April 22, 2021

Pages 5240-5252
Whole Number 188

49.3 John Gwin Sparks (1811-1891) & 49.10 William Andrew Jackson Sparks (1828-1904)

In the Quarterly of March 1998, Whole No. 181, we began publishing portions of the autobiography of 49.8 David Rhodes Sparks (1823-1901) and, in this same issue, provided information on his Sparks ancestry. David Rhodes Sparks was one of ten children born to Baxter and Elizabeth (Gwin) Sparks, records of whose family had previously appeared in the Quarterly of March 1972, Whole No. 77.

David Rhodes Sparks gave brief biographical sketches of his nine siblings in the early pages of his autobiography, but he gave relatively little regarding: his brother, 49.3 John Gwin Sparks. Noting that John had died in 1891 in Olympia, Washington, and that he had not seen him during the last forty years of his life, he added: "I know little of his life.'' He gave somewhat more information regarding his youngest brother, 49.10 William Andrew Jackson Sparks, born November 15, 1828. We also have a rather detailed sketch of William's life taken from a local history, beginning on page 5249.

We are fortunate to have photographs of both of these brothers, that for John is reproduced on the cover of this issue of the Quarterly, while that for William is on page 5250. These, along with biographical material on John G. Sparks, have been provided by Sylvia J. Sparks Smith, 7890 W. Thompson Rd., Kinross, Michigan, 49752. Mrs. Smith is a great-granddaughter of John G. Sparks and his first wife, Rebecca Casey. She has also provided copies of three letters written by John to Rebecca on his way to, and after his arrival at, California in 1852/53, which we give below. We are also able to provide information regarding the children of John G. Sparks's only son, 49.3.3 Francis Marion Sparks, from a family Bible record now owned by Mrs. Mary Lou Hall of Decatur, Michigan. As noted above, John Gwin Sparks was born September 11, 1811, the third child of Baxter and Elizabeth (Gwin) Sparks. The name Gwin was spelled "Gwynne" in some early records, and there is evidence that the Gwin family and the Sparks family were neighbors on Sandy River in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, before Baxter Sparks moved to Kentucky ca. 1802, settling near Louisville. by 1810, Baxter had moved to Harrison County, Indiana; on the federal census of that year, he was shown as living in Harrison Township. The name following that of Baxter on this 1810 census was "John Gwin," whose age was given as over 45. From this, as well as other records, and the naming pattern of Baxter's children, we believe that Elizabeth was a daughter of this John Gwin.

According to a family Bible record published in the Quarterly of March 1972, Whole No. 77, cited above, Baxter Sparks and Elizabeth Gwin were married on September 20, 1806. Elizabeth had been born on May 1, 1786; Baxter had been born on May 8, 1877. He died on September 7, 1840; Elizabeth died on March 24, 1844. Both were buried in a private burial ground on Baxter's farm located north of Staunton, Macoupin County, Illinois, where they had finally settled ca. 1837.

49.3 John Gwin Sparks was in his mid-twenties when his parents moved to Macoupin County; he did not accompany them, however; instead, he settled in Williamson County, Illinois. It was there, in Sarahville, a village that no longer exists, that he married Rebecca Casey on January 16, 1834. She and John seem to have spelled her name "Rebeckah," but others used the traditional spelling, Rebecca.

In his brief sketch of John G. Sparks, 49.8 David Rhodes Sparks recalled that John had "first learned the hatters trade and worked at his trade for a number of years, but tired of this business and turned to the study of law, which he practiced for the remainder of his life." According to the History of Williamson County by Mile Erwin, published in 1876, John's hat shop had been in the town square of Marion, the county seat of Williamson County.

The family record of Baxter Sparks that we published in the March 1972 issue of the Quarterly, Whole No. 77, pp.1466-68, lists the births of three children of John G. Sparks. From other records, we know that they were his and Rebecca's children, as follows:

49.3.1 Mary Sparks, born January 2, 1836.
49.3.2 Elizabeth S. Sparks, born February 18, 1838.
49.3.3 Francis M. Sparks, born May 21, 1840.

From the family Bible record that belonged to the son, Francis Marion Sparks, we know that both of the daughters of John G. and Rebecca (Casey) Sparks died in childhood, Elizabeth on September 14, 1843, and Mary on September 7, 1852. As noted earlier, the Bible is now owned by Mrs. Mary Lou Hall of Decatur, Michigan, who is a granddaughter of Francis Marion Sparks.

According to the 1905 Historical Souvenir of Williamson County by J. F. Wilcox, John G. Sparks began to study law in 1841, doubtless by "reading law" in the office and library of a local lawyer, and after three years of study, he opened a law office in Jonesboro, the county seat of Union County, Illinois. (The SW corner of Williamson County and the NE corner of Union County adjoin for a short distance.) Three years later, however, he moved his law office to Murphysboro, the county seat of Jackson County, Illinois. (Jackson County adjoins both Union and Williamson Counties, so his moves were not very far.) It was in Murphysboro that John G. Sparks appeared on the 1850 census with his wife, Rebecca, his daughter, Mary (age 14), and his son, Francis M. (age 10).

It was in the late winter or early spring in 1852 that John G. Sparks set out for California by way of the Isthmus of Panama. It was in Panama City, on the Pacific side of the Isthmus, that John wrote to Rebecca on March 6, 1852. This is the first of several letters in the possession of Mrs. Hall. Of these, three have been copied by Sylvia Smith and are transcribed following the present article.

The great Gold Rush to California had begun in 1849, and the "gold fever" continued to lure thousands to the "New Eldorado" each year during the early 1850s, even though most of these immigrants failed to find the riches of which they dreamed. Two of John's brothers, David Rhodes Sparks and Edmond 8. Sparks, had gone overland to California in 1850. Edmond had died there on October 5, 1850, not long after his arrival in the "Gold Fields," and by the spring of 1851 David concluded that he would not find in California the wealth he had dreamed of and returned home with a total of $300. We assume that John knew of Edmond's death and David's failure to "strike it rich" before starting on his own venture west in 1852.

As noted, it was in the old city of Panama, which John G. Sparks spelled "Panamy," that he wrote to his wife on March 6, 1852, while waiting for a sailing craft in which to continue to San Francisco. From the contents of this letter, we know that John had written to Rebecca earlier in his journey. His other two letters shared with us by Mrs. Smith were written in the spring and summer of 1853 from Columbia on the Stanislaus River of northern California.

It is at this point in our tracing the life of John Gwin Sparks that we encounter a mystery. While his letters clearly indicate that he planned to return home to Illinois after finding enough gold to pay various debts that he owed, as well as support his family, we know that he never did actually come back to Rebecca and his surviving son, Francis M. Sparks. When the 1860 census was taken, he was shown as a lawyer living in The Dalles, Wasco County, Oregon.

When the 1860 census was taken of Williamson County, Illinois, Rebecca Sparks was shown as living within the Marion School District; she had no real estate and only $150 worth of personal property. No occupation was shown for her. Living with her was her 20-year-old son, Francis M. Sparks; no occupation was recorded for him. When the 1870 census was taken, Rebecca was living in Carbondale in Jackson County, Illinois. She now owned real estate valued at $1,500 and personal property worth $200. Her occupation was given as "Hotel Keeping," and the names of nine adults, with a variety of surnames, follow as members of her "household," all being guests in her hotel.

According to the family Bible record that once belonged to Rebecca's son, 49.3.3 Francis M. Sparks, Rebecca died on November 2, 1878. Sylvia Sparks Smith, John and Rebecca' s great-granddaughter, has written the following regarding John G. Sparks in California, Oregon, and Washington:

In a letter dated January 9, 1853, John told that his mine had been claimed by another company, but that after going to court for four or five weeks, the Miners Committee ruled in his favor, and he got his mine back. On June 29, 1854, he wrote that he had sold the mine for $900. President Lincoln appointed him Assessor of Internal Revenue in 1861 at Olympia, Washington. He held this position until Lincoln's assassination. According to a weekly newspaper called the Marion Intelligencer, Rebecca applied there for a divorce from John G. Sparks on July 20, 1860. When John learned of this, he appealed to the Washington Territorial Legislature grant him a divorce, thus sparing Rebecca from disgrace, which could not have been done through the courts. From the letters that I have, it seems that he intended to return to Illinois. He married a lady named Margaret, and they had two daughters, 49.3.4 Millie Sparks and 49.3.5 Sarah Sparks. Millie was born June 23, 1863; Sarah was two years younger than Millie, but I do not have a date for her birth. Margaret had been born on September 18, 1837; she died on May 4, 1867; John G. Sparks then married Margaret Scott Paimatier on June 7, 1868. They remained together until his death in 1891.

When the 1870 census was taken in Olympia, Thurston County, Washington, John G. Sparks was shown as 58 years old; his third wife, Margaret, was shown as 49; she was a native of Georgia. Margaret's daughter by a previous marriage, Evelyne Brewer, was 14 years old, born in Oregon. John's two daughters by his second wife, whose name had also been Margaret, were shown as Millie, age 7, and Sarah, age 5; both had been born in Washington Territory. Also living in his household in 1870 was Benjamin Riley, age 9, who had also been born in Washington Territory.

We have not been able to identify this lad.A letter written some fifty years ago to the editor by a Mrs. Nina W. Clark, living in Berkeley, California, contains the information that the third wife of John G. Sparks had had the maiden name of Margaret Isabella Scott, born in 1820 in Abbeville, South Carolina. She had been married, first, to William A. Brewer and, second, to Henry L. Palimiter, before her marriage to John G. Sparks in 1868.

When John Gwin Sparks died in November 1891, his obituary appeared in a newspaper, the Morning Olympian of November 15, 1891, under the heading: "ANOTHER OLD CITIZEN GONE, The Aged Judge Sparks Passes From Earth." We give the text below, but must note that the date given there for his going to California is in error.

Judge John G. Sparks died Saturday morning at 12:30 o'clock, at the advanced age of 80 years. The health of the judge had been failing for some time, and his system was not able to withstand the attack of pneumonia from which he suffered during a few days preceding his death. He leaves three children, Frank of Marion, Illinois, and Mrs. Charles Peterson and Mrs. J. S. Brewer. The funeral services will be held at 1:30 o'clock this afternoon at the Methodist church, and will be conducted by Rev. F. E. Drake. The Masonic burial service will be read at the grave, the deceased having been a member of the Olympia Masonic lodge for many years. The lodge held a meeting last evening to make arrangements for the funeral. The county bar association held a meeting yesterday and appointed Judges Root, Allen and Porter a committee on resolutions of respect. The following attorneys were selected to act as honorary pallbearers: B. F. Dennison, N. S. Porter, M. A. Root, J. R. Mitchell, O. C. Lacey, and T. N. Allen. Judge Sparks was born in Indiana in 1811. He removed to Illinois in 1832, and was admitted to the bar in that state. He came to the Pacific coast in 1844 [error, see above] locating in California and practicing his profession there until 1857 when he removed to The Dalles, OR, and later located at Walla Walla. He was appointed while a resident of the latter city collector of internal revenue, by President Lincoln, and soon thereafter moved to Olympia in 1862. He held office until 1865.

He succeeded John Miller Murphy as territorial auditor in 1870. For many years he served as justice of the peace in this city. He was a man of high character and honorable life. For more than a score of years he was a faithful member of the Methodist church. In politics he was a stalwart Republican, though a brother of Andrew Jackson Sparks, the land commissioner of the Cleveland administration.

The grave of John Gwin Sparks, with those of his second and third wives, is in the cemetery at Tumwater, Washington. The above photograph was taken by Daniel R. Crane, a great-great-grandson of John. Besides the inscription for John on his monument, that for his second wife reads:

On the third side of the stone is an inscription for John's third wife, whose maiden name had been Margaret Isabella Scott.

The Frank Sparks mentioned in John's obituary was Francis M. Sparks, his son by his first wife, Rebecca, while the two daughters were Millie and Sarah, the children of his second wife, Margaret (MNU) Sparks.

We have noted above that the family record of Francis M. Sparks has been preserved by Mary Lou Hall. The following information is from this record:

Francis M. Sparks was married twice. His first wife was Frances Ann Sikman; they were married February 17, 1863, in Marion, Williamson County, Illinois She had been born in Marion on April 14, 1842; she died on May 22, 1881. Francis was married, second, to Mary Jane Pease "at the Residence of the Bride's Parents" on December 24, 1882. She had been born at Crab Orchard, Williamson County, on May 31, 1863. The date of her death is not included in this family record. Following the entry for the birth of Francis M. Sparks on April 21, 1840, written in a different hand, is: "Died February 26, 1926, Buried Lakeside Cemetery, Decatur, Michigan."

by his first wife, Frances Ann, Francis M. Sparks was the father of nine children : Infant daughter, born November 24, 1863; died on the same day. Edger Sparks, born June 20, 1865; died May 3, 1918. Charles A. Sparks, born July 27, 1867; died January 10, 1950. John Gee Sparks, born October 2, 1869; died on February 6, 1892. Mary Elizabeth Sparks, born July 12, 1871; died on September 27, 1943. Henrietta R. Sparks, born March 20, 1874; died on August 15, 1963. Robert L. Sparks, born March 18, 1876; died on December 29, 1961. Infant son, born August 7, 1879; died on the same day. Frances Ann Sparks, born May 11, 1881; died on January 22, 1962.

by his second wife, Mary J. Pease, Francis M. Sparks was the father of five children : Benjamin Franklin Sparks, born January 4, 1884; he died on February, 20, 1956. Francis Bert Sparks, born September 16, 1886. Jessie Lanore Sparks, born September 11, 1889; died on October 12, 1892. Gerima [?] McCoy Sparks, born May 18, 1892. Harry Clement Sparks, born September 24, 1894.

Following are the three letters written by John Gwin Sparks to his first wife, Rebecca (Casey) Sparks, that have been photocopied for us by Sylvia Sparks Smith from the originals owned by Mary Lou Hall.

In the first, dated March 6, 1852, note that he spelled Rebecca's name as, apparently, it was spelled in the family. He indicates that he had written to her earlier. We can assume that he had probably traveled by boat down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, then by a larger ship to Chagras on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus of Panama. He would have crossed the Isthmus by means of transportation provided by the natives, twenty miles by mule path and the remainder by boat on the Chagras River to Panama City on the Pacific side. The Mary and Francis about whose schooling he wrote were, of course, his two living children, while "Nelson" was his younger brother, Nelson Matthew Sparks, born March 21, 1814, who was shown on the 1850 census as living in Jackson County, Illinois, with his wife, Sarah A. Sparks. His occupation was that of school teacher.

[Editor's Note: In transcribing these letters, we have retained John G. Sparks's spelling such as "guit" for get, "onley" for only, and "sipose" for suppose. John Sparks was careless in his use of punctuation and capitalization, and where needed for ease of reading, we have added a minimum amount of punctuation and capitalization to mark the beginning of a new sentence. These letters were written before the use of envelopes had become common and before postage stamps had been introduced outside large cities. As was customary, these letters were folded and secured with wax seals, with a blank portion of the fold used for the address. Postage was paid in those days by the recipient, with the cost based on distance. The March 6, 1852, letter below was addressed to: "Mrs. Rebeckah Sparks, Murphrysboro, Ills."]

Panamy South America March 6th 1852

Dear Rebeckah

I take the last opportunity I shall have until I arrive at the mining Region of writing to you, you perhaps have received a letter I wrote on my arrival at this place in which I informed you that I had not got with Dr. Johnson. Since the writing of which, he has arrived here and we are now together and have both taken passage to San Francisco on the Sail Ship Bark Emorey [?] and the probability is we will guit there in about 6 or 8 weeks at which time I will write if I am spared to guit there. Dr. Johnson sends you his best wishes and requests you to let his wife know where he is and that his health is good. He has also wrote to Mary this day if she receives it. My health has been good ever since I have been here and hope it may continue, if so you will hear from me, though donot be uneasy for letters are very uncertain. Do the best you can, and be aassured as soon as posable I will assist you and if I have good luck will send Mary money to pay for sending her off to school. In your letter to me let me know whether her and Francis are going to school or not and whether there is any at Murphysboro, and all other information you can. Tell Nelson not to be uneasy, that he shall not suffer, that I will make up any loss he may sustain by my not paying him his money and that I will send it as soon as I can make it. The prospects in the mines are very flatering. We have met a great many persons from there and they all seem to have plenty of the gold dust and say any man can do well if they will save it. I was so hurried I did not write to neither of the Schwartzes. If they come to see you tell them not to foreclose their Mortgagis, that I will send the interest due as soon as I can. I will also send Brush his money as soon as I can guit it and for them not to be uneasy. I will send money to pay all my debts as quick as posable, we will be off from here to day. Donot fail to write once in every 2 weeks whether you receive mine or not.

With the greatest Respect I Remain your Effectionate husband John G. Sparks Rebeckah Sparks N.B. Dr. Johnson says he will guit me in business for his brother if he can. So I have some hopes of that, if not I shall go on to the mines. JGS

If you receive this before court, tell Joshua Allen that there is a case in Pulaski County against a man by the name of Longwood for Bigamy, and the inditement doz not show hwo [who] his first wife was. I wish him to attend to it for me. He has paid me for it. J. G. Sparks.

[Editor's Note: The second letter of John G. Sparks shared with us by Sylvia Sparks Smith is dated July 10, 1853. In this, John mourns the death of his and Rebecca's daughter, Mary, in a way to suggest that he had learned of her passing but a short time before. She had actually died ten months earlier, on September 7, 1852. She had been born January 2, 1836, so had been sixteen years old when her father had left for California. (Mary's sister, mentioned by John, had been his and Rebecca's other daughter, Elizabeth, who had died September 14, 1843, at the age of five years. Their only remaining child now was their son, Francis.)

It will be noted that John also mentioned in this letter that he had received a letter from his brother, Nelson Sparks, telling of the death of their brother, Wesley. This was Wesley H. Sparks, born May 23, 1816, who had died on August 7, 1852. We cannot identify the Willis Allen whose letter John mentioned having received, nor the Joshua Allen whom he mentioned in his letter of March 6, 1852. We wonder if there may have been a family relationship between Rebecca and these Allens.

The village of Columbia from which John dated his two 1853 letters remains a village today, with a population of about 500, on the Stanislaus River, a short distance from Sonora, the county seat of Tuolumne County.]

Columbia July 10th 1853 Dear Wife & Sone I again have a leasure day to write to you, and have onley this sorce of happiness and the hope of meeting you once more in this world to console me at this dreadfull hour. I am farr from all that is dear to me and of that litle all, one is gone for ever in this world. Yet she is in my dreams in the watch hours of the night, and noon day her image and beautiful form stands before me, Oh how litle did I think when I took that litle hand that was to write to me every two weeks, that it would be stoped in death, and those beautiful eyes should meet mine no more forever. But she is gone to a happier hone and is far from the troubles of this world and is now around the throne of God shouting and singing praises to the Lord with her dear Sister that went before. My Dear Wife we can onley strive to meet them there, and to rais the remaining Babe in the fear and admonition of the Lord. And with that we have the promise "us and our house hold" be faithfull to the end. And with the blessing of God I will take new curage and strive to serve him more and more unto the perfect day.

I received a letter from Nelson las week which informed me you were both well and also of the Death of Wesley, Also I received one from Willis Allen, wrote while he was there at court in which I was informed you wer going home with him, but could not tell whether you disigned making that your home untill my return or not, and I am at a loss to know where to direct my letters, though I shall continue as heretofore untill you instruct me otherwise. I am willing for you to use your pleasure in regard to whare you will live untill my return, Onley requesting that Francis is continued at School all the time if posibel. I have no news that I think would interest you more than the Mining interest which is tolerable good. As to my own claim I can say but litle since I rote to you last. It is not paying us very well--in my next I will continue the amounts taken out and leave you to see how uncertain Mining is. The prospects are indeed florishing and I sipose I could now receive one thousand dollars for my right, or at any rate one of my partners told me last week he was offered nine hundred seventy five dollars for his. Yet it may turn out not to be worth that much.

You will see by the paper I send you that we had a celebration on the 4th and of course I was with the Masons. I forwarded you one hundred dollars two weeks since which I hope you have received. I am in good health.

I will for ever remain yours in Love and Effection

John G. Sparks Rebeckah and ) Francis Sparks )

N.B. I have this day wrote to William Allen that if you should be at his house he may inform you of the draft I sent to you at Murphrysborough.

I have enclosed a gold dollar to each of you. I wish Francis to learn how to take care of his money. Oh that blessed Boy, if Pap could see him.

J. G. S, And I hope he will not neglect to write at least every two weeks if he can onley write how you are guitting along. That is of infinate importence to Father. My Boy writes like a man of business.

[Editor's Note: John G. Sparks wrote to his wife and son again from Columbia, California, on August 27, 1853. we cannot identify the "Brother Bird" whom he mentioned in this letter. Perhaps he was referring to a Masonic "brother."]

Columbia August 27, '53 Dear Companion and Sone,

I imbrace this leasure moment to write you a few lines, and can say through the blessing of God I am in good health at this time, though I have been quite unwell for a bout two weeks with Dyse [dysentery] and Piles so as to be unable to do much work but am now entirely over it.

There are scarcely any news here, what little there is you will see by the papers I send you. I promised in my last letter I would send you the amounts I have taken out of my claim since my purchase. I will now give it to you jest as it was taken so you may see how uncertain mining is. The statement will [show] after all expenses paid as a company,

June the 10th

Dividen for 3 days


June 17th



June 25th



June 25th



July 2nd



July 9th



July 16th



July 28th


11.-- [?]

August 6th



August 13th


68.2- [?]

August 20th


21.8 [?]

August 27th


37.8- [?]

Making in all in 10 & one half weeks $448.7- [?]

Bord and other private expenses not less than $100.00

The entire gain $348.7- [?]

The above statement will shew you about what I am doing. I think from the appearance of the claim, I think the prospects more favorable and I hope to do better. I wrote to you before I had bought a claim in the River. The water has kept up so we have not been able to work it any as yet and cannot tell you any thing about that yet, but will let you know in due time.

I have again to complain about you not writing. I was much disapointed and mortified by not receiving a letter last mail, and hope you will not neglect to write again. I have wrote several letters to Brother Bird by his request and have received no answer. It has made me think somethings was wrong. Write to me if you know what it is.

I enclose a few peices of specimens of gold to Francis to shew him what Pap is taking out of the ground.

Receive the Love and Esteem of your Husband and Father

49.10 William Andrew Jackson Sparks (1828-1904)

[Editor's Note: The following sketch of the career of William Andrew Jackson Sparks, written while he was still living, appears in the Portrait and Biographical Record of Clinton, Washington, Marion, and Jefferson Counties, Illinois, pp.440-43, published in Chicago by the Chapman Publishing Company in 1892.] Hen. W. A. J. Sparks, one of the eminent men of Illinois and an honored citizen of Carlyle, was born near New Albany, Ind., November 19, 1828, and is a descendant of good old Revolutionary stock. His ancestors, both paternal and maternal, were of English descent, and were among the very earliest settlers of Virginia. His parents, Baxter and Elizabeth (Gwin) Sparks, were both natives of the Old Dominion. During the War of 1812 the father was in the military service defending the pioneer settlers of the frontier against the hostile Indian tribes. About 1805-06 he came west, settling upon and improving a farm in Harrison County, Ind., about nine miles west of the present city of New Albany. There he continued to live (except a short time in New Albany) until 1836, when he again removed westward and settled on a farm in Macoupin County, IL. There his life career was closed in 1840, three and a-half years afterward the mother passed away.

In a family of ten children, the subject of this sketch was the youngest, and his boyhood years were mainly passed amid the primeval scenes of Illinois, his education being gained in the log "temple of learning" near the home of his father. At the death of his mother he was thrown upon his own resources, and securing employment upon a farm, was thus engaged for several years. He then began to teach school, and continued in that occupation until he had saved enough money to pay his tuition in college. In 1847 he entered McKendree College in Lebanon,IL., and there prosecuted his literary researches with diligence, graduating in 1850 with the degree of B.S.

His schooling finished, Mr. Sparks came to Carlyle, where after having taught school for three months he began the study of law with Chief Justice Breese, afterward his neighbor and lifelong friend. He continued his studies under the tutelage of Judge Breese until 1851, when he was admitted to the Bar, and at once began the practice of his profession in Carlyle. Two years later President Pierce conferred upon him the appointment of "Receiver of the United States land office" at Edwardsville, IL., which position he held until all the lands were sold and the office closed.

His duties as Receiver terminated, Mr. Sparks returned to Carlyle and resumed his professional duties, continuing thus engaged until his retirement from the Bar ca. 1874. In 1856 he was chosen an elector on the Buchanan-Breckinridge ticket as a representative of the Eighth Congressional District, and at the same election he was chosen a member of the House of Representatives of the Illinois Legislature in the Twentieth General Assembly, representing the counties of Bend and Clinton. In 1863 he was elected to the State Senate to represent in the Twenty-third General Assembly the Fourth Senatorial District, composed of the counties of Clinton, Bend, Fayette, Perry, Washington and Marion. He was a prominent member of both branches, and took part in the principal debates, serving with credit to himself as well as to the satisfaction of his constituents. He was Chairman of the Committee on Internal Improvements, and also took a prominent part in furthering the present school law, which was enacted during his term of service in the House of Representatives.

Mr. Sparks has been an active and leading member of the State Conventions since 1851, and was a delegate to the National Democratic convention held at New York in 1868, and the convention at Chicago in 1884, in both of which he took an active part. He also served in Congress, representing the Sixteenth District of Illinois, which embraced the counties of Bond, Clinton, Fayette, Clay, Marion, Montgomery and Washington, and served his constituents with such faithfulness and efficiency that he was elected to succeed himself for three additional terms, making his entire period of service eight years, or from 1875 to 1883. He served as a member of the Committee on Appropriations, and was Chairman of the Committees on Military Affairs, Expenditures of the Interior Department, Indian Affairs and the Revision of the Laws. His service was marked by close attention to all matters of business before the House, and he was noted as a hardworking, able and influential Congressmen.

During his entire life Mr. Sparks has been an active member of the Democratic party, and has taken a lively interest in all the campaigns, being regarded as one of the ablest stump speakers in the state. Doubtless no one in Illinois is better known as a public Political speaker than he. Under the administration of President Cleveland he was appointed in 1885 "Commissioner of the general land office," at a time when that office was perhaps the most responsible as well as the most difficult to manage in the United States, for the public mind was filled with the idea that the Government lands were being absorbed by railroad companies, large corporations and syndicate combinations, as well as by numerous speculating schemes, land grabbing rings, and individual land speculators, in contravention of the laws.

Mr. Sparks made active war against these rings and combined corporate interests, in order that the public lands might be preserved, as had been contemplated, for their appropriation by honest settlers for homesteads. by his efforts he saved many millions of acres for the public good, and was regarded as one of the most faithful and able commissioners the general land office ever had. Many of the great leaders in the country, such as Judge Davis, E. B. Washburne, et. al., and the metropolitan press generally, heartily endorsed his acts while he was fighting these rings.... [Omitted here are several quotations from letters written by prominent public officials of the day praising Sparks's accomplishments.]

For over forty-three years General Sparks has substantially been a resident of his present home, Carlyle, and is one of the oldest settlers of the place. He is now [1892] retired from all active duties and is spending his declining years in his pleasant home, which is one of the finest residences of the town. As in former years, he is deeply interested in political and public affairs. His name has frequently been mentioned as candidate of his party for Governor, and doubtless he could have secured the nomination had he put forth the energy and ability that he possesses; but as he himself says, he is well satisfied to fill the position of a private citizen.

General Sparks has been happily wedded for thirty-nine years, his marriage to Miss Julia Parker, of Edwardsville, Illinois, having occurred April 16, 1855. They have had no children of their own, but have reared and educated a nephew and several nieces, one of whom. Miss Sadie Norton, now resides with them. Mrs. M. J. Alexander, widow of the late Col. G. C. Alexander, a sister of Mrs. Sparks, has made her home with them for nearly a score of years. General Sparks is not a member of the church, but his wife and other members of his family are devout members of the Catholic Church.

[Editor's Note: The unidentified author of the above sketch of the life of William A. J. Sparks was mistaken in stating that his Sparks ancestors had been among the "very earliest settlers of Virginia." While it is true that his grandfather, Thomas Sparks, had lived in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, he had come there ca. 1777 from Prince Georges County, Maryland. See pages 4938-44 of the Quarterly for March 1998, Whole No. 181, for a discussion of the ancestry of Baxter Sparks, father of William A. J. Sparks and his nine siblings.]