March 6, 2021

Pages 4998-5003
Whole Number 182 JAMES SPARKS (1768-ca.1835)

by Paul E. Sparks

[Editor's Note: This article is about James Sparks, another of the eleven sons of Matthew and Sarah (Thompson) Sparks of early North Carolina. Articles about seven of the sons have already appeared in the Quarterly, as follows: John Sparks, the March 1966, Whole No. 53; Matthew J. Sparks, the September 1984, Whole No. 127; William Sparks, June 1985, Whole No. 130, the September 1985, Whole No. 131 and the June 1986, Whole No. 134; Absalom Sparks, the September 1982, Whole No. 119; Jesse Sparks, the March 1990, Whole No. 149, and the September 1990, Whole No. 151; Nathan Sparks, the December 1995, Whole No. 172. Hardy Sparks, the December 1990, Whole No. 152;

[After the American Revolutionary War ended, Matthew and Sarah (Thompson) Sparks went to Georgia. Their son, James Sparks, apparently did not accompany them, but remained in North Carolina where he lived for the rest of his life. He left few records, and those few are so intermingled with the records of an uncle, James Sparks, and a cousin, James Sparks, that we are often uncertain which record to attribute to the correct man with this name.

[ James Sparks, son of William Sample Sparks, who was an uncle of the James Sparks who is the subject of the present article, was a member of a Rowan County, North Carolina, jury in 1756, thus he probably was born as early as 1735. We have found records of his "road duty" in 1769, and he was a surveyor's chain bearer in 1761 and 1767. He apparently moved to Surry County, along with his brother, Matthew Sparks, ca. 1773, and he paid taxes there in 1774 and 1776. He was a member of the North Carolina militia that fought the British, and he was probably the James Sparks who bought 150 acres in Wilkes County, North Carolina, in 1778. In 1779, he paid taxes there on property valued at 100 pounds. We have found no further record of him, and he probably died ca. 1780/1785. (See page 3500 of the December 1989 issue of the Quarterly, Whole No. 148, for information about this James Sparks.

[The James Sparks who was a son of William and Ann Sparks, and thus a cousin of the James Sparks who is the subject of the present article, was born ca. 1762 in Rowan County, North Carolina. He was the subject of an article in the March 1994 issue of the Quarterly, Whole No. 165, to which our readers are referred. We do want to point out, however, that he was not listed as a tithe until ca. 1778, thus he was born ca. 1762. He also served in the North Carolina militia and fought the British forces during the Revolutionary War. He took an oath of allegiance to North Carolina at the outbreak of that war.] James Sparks, son of Matthew and Sarah (Thompson) Sparks, who is the subject of the present article, was born in Rowan County, North Carolina, on April 14, 1778, according to a record in the Bible which was apparently owned by his brother, Nathan Sparks. However, we believe that the year was transcribed erroneously, and that he was actually born in 1768. The year 1768 for his birth is also concurred in by census and tax records. (See page 4549 of the December 1995 issue of the Quarterly, Whole No.172.)

James Sparks was a young boy when his parents moved to Surry County, North Carolina ca. 1773. The family settled in that part of Surry County that would become Wilkes County in 1777, then Ashe County in 1799. James was a grown man when his parents decided to move to Georgia ca. 1787. As stated above, it appears that he did not accompany them on this move.

Perhaps James Sparks was planning to get married at about the time his parents, Matthew and Sarah (Thompson) Sparks, moved to Georgia, and for that reason did not accompany them. He was probably married ca. 1790, but we have found nothing about his wife except that she was born ca. 1774. They were not enumerated on the 1790 census as a household, but when the 1800 census was taken, James was shown as head of his household in Surry County. It consisted of himself, his wife, two daughters and two sons. The children had been born between 1790 and 1800.

James Sparks paid taxes in Surry County, North Carolina, from 1792 until 1800. He was in Capt. Benge's District from 1792 to 1794, but he was in Capt. Kilburn's District from 1795 to 1800. He was a witness to the purchase of a five-year-old slave girl named TaMarch by his cousin, Matthew Sparks, on June 14, 1800. He signed the document by making his mark. Oby Martin was also a witness. James Sparks apparently continued to live in Surry County until ca. 1808, when he moved to Wilkes County. It was there, at the August 5, 1808, term of court, that he was summoned to work on a road, along with Samuel Hinds and John Hinds, under the supervision of William Blackburn, overseer. Able-bodied men were frequently required to perform this kind of county service when roads were surveyed, built, or repaired in their militia (or tax) districts.

James Sparks, subject of this article, may have been involved in a slaying in Wilkes County shortly after he moved there. At a trial, which culminated on March 22, 1809, a jury found James Sparks "not guilty of murder, but guilty of man-slaughter." He was sentenced to be branded with the letter "M." We cannot say with absolute certainty, however, that this was, indeed, the James Sparks who was a son of Matthew and Sarah (Thompson) Sparks.

On August 2, 1809, James Sparks was assigned to work on the Elkspur Road by the Wilkes County Court. The overseer was William Blackburn. When the 1810 census was taken, James Sparks was shown as heading a household consisting of himself, age 26-45; his wife, age 26-45; one son and one daughter, ages 16-26; one son and one daughter, ages 10-16; and one son and two daughters, under 10 years of age. (Family relationships were not shown on early census records, but we assume that these children were sons and daughters of James Sparks and his wife.)

The last record that we have found of James Sparks in Wilkes County is a marriage bond issued for Hardy Sparks to be married to Susannah Brown. The bond was issued on January 5, 1815, and the marriage probably took place a few days later. James Sparks was the bondsman, a not unusual role for a father in those days. Samuel Johnson was the witness to this document.

Sometime between 1815 and 1820, James Sparks moved to Burke County, North Carolina, where he was enumerated as the head of a household on the 1820 census. He and his spouse were enumerated as having been born prior to 1775. With them were a male and a female between 10 and 15, and two females under 10 years of age. We assume that these were a son and three daughters of James. He was still in Burke County when the 1830 census was taken. It seems obvious that on this 1830 census, he and his spouse were mistakenly enumerated in the 40 to 50 age group. With them were two female children, aged 10 to 15, whom we assume to have been their daughters.

James Sparks was not enumerated on any 1840 census of North Carolina; he probably died between 1830 and 1840. We have found no records of the administration of his estate, nor that of his wife. Only one record has been found that might pertain to one of his children, namely the marriage bond mentioned above. From census records, it seems apparent that he had eight children, five daughters and three sons, all born between 1790 and 1810. Some, of course, may have died in youth. In spite of this dearth of records, however, we believe that we can identify two sons of James Sparks. Hardy Sparks, probable son of James Sparks, was born November 30, 1796, in North Carolina. Two articles have been published in the Quarterly about him and his family; these will not be repeated here. The articles appeared In the September 1955, Whole No. 11 and the March 1969, Whole No. 65, respectively.

We have found no definite proof that Hardy Sparks was a son of James Sparks; however, several bits of information tend to support that relationship. Because the given name of Hardy is a bit unusual, it is also fairly easy to trace. We know, for example, that James Sparks had a brother named Hardy Sparks, and it is easy to imagine that James named a son for his brother. In addition, as was pointed out above, James Sparks acted as bondsman for Hardy Sparks to obtain a marriage bond, or license, an action which would support the existence of a close relationship. Hardy Sparks, also, named a son James Sparks, perhaps for the baby's grandfather.

The most compelling evidence of the lineage of Hardy Sparks, however, has been handed down by one of his granddaughters, Elizabeth ["Lizzie"] Sparks, a daughter of Hardy's son, Calvin Sparks. Lizzie Sparks was born in 1860 and was a six-year-old girl when her grandfather, Calvin Sparks, died. She married James A. Thompson in 1881, and they had seven children. She lived to be 100 years old and apparently enjoyed telling stories of the "olden days." Fortunately, she had a grandniece, Alice Sparks, who made notes of her grandaunt's remembrances and handed them down to other family members. Here is how her notes were recorded.

My father, Guy Sparks, lived with Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Jim Thompson at different times In his life, from the age of ten years onward to adulthood, and looked upon them as second parents. I remember visiting with them many times as I was growing up. Dad [Guy Sparks] loved to hear Aunt Lizzie's stories about the "olden days." She spoke of "Granddaddy Matthew Sparks," referring to him as her grandfather's granddaddy and relating stories of his hard life "in the South," and his experiences with the howling "Cree" Indians who raided and stole and destroyed. They'd only get things "put to rights" and here they'd come again. They felt lucky to save their skins, for those Indians wanted to stay where they were and they didn't want any white neighbors shooting the game and using the land.

Aunt Lizzie spoke also of a "Granddaddy" James, saying that he had the same name as her father, Uncle Jim. I don't remember any hair-raising stories about him and the Indians, unless he was one of the "they" who considered themselves lucky to save their skins! Aunt Lizzie referred to Hardy Sparks as "Grandaddy" also, so evidently [she] called them all "Granddaddy," whether it was her grandfather or great-grandfather, or whatever, when she was telling about the "old days."

When she (Aunt Lizzie] spoke of Matthew, she referred to South Carolinie and Georgie. All of the other Sparkses I ever knew had this habit of adding an "ie," thus my father's brother, Ira, was called "Irie," and his brother, Noah, was "Noahie," and Elizabeth was "Lizzie."

Aunt Lizzie was an intelligent woman, very much a lady. She was the female counterpart of an "Uncle Billie," the person everyone came to for advice and comfort, and lots of good food. She was slender and handsome, with the dark hair and blue eyes typical for so many Sparks[es]' appearance, as my father [Guy Sparks], for instance.

Notes from "Aunt Lizzie Sparks's stories of Old Times," continued:

I visited Aunt Lizzie when she was in her nineties. I asked her if she remembered telling Dad [Guy Sparks] about her "Granddaddies" and the South and the Indians. She said, Yes. She said that Dad was the one who always wanted to hear her tell about those old times. She said, and I quote: "Poor Granddaddy, the Indians finally killed him, after all his hard times."

Aunt Lizzie's description of the Sparks clan as a whole was that most were fairly tall, dark-haired and blue eyed. She, herself, had piercing blue eyes and dark hair, and so did my Dad, my uncles and my aunts. I remember my Grandfather's (Joseph Hardy Sparks) blue eyes and big mustache, but that's all that I can remember about him.

Alice Sparks

[Editor's Note: The notes made by Alice Sparks from "Aunt Lizzie's stories" appear to be quite authentic. (Lizzie's father was Calvin Sparks, son of Hardy Sparks.) It is obvious that she had grown up with family members who knew about their ancestors and who were willing to talk about them. Her statement that "Poor Granddaddy, the Indians finally killed him,." is quite correct regarding the fate of Matthew Sparks, father of James; Matthew was killed by Indians in Georgia in 1793. (See the Quarterly of June 1961, Whole No. 34, for an account of Matthew Sparks's life and death, pp.556-66.) It is interesting that Lizzie remembered no stories of James Sparks and the Indians. In fact, this was because James had not accompanied his parents and siblings to Georgia.

[We believe that these notes, quoted above, present strong evidence that Hardy Sparks was a son of James Sparks and a grandson of Matthew and Sarah (Thompson) Sparks.]

We will not repeat here the information regarding the family of Hardy Sparks that appeared in the Quarterly of March 1969, except to note that it was sometime in the 1830s that he moved his family from North Carolina to Monroe County, Indiana. Later, he moved over the line into Greene County, Indiana. As noted above, he married Susannah Brown in 1815 in Wilkes County, North Carolina, and Susannah was the mother of seven children. Following her death, ca. 1831, Hardy Sparks married (second) Martha Motley in North Carolina ca. 1832. Martha had eight children. Hardy Sparks was thus the father of fifteen children and dozens of grandchildren. Following is a brief listing of these children: Allen Sparks, born ca. 1817. He was married, first, to Polly Weaver in Monroe County, Indiana, in November 1837, and, second, to Elizabeth Burton in December 1850. He died in Monroe County in 1882. Matilda Sparks, born ca. 1818. She married Arthur Young. William Martin Sparks, born in 1819, died in 1866. He married Nancy MNU. Elizabeth Sparks, born ca. 1821. She married FNU Carmichael. Calvin Sparks, born 1823, died in Nebraska in 1903. He married Mahala Carmichael (1824-1910). Their portrait appears on the cover of the Quarterly for March 1969, Whole No. 65. (Lizzie Sparks, whose memories of "Old Times" are quoted above, was Calvin and Mahala's youngest daughter. Their son, Joseph Hardy Sparks, was the father of Guy Sparks, father of Alice Sparks, who recorded Lizzie Sparks's memories. Henry Sparks, born in 1829, died in 1905. He married Sarah J. Holder in Greene County, Indiana, in 1851. They were in living in Monroe County, Indiana, when the 1860 census was taken. James Sparks, born ca. 1831. His wife's name was Louisa MNU. They were living in Woodford County, Illinois, by 1860, but by 1880 they were in Gage County, Nebraska.

Children of Hardy Sparks and his second wife, Martha Motley: John Sparks, born in 1833. He was married twice, first, to Martha E. Holder, and, second, to Martha A. Robinson. John Sparks moved to Gage County, Nebraska, after the Civil War, dying there on January 12, 1888, during the "Great Blizzard of 1888." Andrew Sparks, born ca. 1835. He was a Union Soldier in the Civil War, and while he was a prisoner of war in Mississippi he died on March 6, 1863. He had been married to Elizabeth Owen a number of years before enlisting. (See the September 1971 issue of the Quarterly, pp. 1429-30, for an abstract of his widow's pension application.) Alfred Sparks, born ca. 1837, died 1907, in Greene County, Indiana. He married Sarah Martindale. Mary Ann Sparks, born ca. 1839. Her husband's name was FNU Nellinger. Martha A. Sparks, born ca. 1841. Her husband's name was FNU Hutchins. Merritt [or Merit] Sparks, born ca. 1843, died in 1873. He married Ellender Martindale. (See the abstract of his Civil War pension application papers in the resent issue of the Quarterly, beginning on page 5015) Nancy Jane Sparks (called Jane], born ca. 1848. She married Dave Weaver. Joseph Sparks, born ca. 1853. He married Hannah Carmichael. Absalom Sparks, probable son of James Sparks, was born between 1790 and 1800; he may have been named for an uncle, Absalom Sparks. He was married, apparently, ca. 1815, and when the 1830 census was taken of Burke County, North Carolina, he and a woman whom we assume to have been his wife were enumerated there, on page 136. His age was given as between 30 and 40, while that of his wife was reported as between 20 and 30. Living in their household was a girl under 5 years and a boy between 5 and 10, whom we assume to have been their children.

[Editor's Note: An error was made by the professional record searcher whom we engaged to search the 1830 census of North Carolina. This error was repeated on page 2531 of the June 1983 issue of the Quarterly, Whole No. 122. An examination of the microfilm of the original census has revealed that the individuals' ages were actually given as stated above. The adult female, whom we assume was Absalom's wife, was not between 30 and 40, but rather, between 20 and 30; and there was only one female child (under 5, as stated above). There was no female child between 5 and 10, nor were there two female children between 10 and 15.]

The probable son of James Sparks named Absalom can easily be confused with another man of the same name who also lived in Burke County, North Carolina, also in the early 1800s. This other Absalom Sparks was a son of John and Elizabeth Sparks; he was born ca. 1799 and married Esther Hodge in Burke County in 1823. (See the Quarterly of March 1996, Whole No. 173, for an article entitled "John Sparks (Born ca.1775, died Prior to 1810..." pp. 4603-4610.) Absalom Sparks, son of John and Elizabeth, appeared on the 1830 census of Burke County. The enumeration of his household appears correctly on page 2531 of the Quarterly. He was still living in Burke County when the 1840 census was taken, "on the south side of the Catawba River and west of the North Fork." by the time that the 1850 census was taken, however, Absalom Sparks, son of John and Elizabeth, had moved his family west to Buncombe County, North Carolina. His first wife, Esther (Hodge) Sparks, apparently had died because on the 1850 census, his wife's name appears as Margaret Sparks. (See page 4607 of the Quarterly for further details.)

The Absalom Sparks whom we believe was a son of James Sparks did not appear on the 1840 census of Burke County, nor on any subsequent North Carolina census. He had probably moved out of the state by 1840, or he may have died. There is great difficulty doing genealogical research in Burke County because its courthouse burned toward the end of the Civil War.

It is probable that James Sparks also had a son named James Sparks, Jr., but our knowledge is too limited for us to speculate regarding him here.

[Editor's Note: We acknowledge that the many conjectural references in this article detract from its value. We are hopeful, however, that its publication will provoke positive reactions among our readers and that someone may have the key either to confirm or contradict these conjectures. A list of the interested descendants of Hardy Sparks, whom we are convinced was a son of James Sparks (1768-ca. 1835), now exceeds over three dozen members of the Association.]