August 1, 2017

Pages 5261-5270
Whole Number 188

A marriage Bond from Bourbon County, Kentucky

In the Quarterly of March 1963, Whole No. 41, p. 721, we published a list of marriages of men and women named Sparks between 1790 and 1866 found by Paul E. Sparks, late President of our Association, from among the early records of Bourbon County, Kentucky. One of the marriages listed there, in the county's Marriage Book 1, page 35, was that of Joseph Sparks and Anne Wilson on January 19, 1797. In 1985, Paul prepared a second report of Sparks marriages in Bourbon County that appeared in the December 1985 issue of the Quarterly, Whole No. 132, pp.2824-26, with the same reference to Book 1, page 35, again showing Joseph Sparks having been married to Anne Wilson, but with the date January 1, 1797, rather than January 19. This record also showed their marriage having been performed by J. Whitaker. Our latest reference to this marriage appeared in the Quarterly of March 1999, Whole No. 185, p.5129, where we gave only the year of this marriage as 1797. This latter reference was part of an article entitled "Where Did the Sparkses of Early Lewis County, Kentucky, Come From," in which we presented the evidence for our belief that the Joseph Sparks under discussion here was one of 13 children of William Sparks who had been born on April 27, 1738, in Queen Annes County, Maryland. Recently, Marilyn Steber of San Diego, California, has shared with us a photocopy she had obtained of a marriage bond from Bourbon County, Kentucky, for Joseph Sparks to be married to Amy Wilson, dated "19th day of January 1798."

In the photocopy on the previous page, the "19th" could be the "17th," but the month and year were clearly written as January 1798.) We believe that the Joseph Sparks named in this marriage bond was the same Joseph Sparks shown earlier as having been married to Anne Wilson in 1797. It was this marriage bond, we believe, that had been the source for the entry in "Marriage Book 1" copied by Paul E. Sparks in 1983 and again in 1985, Because this bond was surely the original document pertaining to Joseph's marriage, we believe that his wife's name had been Amy Wilson and that both her name and the year had been copied incorrectly in Marriage Book 1. In no later record of Joseph Sparks have we found his wife's name mentioned.

A word about the Distinction between the marriage bond and marriage banns in early American history may be useful here. Kentucky became a state in 1792, it having been part of Virginia prior to then, So it was that Virginia laws and customs pertaining to marriage were followed in Kentucky for a number of years thereafter. Because in Virginia, the Church of England Anglican) prevailed as the official church, which all tax payers were required to support, baptisms, marriages, and burials were conducted by the ministers of the Church of England prior to the American Revolution. For a couple to be married under Church of England rules, their intention to do so had to be announced publicly on three successive Sundays "at the time of divine services." Called "marriage banns," these announcements were to offer opportunity for anyone hearing them to protest the proposed marriage based on a legal impediment, such as that one of the parties was already married to a living spouse. Following the three weeks of "crying the banns," without any objection, a marriage license could be issued to the couple in the name of the Governor, for which there was a charge of fifteen pence. The minister could charge up to two shillings for performing the marriage ceremony.

With independence from Virginia, an alternative to marriage banns gradually developed, although it was not codified into law until 1799. This was the "marriagebond" by which the prospective groom and his bondsman could sign a legal instrument declaring that they were "firmly bound" to the Governor of Kentucky to pay fifty pounds should a "lawful cause" later be found "to obstruct the said marriage." Once the bond was signed and filed with the county court, the marriage could be performed, either by a clergyman or a government official, such as a justice of the peace. While the "marriage bond" became a county record, the individuals performing the actual marriage ceremony more often than not failed to report it to the county clerk for record keeping. A few days usually passed between the signing of the bond and the marriage.

Because fifty pounds was a great deal of money, it was not easy for a young man without property to find someone willing to become a bondsman, so the "crying of banns" continued to be the most common method of legalizing a marriage for most young people, while the "marriage bond" became the more prestigious method of the "well-to-do.'' As seen in the marriage bond for Joseph Sparks and Amy Wilson, it was Ephraim Wilson who signed as Joseph's bondsman. We can conjecture that Ephraim was Amy's father. A father would surely know whether his daughter already had a husband, and Ephraim Wilson was probably well acquainted with Joseph Sparks, being confident that he, himself, would never become liable for the fifty pounds. A Bourbon County deed has been preserved (Book E, p.287) whereby, on April 2, 1800, Ephraim Wilson sold "a crop of corn" to Joseph Sparks for $100.

It is also interesting to note that Ephraim Wilson gave his consent on October 19, 1805, for his daughter, Rebecca Wilson, to marry Caleb Sparks, she being under the legal age to marry unless a parent consented in writing to the county court. Caleb Sparks, according to an apprenticeship document for him following the early death of his father, was born December 3, 1786. He was a son of William Sparks, Jr. who, we believe, was a brother of Joseph Sparks. (See the Quarterly of September 1980, Whole No. 111, pp.2240-41.)

Should anyone have further information regarding this "small Sparks mystery," please let us hear from you.