May 27, 2019

Pages 5396-5403
Whole Number 190 WILLIAM Z. SPARKS (ca.1791-1858)

by Russell E. Bidlack

1.2 William Sparks, who died in Queen Annes County, Maryland, in 1709, was the progenitor of the branch of the Sparks family that was and is closely associated with Rowan County, North Carolina, and the several counties formed from it (e.g. Surry in 1770, Wilkes in 1777, Burke in 1777, Iredell in 1788, Davidson in 1822, Davie in 1836, and Yadkin in 1850).

Two grandsons of 1.2 William Sparks (died 1709) moved with members of their families from Frederick County, Maryland, to the Forks of the Yadkin in Rowan County (now Davie County) ca. 1754. They were: William Sample Sparks (ca.1700- ca.1765) who was a son of 1.2.1 William Sparks, Jr., eldest son of 1.2 William Sparks who had died in 1709; and Solomon Sparks (ca.1727-ca.1790) who was a son of 1.2.5 Joseph Sparks (1689-died 1749). Joseph had been the youngest son of William (died 1709). (See the Quarterly of December 1989, Whole No. 148, for an article on William Sample Sparks, and the issue for December 1955, Whole No. 12, for information on Solomon Sparks.)

A major problem in tracing the descendants of William Sparks (died 1709) is that the name William was repeated among most of his sons and grandsons in choosing names for their children, often for their eldest son. Although William Sample Sparks had a middle name, this was unusual in the Eighteenth Century. Middle names did not become common in America until the latter part of the Nineteenth Century, although, in order to distinguish between their many cousins named William Sparks, middle initials were sometimes assumed by individuals bearing the name.

A son of William Sample Sparks (he was probably the eldest son), was always known simply as William Sparks; he had been born ca. 1725 and married a woman named Ann MNU before his father and siblings left Frederick County, Maryland, for North Carolina ca. 1854. He remained in Frederick County for another decade, but in 1764 he brought his young family to the Forks of the Yadkin, also. (For a detailed record of the life of this William Sparks, who died in 1801/02, see the Quarterly of June 1991, Whole No. 154.)

In either 1770 or 1771, Solomon Sparks moved to a new settlement, this time from the Forks of the Yadkin to a part of Rowan County that had just been cut off to form Surry County. He settled on the North Branch of Hunting Creek. William Sparks, who had joined Solomon and his other relatives in the Forks of the Yadkin in 1764, followed Solomon to Surry County in or shortly before 1772. (Solomon and William were first cousins, once removed.)

When Wilkes County was created from Surry County in 1777, the dividing line ran directly through Solomon Sparks's land. Although his house remained in Surry County, a readjustment of the line a little later meant that he then became a resident of Wilkes County, where he died ca. 1790. William Sparks's land remained in Surry County, and it was there that he died between December 1801 and May 1802.

It is our goal here to attempt to identify how a William Sparks, who was born ca. 1791 and who died in 1858, fits into the Sparks family. He lived near the village of Jonesville, just south of the Yadkin River in what became Yadkin County in 1850. In later years, this Wlliiam Sparks added the letter 'Z' to his name as a middle initial, although it was sometimes written 'S,' and in many records he was called simply William Sparks.

A study of extant tax and census records for Surry County during the early 1800s reveals that there were two clusters of the Sparks family living in what is now Yadkin County. They were about eight miles apart. The group to which William Z. Sparks belonged lived near the village of Jonesville, with farms located near the waters of Deep Creek, Fall Creek, and Beaverdam Creek.

The other cluster of Sparkses in what became Yadkin County was headed by Matthew Sparks (ca.1752-1819), who was a son of William and Ann Sparks. He and his several sons lived on Hunting Creek and its branches in the southwest corner of Yadkin County, about four miles north of the Iredell County line. Until 1850, this was, of course, in Surry County. Part of Matthew's land adjoined the dividing line between Surry and Wilkes Counties. (See the Quarterly of June 2000, Whole No. 190, for a detailed record of Matthew Sparks and his family.)

Just over the line in Wilkes County, but still on the North Fork of Hunting Creek, lived Solomon Sparks, Jr., a son of the Solomon Sparks who had come to the Forks of the Yadkin ca. 1754. Solomon Sparks, Jr. had purchased land there from William T. Lewis in 1791 and from George Denney in 1805. (See the Quarterly of March 2000, Whole No.189 for an article on Solomon Sparks, Jr. and some of his descendants.) Then, in 1808, Solomon Sparks, Jr. purchased 150 acres over the line in Surry County, and from 1813 until 1818, his son, William Sparks, lived on and was taxed for this tract of 150 acres. Solomon Sparks, Jr. died in Wilkes County on December 18, 1817, after which this tract in Surry County was sold. His son, William Sparks, then disappeared from Surry County tax records; he was not shown on the 1820 census of either Surry or Wilkes County. We can only conjecture that he died ca. 1818 or, more probably, he moved out of the area after his father died. This William Sparks, son of Solomon Sparks, Jr., must not be confused with William Z. Sparks, the subject of the present sketch. Likewise, William Z. Sparks must not be confused with William D. Sparks (ca.1790-1858), son of Matthew and Eunice Sparks. (See the Quarterly of June 2000, Whole No. 190, pp.5379-87 for a sketch of the life of William D. Sparks.)

From circumstantial evidence, there is good reason to believe that William Z. Sparks was a son of George Sparks, Sr. who had been born ca. 1758/60 in Frederick County, Maryland. George had accompanied his parents, William and Ann Sparks, in their migration from Maryland to the Forks of the Yadkin in 1764. Although we have found no clue by which to identify the wife of George Sparks, we know from census records between 1790 and 1830 that he had a family consisting, apparently, of three sons and four daughters. When the 1830 census was taken, he was enumerated in the 60 to 70 age category, but there was no female in his household of a similar age. The further fact that he made no mention of his wife when he made his will on November 18, 1833, suggests that she had died, probably before 1830.

Although George Sparks referred to 'all my children' in his will, he named only his one unmarried daughter, Franky, and his son, George Sparks, Jr. To George, Jr., he left all his land (300 acres), including his 'still and stand' and his farming tools. His personal property was to be sold to pay his debts, with the remainder to be divided among 'all my children' except George,Jr. Two grandchildren, James and Wilson Edwards, were to receive their deceased mother's share. The name of this deceased daughter of George Sparks is not known, but the provision in his will that the portion received by these grandchildren 'be paid into the Hand of Samuel Edwards' suggests that Samuel Edwards was probably their father. (See the Quarterly of June 1983, Whole No. 122, pp. 2520-24, for further information regarding George Sparks, including the full text of his will.)

George Sparks, in leaving all of his land to his son, George, Jr., probably did so with the understanding that George, Jr. would care for him during his remaining years. Perhaps he had already provided in some manner for his other two sons, including, we believe, WIlliam Z. Sparks.

From census records, we know that William Z. Sparks was born ca. 1791. He lived his entire life in the Jonesville area, and he died there in December 1858. His name first appeared on the 1812 tax list of Surry County; he owned no land then, but he was taxed for one poll (himself). (North Carolina law required at that time that all free males between the ages of 21 and 50 pay an annual poll tax.) It was in Capt. Martin's District that William Sparks paid his poll tax in 1812. (The tax district at that time was the same as the militia district, and it was known by the name of the captain of militia in that area.) Two other men named Sparks appeared on Capt. Martin's list: George Sparks with 700 acres of land and two polls, and Thomas Sparks with 203 acres and one poll.

This Thomas Sparks, who was taxed on 203 acres of land in 1812, was, like George Sparks, a son of William and Ann Sparks. Thomas had been born ca. 1766. He was married ca. 1787 to Rebecca MNU; there is a possibility that her maiden name had been Bell. After her death ca. 1795, Thomas married (second) Diana Wilcox ca. 1800. Thomas Sparks moved ca. 1817 to the area where Lee and Scott Counties, Virginia, adjoin; still later he moved, with his brother, James Sparks, to Lawrence County, Kentucky. (For a detailed record of the life and. family of Thomas Sparks, see the Quarterly of December 1991, Whole No. 156; March 1992, Whole No. 157; and June 1992, Whole No. 158.)

When the 1815 tax list for Capt. Martin's District was prepared, William [Z.] Sparks, the subject of this sketch, was listed as owning 91 acres on Fall Creek, valued at $150. This tract was described as adjoining land owned by 'N. Morrison.' We have found a deed in Surry County which accounts for this 91-acre tract. Although dated March 1, 1818, this deed refers to the land as having been 'delivered' to Sparks in 1815. by this deed (see Surry County Deed Book 0, pp. 257-8), Nathaniel Morrison sold for '50 pounds current money' to 'William Sparks,' both of Surry County, a tract of 100 acres, being the south portion of a larger tract of which Morrison had sold a portion to William Jenkins in 1815. The witnesses to this 1818 deed were Allen Sisk and Joseph Sparks.

While described in the deed as comprising 100 acres, it appears that, for tax purposes, this tract was judged to be 91 acres in 1815 and 97 acres after 1816.

On January 16, 1817, 'William S. [Z.] Sparks' obtained a grant of land from the state of North Carolina for 50 shillings per hundred acres. On December 26, 1818, the grant was made official in the Treasury Office. The tract was described as being on Beverdam Creek and comprised 250 acres. It adjoined land owned by Wiley Craft, Jonathan Sparks, Benjamin Sparks, and Sebastian. (See Surry County Deed Book P, pp. 378-79.) That year (1817), William Z. Sparks was taxed on 347 acres with a total value of $350. Before the 1818 tax list for Surry County was prepared, however, William had disposed of his 250-acre grant which he had obtained the year before from the state. In 1818, he was shown as owning only 97 acres valued at $150 and adjoining the land of Allen Sisk. We have found no record to reveal how he had disposed of his 250 acres.

When the Surry County tax records were prepared in 1819, what had earlier been called Capt. Martin's District (identified as 'Captain Joshua K. Speer's District' in 1818), was now called the 'District of Jonesville.' Again, William Sparks was shown as owning 97 acres of land; its value, however, was increased to $250. Allen Sisk was again shown as owning land adjoining that of William Z. Sparks, although Sisk's land (103 acres) was described as adjoining the land of George Sparks. George Sparks, himself, was shown on this 1819 tax list as owning 320 acres valued at $600. It was described simply as lying on Deep Creek.

Four other men named Sparks were taxed in 1819 on land they owned in the Jonesville District. They were: Jonathan Sparks, 220 acres valued at $300 adjoining Wm. Rose; Benjamin Sparks, 186 acres ($400) adjoining Jonathan Sparks; Joseph Sparks, 244 acres ($300) adjoining Allen Sisk; and Benja. Sparks, 93 acres ($300) adjoining Jesse Sisk. (Owners of land described as adjoining land owned by persons named Sparks were: Robert Burchel adjoining Benja. Sparks; John Edwards adjoining George Sparks; Allen Sisk adjoining George Sparks; and John Parks adjoining Jonathan Sparks.)

Wiley Craft, mentioned in the 1817 grant of land to William Z. Sparks as owning adjoining land, had been married in Surry County to Agatha Sparks (spelled 'Auga thee') in 1812. The bond for this marriage was dated January 28, 1812, and we can assume that the marriage occurred soon thereafter. Allen Sisk served as bondsman. Wiley Craft then served as bondsman (on January 4, 1813) for the marriage bond for William Sparks and Elizabeth Gentry. Although no middle initial was shown on this bond for William Sparks, circumstantial evidence leads us to believe that this was the first marriage of William Z. Sparks. We wonder whether the Agatha Sparks who had been married to Wiley Craft in 1812 may have been a sister of William Z. Sparks.

Another marriage bond of interest is that for Joseph Sparks and Martha Edwards, dated January 28, 1815, with Richard Gentry serving as bondsman. Joseph Sparks, who was born ca. 1790 in Surry County, was, we believe a son of Thomas and Rebecca Sparks. Thomas Sparks (ca.1766-ca.1837), like George Sparks, was a son of William and Ann Sparks. (See the Quarterly of December 1991, Whole No. 156, pp.3855-58.) It would seem likely that this Martha Edwards was related to the grandchildren named in the will of George Sparks in 1833 as James and Wilson Edwards.

William Z. Sparks was not listed as heading a household in Surry County when the 1820 census was taken. He was probably just missed by the census taker, although it is possible that he and his family were living in someone else's house hold. (Only the heads of household were actually named on census records prior to 1850.)

When the 1824 tax list for the Jonesville District in Surry County was prepared, William Sparks's tract of 97 acres was described as adjoining land owned by William Jenkins. The 1825 tax list seems not to have been preserved, but that for 1826 shows William Sparks with 194 acres adjoining James Morrison. This increase in his land ownership is explained by a Surry County deed (Book T, p.63) dated November 29, 1825. On that date, 'William Z. Sparks' purchased from William Jenkins a tract of 91 acres 'on the waters of Fall Creek' adjoining his own land. (The witnesses to this deed were Richard H. Parks and Richard Guinn, both of whom were near neighbors of William Z. Sparks.) In fact, this same tract had been noted in the deed by which William had purchased his original tract from Nathaniel Morrison; Morrison had stated in that deed that he had sold the north portion of his farm in 1815 to William Jenkins and the south portion to William Sparks. Sparks now (1825) paid Jenkins $150 for these 91 acres adjoining his own land, giving him a farm that was described in subsequent tax records as comprising total acreage varying as follows: 193, 194, 195, and 197. In 1838, 1840, and 1841, it was simply called 200 acres.

While the deed of 1825 clearly identified Sparks as 'William Z. Sparks,' in the body of the document he was called simply 'William Sparks.'

When the 1830 census of Surry County was taken, William Z. Sparks was listed as heading a household very near that of George Sparks. In the enumeration of his family, he, himself, was shown as between 40 and 50 years of age (thus born be tween 1780 and 1790). A female, doubtless his wife, was enumerated as between 30 and 40 (thus born between 1790 and 1800). There were seven children in their household enumerated as follows: (Note that their ages would be in agreement with the marnage record noted earlier for William Sparks and Elizabeth Gentry in 1813.)

2 males between 10 and 15 [thus born 1815-18201
1 male between 5 and 10 [thus born 1820-1825]
1 male under 5 [thus born 1825-1830]
1 female between 15 and 20 [born 1810-1815]
1 female between 10 and 15 rborn 1815-18201
1 female between 5 and 10 [born 1820-18251

Because census takers proceeded from one house to the next in gathering their information, their records reveal who were near neighbors to one another. The names on each side of William Z. Sparks on the 1830 census may prove useful in further research. They were as follows:

Thomas Pettyjohn, William Cheek, Hannah Brewer, Charles Johnson, Charles Johnson, Jr., James Jeffrey, Obediah Collins, David Woodruff, Henry Cook,George Sparks, Charles Ray, Charles Russel, William Casey, William Z. Sparks, James Morrison, Roberts Howel, Benjamin Rose, Robert Perdew, Elizabeth Parks, John Rose, Reuben Johnson, Micajah Becknal, Robert Burchett, Reuben Underwood, Richard Guynn, Thomas D. Kelly, James Harris, Richard Parks.

When the 1840 census of Surry County was taken, William Z. Sparks's household was enumerated as follows:

1 male (himself) age 40 to 50 (thus born 1790-1800)
1 male age 15-20 (thus born 1820-1825)
1 male age 10-15 (thus born 1825-1830)
1 male age 5-10 (thus born 1830-1835)
1 female (doubtless Ms wife) age 40 to 50 (thus born 1790-1800)
1 female age 15-20 (thus born 1820-1825)

With the enumerations from these two census records for the family of William Z. Sparks, plus that of 1850 that will be mentioned later, we can speculate that he was the father of seven children: Dau Sparks born before 1815 who had probably married and left home before 1840. Thomas Sparks born before 1820 who had left home before the 1840 census was taken. He may well have been the Thomas Sparks who married Catherine Swaim in 1837. The marriage bond, dated February 28, 1837, shows William Z. Sparks as having signed as bondsman. On the 1838 tax list for the Jonesville District, Thomas Sparks was listed as a white poll without land and living next to William Sparks. He appeared in the same manner on the lists for 1839 and 1840. It seems probable that he was the Thomas Sparks, age 33 (i.e. born ca.1817) living with his wife Catherine (also age 33) in Iredell County, North Carolina, in 1850. (Iredell County adjoins Yadkin County on the south.) His occupation was 'Stiller.' Their children as listed on the 1850 census were: Michael Sparks, age 9; William A. Sparks, age 7; John C. Sparks, age 4; and Adaline J. Sparks, age 1.

Coming of age ca. 1838, Thomas Sparks appears to have farmed with his father for a while and assisted in the operation of his still. He was doubtless the Thomas Sparks identified as a co-debtor with William Z. Sparks when the latter mortgaged his property in 1838 and again in 1841. (See below.) Dau1 Sparks born before 1820 who had probably married and left home before the 1840 census was taken. Son1 Sparks who was born ca. 1820. He was still at home when the 1840 census was taken, but had left his father's household by 1850. Dau2 Sparks born between 1820 and 1825 who was still at home when the 1840 census was taken, but she had probably married and had left home before the 1850 census was taken. Son2 Sparks born ca. 1825 who was still at home when the 1840 census was taken but had left his father's household before the 1850 census was taken. James Sparks born ca. 1829. He was 21 years old according to the 1850 census and was still living in his father's household in 1850.

William Z. Sparks apparently suffered some financial reverses in the late 1830s. On March 12, 1838 (according to Surry County Deed Book X, p.62), he was forced to mortgage his farm (described as containing 195 acres) on which he lived--also included in the mortgage was his livestock ('one roan mare, three head of cattle, nine head of hogs, eight head of sheep') as well as his furniture, a still, and tubs. The mortgage was to be held by William C. De Journett and was to cover a note for $110.32 to H. S. Hampton dated October 24, 1837. In this mortgage, which William Z. Sparks signed by mark, his farm was described as adjoining land owned by James Morrison and Benedict Castevens. Witnesses were Wm. C. De Journett and H. S. Morrison.

Apparently William Z. Sparks was able to pay off this mortgage, but on February 12, 1841, he again had to mortgage his farm (Surry County Deed Book Y, pp. 374-5) for a variety of debts (a total of $142.78) owed to Benedict Castephus, T. W. Cowles, Josiah Cowles, and to a partnership known as Cowles & Wilcox. Thomas Sparks, who was probably a son of William Z. Sparks, was identified as a joint-debtor with him for one of the notes. William Z. Sparks's debt to Alfred Deniette was shared with Axim Holloman.

The financial situation of William Z. Sparks apparently worsened, and on September 25, 1841, (according to Surry County Deed Book 1, p.363) he was forced to mortgage his still plus all the brandy that he would be able to make from his fruit trees during the following fall and winter. In this instance, his creditors were identified as Isaac Austil, T. W. Carter, and Josiah Cowles. In connection with one of these debts, Thomas Sparks (doubtless his son) was again named as joint-debtor.

The 1850 census was the first federal census to list by name all members of each household, along with their ages, occupations (if males over 16), and places of birth. The household of William Z. Sparks appeared as follows in Surry County in 1850:

Name Age Occupation Real Estate Birth
William Z. Sparks 58 Farmer $150 NC
Mary Sparks 37     NC
James Sparks 21 Farmer   NC
Uriah Benge 10     NC

From this listing, it appears that the first wife of William Z. Sparks had died between 1840 and 1850, and that he had remarried, his second wife's name being Mary Benge. The 21-year-old James Sparks living with William Z. Sparks was doubtless his youngest son, born ca. 1829.

The presence of the 10-year-old Uriah Benge in this family provides an important clue. There is a marriage bond in Surry County dated September 5, 1844, for William Sparks and Mary Benge, with George Sparks as bondsman and James E. Hough as witness. We may be quite sure that Mary Benge was a widow with a small son named Uriah at the time she married William Z. Sparks. We know that a Benge family lived near the Sparkses in the Jonesville area.

William Z. Sparks died in December 1858. He did not leave a will. In April 1859 his widow, Mary, requested the County Court to appoint a justice of the peace and three freeholders (i. e., landowners) 'to view the personal estate of her said deceased husband and out of the crop, stock & provisions on hand to allow & set apart to your petitioner a sufficient support for herself & family for one year...' The documents pertaining to William Z. Sparks's estate are very limited in number. In these documents, summarized below, only the name 'William Sparks' appears, without any middle initial.

The Court complied with the widow's request, and a justice of the peace named Moses Gross, along with S. S. Arnold, Stephen Evans, and Henry Marshel, were appointed to prepare an inventory of the estate left by William Z. Sparks, with in structions to determine what should be 'set apart' for his widow.

William Z. Sparks obviously had few worldly goods when he died. In fact, when these four men completed their inventory, they noted: 'The widow is very poor in deed; we charge no pay.' (Men appointed to perform this task by the Court were entitled to payment for their time from the estate.) In the end, they 'set apart' the following items for Mary Sparks:

two beds and furniture
one Small Cupboard and two Chests and one Table
one Lot of Gear and farming tools one Sythe and Cradle
also the present Crop of growing wheat
also one spotted Sow and five Shoats
also Sevinty [sic] Dollars in Cash if to be found.

When the 1860 census was taken of Yadkin County, which had been 'cut off' from Surry County a decade earlier, Mary Sparks, 44 years old, was listed as heading a household. Living with her was Uriah Benge, now age 21. A man named Robert Freeman (age 21), called a 'Farm Laborer,' was also living with Mary Sparks in 1860, with his wife, Bethilda (age 17), and their six-month-old son, George W. Freeman.

We believe that James Sparks, the youngest son of William Z. Sparks by his first wife, was the same James Sparks who married Melicia Harris in Yadkin County in 1855. Their marriage bond was dated February 1, 1855, with B. B. Benham as bondsman. This marriage bond also contains the record that James Sparks and Melicia Harris were married on February 8, 1855, by S. D. Swaim, Minister of the Gospel.

Melicia Harris' full name seems to have been Mary Melicia Harris, for her name on the 1860 census of Yadkin County appears as 'Mary M. Sparks.' James Sparks and his household were shown on the 1860 census with their post office as Jonesville. This record is as follows:  

Name Age Occupation Birth
James Sparks 30 Farm Tenant NC
Mary M. Sparks 29 Domestic NC
Elizabeth E. Sparks 5   NC
Thos Sparks 3   NC
William Sparks 1   NC

Mary Sparks, widow of William Z. Sparks, did not appear on the 1870 census of Yadkin County, North Carolina, nor did James Sparks and his household.

[Editor's Note: We hope that a descendant of William Z. Sparks may read this attempt to sketch his life here and share with us further information about him and his descendants.