May 9, 2014

Pages 5391-5392
Whole Number 190


The records of the Court of Surry County, like those of other North Carolina counties, contain numerous references to the application of the state's laws pertaining to children born to unmarried women. While the husband was assumed to be the father of children born to his wife, and thus obligated to provide financial support for them, in a day when unmarried women usually had no real property nor the opportunity to earn a decent living, there was great concern that illegitimate children would become a financial burden upon society. It was the responsibility of each County Court in North Carolina to guard against this happening.

When an unmarried woman was discovered to be pregnant, or to have already given birth to an illegitimate child, a warrant was issued by the Court in the county in which she lived requiring her to appear, under oath, before that Court. She was then required to identify the father of her child. The reputed father was then served a warrant and required to post a bond guaranteeing that his child would never become a financial burden on the county. An oath under God was taken very seriously in those days, and it was almost impossible for a man to defend himself against such a charge. It should be added that, almost without exception, an illegitimate child was given the mother's surname.

If a woman refused to identify the father of her child, she could, providing she owned sufficient property, which was rarely the case, post the bond herself, or a relative could do so for her. If no bond could be produced, the woman could be severely punished, including being sent to jail.

For their book, North Carolina Bastardy Bonds published in 1990, Betty J.and Edwin A. Camin abstracted a large number of these records in thirty County Courts in North Carolina. Their index, which includes the reputed fathers and other bondsmen as well as the mothers, contains over 22,000 names. Surry County's "Bastardy Bonds" are included in this compilation--there being a total of 60 between 1830 and 1879. Among them is the record of two men named Sparks who were required to post bonds resulting from being identified as fathers of children born out of wedlock, James Sparks, son of Joel (see page 5366), and William D. Sparks (see page 5380).

It was during the May 1838 meeting of the Surry County Court that Milly Phipps, having been placed under oath, identified James Sparks as the father of her child. James Sparks did not have sufficient property to bear the entire cost of the bond, and James Armstrong served as his co-bondsman.

When the 1840 census of Surry County was taken, Milly Phipps was shown as head of a household immediately following that of Joel Sparks on the census taker's schedule. She was between 20 and 30 years old in 1840, and living with her was a boy under 5 years of age and also two girls under 5. Milly Phipps [sic] was shown on the 1850 census of the part of Surry County that became Yadkin County the same year. She was shown then as 39 years of age; three children were in her household: Martha J., age 8; William, age 6; and Milly C., age 2.

In our sketch of the life of David D. Sparks, we included an account of his having to answer to the claim of Sally Ladd that he was the father of her child (see page 53S0).