June 21, 2019

Pages 5005-5010
Whole Number 182


A member of the Association, Peter G. Thyrre, Ardsley, New York, 10502, has found, and has shared with us, a published obituary of his wife's ancestor, the Rev. Robert Sparks, an early Methodist clergyman of Maryland. Mr. Thyrre reports that a Xerox copy of this obituary was provided to him by the Methodist Historical Society in the Lovely Lane Museum of Baltimore, Maryland. This obituary had been published in the Methodist Protestant of September 9, 1831. Its author was Circuit Court Judge Philemon B. Hopper whQ, according to Frederick Emory in his queen Anne's County, Its Early History and Development (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1950, p.238) "was always a devout and zealous member of the denomination, and [had been] largely instrumental in building up the [Methodist Protestant] church in Centreville." The text of Robert Sparks's obituary follows, with notes regarding him and his ancestry:

For the Methodist Protestant.

Rev. Robert Sparks

Dear Sir, --Upon my return from Bedford, and before I had landed from the boat at Centreville, I received the melancholy tidings that our venerable and highly esteemed brother, the Rev. Robert Sparks, had died very suddenly a few days since.

For more than half a century, this aged disciple of our Saviour has maintained an irreproachable character as a gentleman and Christian; for upwards of forty years of this time, he has been a laborious and faithful minister of the gospel. He was never considered an eloquent or a popular preacher; but his gentlemanly deportment insured him the respect of the irreligious, and his zeal and industry, always commanded the affections of his brethren.

He traveled extensively as an itinerant minister; and it is probable, that no Methodist preacher was more successful in exciting and carrying on revivals; and I have no doubt, but hundreds in the day of eternity will claim him as their spiritual father.

For several years preceding his decease, he was quite feeble, and appeared to be gradually sinking into the grave from old age, and was scarcely ever able to preach. A few weeks before his death, he exhorted a little while, and told the congregation, that he was satisfied that he had but a few days to live, and that he was looking for death every day, but he felt happy in God, and resigned to his will. He has been frequently heard to say the same thing in class meeting; and whilst thus expressing himself, he has rejoiced exceedingly, and exhorted his brethren to be holy in life that they might be triumphant in death. At the secession in Centreville, he was the first to give his name as a member of the new church, and told all present, that for thirty years past, he had been a reformer.

On the day of his death he walked into his cornfield and gathered some green corn for dinner. He ate a hearty dinner. Soon after which, he complained of a palpitation of heart, laid down on his bed and expired in a few minutes without a sigh or a groan. Thus ended the earthly pilgrimage of the Rev. Robert Sparks, (I think) in the seventy-fifth year of his age. And although he never spoke after he became ill, his friends rest assured from his devoted life and frequent expressions of his readiness to meet death, that he now rests in peace.

There was one remarkable trait in the character of this pious man. He has often remarked, that he did not feel himself at liberty to speak of the faults of others; and if any an ever adhered to this good rule, I think he was that man. I have always been greatly attached to him, as my first recollection of Methodism is identified with him. When I was quite a child, he preached often at my father's house, and as well as I recollect; my first awakenings were under his ministry.

When ill last winter, he expressed a wish, that when he died, I should preach his funeral sermon which, if health permit, I expect to do on next Sabbath in our new church in Centreville. It has pleased providence to remove from this world of suffering three more of the members of our church. Two of whom died most triumphantly, and the other was taken ill and died in a few hours, and from the first attack became comatose and never spoke intelligibly, but from his uniform deportment, and his repeated assurances in class meetings, I can have do doubt of his safety.

Very respectfully,

your obedient servant

Clinton Hall, August29, 1831


Readers having an interest in the Rev. Robert Sparks, or his brother, Elijah Sparks, should consult two back issues of The Sparks Quarterly: the issue for June 1973, Whole No. 82, and that of December 1974, Whole No. 88. In the former issue, beginning on page 1556, appears an article by Paul E. Sparks entitled "Elijah Sparks (born ca. 1770, died 1815), of Early Indiana." The Rev. Robert Sparks was an older brother of Elijah Sparks; both became Methodist preachers. It was noted in that article that Elijah had been on his way to visit his brother, Robert, when he (Elijah) became suddenly ill and died before reaching Robert's home. This was in 1815, and we really wonder whether possibly he had traveled east to meet Robert's new wife. In the Quarterly of December 1974, appeared Paul E. Sparks's article entitled "Have We Found the Parents of Elijah Sparks of Early Indiana?" The parents of Elijah were, of course, the parents, also, of Robert Sparks.

As was noted on page 1699 of the Quarterly of December 1974, there can be no doubt that the parents of Elijah and Robert Sparks were Absalom and Elizabeth (Brown) Sparks of Queen Annes County, Maryland. (The town of Centreville, mentioned in the above obituary, is located in Queen Annes County.) Absalom Sparks (whose name was sometimes spelled Absalom or Absolem) had been born, we believe, between 1720 and 1725. He was a son of John and Cornelia (Curtis) Sparks and was a grandson of William Sparks, an Immigrant to Maryland from Hampshire County, England, in or ca. 1663. (For information on William Sparks, who died in Queen Annes County, Maryland, in 1709, see the Quarterly for March 1971, Whole No. 73, pp. 1381-89, and December 1992, Whole No. 160, pp. 4023-34.)

Absalom Sparks had been married to Elizabeth Brown on November 17, 1748, as recorded in the church register of St. Luke's Parish in Queen Annes County. (See the article regarding St. Luke's Parish in the present issue of the Quarterly, pp.5011-12.) Elizabeth Brown was a daughter of Edward Brown who died in 1763. In his will, Edward Brown mentioned his daughter Elizabeth, wife of Absalom Sparks.

In 1748, the same year that he was married, Absalom Sparks purchased from his brothers, Caleb and Millington Sparks, their shares of two tracts of land that they had inherited from their father, John Sparks. Absalom sold this same land, however, the following year. He was involved in other land transactions later, as described on page 1702 of the December 1974 Quarterly. Sometime in the late 1760s, Elizabeth (Brown) Sparks died. by April 1769, Absalom had been married (second) to Ruth Sparks, widow of Arthur Sparks.

Arthur Sparks, who had been born on February 17, 1743, was a son of Joseph and Elizabeth (Kelley) Sparks; he was a grandson of George and Mary Sparks and a great-grandson of the immigrant, William Sparks, who had died in 1709. Thus, Absalom Sparks and Arthur Sparks were first cousins, once removed. (See the article by Paul E. Sparks entitled "George Sparks (Born ca. 1678], Son of William Sparks Who Died in 1709, of Queen Annes County, Maryland," in the Quarterly of December 1992, Whole No. 160, pp. 4035-4044.) As noted on pp. 4042-43, Arthur Sparks died early in 1764 and his widow, Ruth Sparks, whose maiden name we have not discovered, became the administratrix of his small estate in Queen Annes County. When she made her final accounting of the estate on April 6, 1769, she was the wife of Absalom Sparks, who had become her co-administrator. Ruth and Arthur Sparks had had one child; a daughter named Hester, who had died in 1766. In the latter part of 1771, Absalom Sparks died without leaving a will. His second wife, Ruth Sparks, now a widow for the second time, was appointed administratrix of Absalom's estate, and it is through these estate papers in Queen Annes County that we are able to identify Absalom's children by his first wife, Elizabeth Brown.

He and Ruth appear to have had no children.

Before Absalom's estate was settled, his widow, Ruth, had been married a third time, to William Tippins, and, as was then the law, he became co-administrator with her of Absalom Sparks's estate. In the final settlement, dated August 11, 1774, Absalom's seven children were identified. All were shown as under age except the eldest daughter, Eliza Sparks, who had been married to Henry Thompson.

As was the custom, Absalom's second wife, now Ruth Tippins was entitled to one-third of Absalom's property; the remaining two-thirds was divided equally among the seven children. Assuming that they were named in the order of their births in this document of August 11, 1774, and knowing that Absalom and Elizabeth (Brown) Sparks had been married on November 17, 1748, we can speculate regarding their dates of birth. (Also, P. B. Hooper, according to his obituary of the Rev. Robert Sparks, believed that Robert had been "in the seventy-fifth year of his age" when he died in August 1831.) These seven children were:

1. Eliza Sparks was born ca. 1750; she had been married to Henry Thompson before August 11, 1774.
2. Brown Sparks was born ca. 1753.
3. Robert Sparks was born in or ca. 1756.
4. Mary Sparks was born ca. 1758.
5. Absalom Sparks, Jr., was born ca. 1760-62.
6. Elijah Sparks was born ca. 1765.
7. Athaliah Sparks was born ca. 1767.

(With the information now available, we have estimated the dates of birth of the above children slightly differently from their estimated birth dates given on page 1703 of the December 1074 issue of the Quarterly.)

Although the Rev. Robert Sparks's brother, Elijah, became a Methodist clergyman like Robert, and, as an itinerant preacher, was assigned to the Rockingham, Virginia, Circuit in 1792, he was married in 1793 to Elizabeth Weaver in Frederick County, Virginia. Although he was assigned to the Fairfax Circuit of Virginia the following year, the Methodist Church did not think it wise for married men to serve as itinerant preachers, since they were required to travel extensively. In a lengthy obituary of Elizabeth (Weaver) Sparks published in the Western Christian Advocate following her death in 1864, it was stated that Elijah had become engaged in the "mercantile business" by the time they were married. (See the Quarterly of December 1997, Whole No. 180, pp.4904-06, for the full text of this obituary.)

Although he remained an active member of the Methodist Church, and preached on many occasions, Elijah Sparks became known chiefly as a western lawyer and politician. In a letter written on February 23, 1813, to President Madison (quoted on pp.1562-63 of the June 1973 issue of the Quarterly), Elijah mentioned having had the misfortune to have been "deprived of Parents in very early life" and to have been "thrown on the world helpless & unlearned." We can speculate that Elijah, and perhaps his siblings as well, felt themselves badly treated by their stepmother and her third husband, William Tippins. In 1776, however, Robert Sparks received land from his stepmother and William Tippins, which may have been a cause of Elijah's ill feelings. In the same year (1776), Robert disposed of the same land to Allen Hollingsworth. (See Queen Annes Deed Book RT-L, pp.29 and 309.) In 1778, Robert signed an "Oath of Fidelity" required by the Colony of Maryland, and in the records of a special tax collected that same year, he was shown as living in the Corsica District of Queen Annes County. In 1788, he was involved in a business deal and received a bill of sale from Valentine Honey.

Robert Sparks was ordained as an Elder in the Methodist Church in 1790 by Bishop Francis Asbury (1745-1816), who was one of the most famous leaders in his denomination in the United States following the American Revolution. Five years before his ordination, however, Robert Sparks had been received in the Baltimore Conference in 1785 "on trial" to serve as an itinerant preacher. Men in this role were often called "Circuit Riders," as they carried the Methodist message to scattered hamlets across the country. A list of the appointments of Robert Sparks from 1785 through 1790 has been provided by the Methodist Historical Society as follows, each being the name of a circuit:

1/1785 W. Jersey 1793 Trenton

5/1786 Trenton 1794 Baltimore

7/1787 Northampton 1795 Prince George

9/1788 Dorset 1795 Calvert

5/1789 Caroline 1796 Lancaster

9/1790 Kent 1796 Located (i.e., placed on leave)

5/1791 Talbot 1798 Kent

1792 Cecil

1799 Freehold

From a statement appearing in a volume entitled Portrait and Biographical Record of The Eastern Shore of Maryland, it appears that Robert Sparks was married sometime in the 1790s. According to this reference, a Sarah Sparks, who had been born near Centreville, in Queen Annes County, was married ca. 1814 to a militia captain named Richard Thomas. Sarah was then identified as a daughter of " Rev. Robert Sparks [who] owned an estate near Centreville" who had been an "early Methodist minister in the area." Assuming that Sarah Sparks was at the typical age of marriage for young women at that time, (sixteen to eighteen), we can speculate that it was his marriage, and becoming a father, that led to his being "located" by the Methodist Church in 1796. This meant what we might call today as taking a leave of absence from active ministry. As shown in his list of his ministerial charges, Robert Sparks returned to head a circuit in 1798 and in 1799.

Our next record of Robert Sparks is found in Frederick Emery’s history of Queen Annes County cited on page 5005. Centreville Circuit was created in 1802, and in 1805 Robert Sparks was assigned there, along with a junior preacher named William Fox. Robert continued in that post in 1806, with John Ruth as his assistant.

Between 1808 and 1812, Robert Sparks was a member of the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Conference of the Methodist Church. He was probably the Robert Sparks listed on the census of 1810 as heading a household in the North Liberties District in Philadelphia County. His age was shown as over 45 years, while the adult female living with him, who was doubtless his first wife, was between 26 and 45. We assume, also, that the three children enumerated in his household belong to Robert and his first wife: a boy and a girl under 10, and another boy between 10 and 16.

It appears that in 1812, Robert Sparks again "located," that is, he gave up active preaching and his membership In the Philadelphia Conference. He returned to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, settling, apparently, in the home that he owned in Centreville. He was probably the minister named Sparks (or Sparkes) who performed a number of marriages in Queen Annes County between 1818 and 1828.

It seems quite likely that the wife of Robert Sparks (whose name we have not learned), died at about the time he returned to Queen Annes County; perhaps it was her death that prompted his return.

In 1812, there was a land transaction in Queen Annes County (Deed Book JB-1, p.59) in which Ann Wright, widow of James Wright, was identified as "now Ann Sparks." Then in 1815, another land record was created proving that it had been to the Rev. Robert Sparks that Ann Wright had been married. (See Deed Book JB-2, p.523.)

Peter G. Thyrre, mentioned at the beginning of this article, has learned that the widow, Ann Wright, to whom Robert Sparks was married in or before 1812, had been Ann Wrench Hackett before her marriage to James Wright. She was a daughter of William Hackett of Queen Annes County, Maryland, and his wife, Alice Clayton Wrench; William Hackett was a son of John and Mary (Bateman) Hackett. Alice Clayton Wrench was a daughter of Henry Wrench and his wife, Mary Ann Wright, the daughter of Nathaniel Wright who had immigrated to Maryland in 1763.

The Sparks and the Hackett families had had a long neighborly association in Queen Annes County. Robert Sparks's great-grandfather, the immigrant from Hampshire County, England, named William Sparks, had purchased land from Michael and Mary Hackett in 1681. When William Sparks died in 1709, a John Hackett, with John Hawkins, Jr., were appointed by the probate court to prepare the inventory of William's personal property.

Based on family records, Mr. Thyrre reports that Ann Wright, wife of Robert Sparks, had two children by her first husband, James Wright; they were James Wright, Jr. and Nathan Wright.

From the wording of the obituary for the Rev. Robert Sparks, we know that he was one of the "reformers" within the Methodist Episcopal Church who came to believe that the denomination's form of governance, with its executive power vested in a group of bishops, was inappropriate for a church within a democratically governed nation. The system smacked, they claimed, of the "divine right hierarchy," with kings and nobility, over which the American Revolution had been fought. At a Conference held in Baltimore in November 1830, 114 delegates voted to separate from the rest of the denomination and to form the Methodist Protestant Church, in which laymen could vote with the clergy on any question at any meeting, and, in which, there would be no bishops.

The Rev. Robert Sparks, as stated by Judge Hopper in his obituary, was " the first to give his name as a member of the new church" in Centreville.

A further division within Methodism in the U.S. came in 1844 over the slavery question and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South came into existence as a result. It was not until 1939 that these three branches of U.S. Methodism reunited as The Methodist Church.

The Rev. Robert and Ann Sparks are known to have had a daughter named Alice Ann B. Sparks, born ca. 1820. Whether there were other children is not known. Alice Ann married James Fisher of Queen Annes County, a planter, and they became the parents of at least two daughters, Sarah Fisher and Ann Fisher. Sarah and Ann were married to brothers named Johnson: Sarah to Thomas Jefferson Johnson and Ann to Harrison Clay Johnson. They were sons of Andrew and Ann (Walls) Johnson. Andrew Johnson was sheriff of Queen Annes County in the early 1840s.

We have not found Robert Sparks as head of a household on the 1820 census, and while we might expect to find him on the 1830 census of Queen Annes County, that particular census has been lost. We can conjecture that one of the two women named Ann Sparks appearing as heads of families in Centreville in Queen Annes County on the 1840 census could have been the widow of Robert Sparks, the enumeration by age category of the members of their households fails, however, to point to either one as Robert's widow. (See page 2834 of the Quarterly for March 1986, Whole No. 133, for a transcription of Sparks households on this census.)

Should anyone among our readers have further information on the Rev. Robert Sparks and his family, we would be delighted to hear from you.