey swore out an affidavit on the 11th of November 1882, to the fact that the horse was taken on the night of November 8, 1882. Stating that it was his mare and was taken from the pasture of Levi Willey.

A warrant of arrest was issued on November 11, 1882. They found the horse in Surry County with Isaiah's overcoat, breeches and saddle on the mare but Isaiah was not present. He was later arrested as he returned to Allegheny County (most probably to his home) and was held in jail for five (5) months, prior to the Spring term of Superior Court which was held in April of 1883.

Isaiah felt that there was no way he could get a fair and impartial trial in Allegheny County, due to the animosity toward him. He felt the people had talked so much about the case, that they had already formed their opinions as to his guilt. He gave an affidavit to this fact, but he was refused a trial in a different county and they proceeded to try him. Apparently he felt he had a better chance by throwing himself on the mercy of the court, thereupon pleading guilty to the charges and he was sentenced to five (5) years of hard labor. (Five years and 5 months, as he had already served 5 months.) This, in my opinion, was a rather harsh sentencing for the borrowing (?) of a relative's horse. But back then the stealing of a horse was a capital offense that could carry a death sentence. However, we are left with a lot of questions pertaining to this most unusual case.

You would think that the story would end here, with a far different finish. With Isaiah serving his sentence and returning home to his family but this was not to be the case. Isaiah only lived for three (3) months after he was incarcerated at CENTRAL PRISON in Raleigh, North Carolina. We have never known if he became ill and died or if he was killed. A mere 32 years of age, an age we would think would let him see his incarceration through with relative ease. He died leaving a wife and two small sons, ages 10 and 8.

Charity and her family did not seek to have his body returned to Allegheny County for burial. We don't know if it was due to the cost involved or if they just did not want him returned. So he was buried somewhere in Raleigh.

Charity died in 1891 at the age of 41 years. She started bleeding profusely from the nose and they were unable to stop the bleeding. Her son, Eddie Sparks, started to go for a doctor but when he returned to the house from saddling the horse, he found Charity lying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor, dead.

Eddie and Calton were placed under guardianship of Solomon Fender, Jr. (Solomon Fender, Jr. was the brother-in-law to Charity, having married her sister, Elizabeth.) He was to oversee their education and managing of the estate left them- with the death of their mother. They were well schooled at the TRAPHILL ACADEMY in Traphill, North Carolina.

Oh! If we could only fill in all the missing pieces, so that we could have a much clearer picture of this tragic story, we would have a more peaceful feeling, a feeling of finality. Until then we will keep searching for more facts. Maybe, just maybe, somewhere, sometime, someone will come forward with THE REST OF THE STORY.This was compiled by Eula Ray (Sparks) Cook from court records and family stories.

[Editor's Note: Isaiah and Charity (Willey) Sparks had five children:] Pomeroy Sparks was born December 22, 1871. She died sometime between 1880 and 1883. Willey Sparks was born ca. 1872 and was obviously named for her mother's family. She died between 1880 and 1883. Julius Edmond ["Eddie"] Sparks was born April 23, 1873. He married Fannie Edwards on April 14, 1897. She had been born on November 24, 1876, and was a daughter of David and Caroline (Edwards) Edwards. Eddie Sparks was a teacher and a farmer. He died on April 20, 1962. Fannie died on June 8, 1965. They were the parents of nine children. David Glenn Sparks Callie L. Sparks Georfre S. Sparks Lura M. ["Lou"] Sparks Simeon E. Sparks Chelsie H. Sparks (male) John Robert Sparks James Woodrow Sparks Treva Mae Sparks. John Calton Sparks was born February 4, 1875. He married Maza Virginia ["Jennie"] Edwards on September 8, 1897. She had been born July 2, 1877, and was a daughter of Andrew and Liza (Richardson) Edwards. Calton (as he was called) was a teacher, carpenter and surveyor. Jennie died on April 13, 1935 and Calton died on December 2, 1861. They were the parents of seven children: Stella Clide Sparks James Andrew Sparks Dewey Israel Sparks Tressie Mae Sparks Elmer Ray Sparks Eliza Hazel Sparks John Lee Sparks.

(See the photograph of Calton and Jennie Sparks on p. 4937.)