Sparks, Stephen Franklin (1817–1908)


By: David L. Peavy

Type: Biography

Published: December 14, 2020

Updated: December 15, 2020


Stephen Franklin Sparks, Texas Revolution soldier, Baptist Minister, farmer, and justice of the peace, was born on April 7, 1817, in Lawrence County, Mississippi. He was the son of Richard Sparks and Elizabeth May (Cooper) Sparks. In late 1833 his father moved the family from Mississippi and arrived in Texas in January 1834. He rented land in what is now San Augustine and Sabine counties. By the following year, the family had moved to Nacogdoches, and all were listed in the 1835 census of Nacogdoches.

In a letter dated March 16, 1895, Stephen Franklin Sparks recalled his life’s story, including details of his experiences at the battle of San Jacinto, to a friend; the account was published posthumously in 1908. Sparks stated that in the fall of 1835 he attended school that was taught by Thomas D. Brooks in what was then known as Williams Settlement located twenty or more miles north of Nacogdoches. When news that Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos’s invasion army had occupied San Antonio reached residents of Nacogdoches in October, Sparks left school and joined the volunteer militia company commanded by Capt. Haden H. Edwards. They arrived in San Antonio, and Sparks participated in the siege of Bexar. With the surrender of General Cos’s army on December 9, 1835, Stephen Sparks returned to Nacogdoches and resumed his schooling.

By February 1836 Mexican forces under Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna returned to Texas. Sparks raised a militia company of settlers who were then commanded by a recent immigrant from Tennessee by the name of Henderson, with a cousin of Henderson’s serving as first lieutenant and Henderson’s brother as second lieutenant. Sparks’s teacher, Thomas Brooks, served as the company’s orderly sergeant. Records indicate that Stephen Sparks re-entered military service on March 8, 1836.

Sparks’s company arrived at Washington-on-the-Brazos on the day word arrived of the fall of the Alamo. According to Stephen, his company’s captain and officers decided to return to Nacogdoches with what was known as the Runaway Scrape. He and Thomas D. Brooks, Sam McGlothin, Howard Bailey, and Henry Chapman, were ordered by President David G. Burnet to travel to Harrisburg and impress horses and firearms into service of the revolution. For the next two weeks, they impressed about 300 horses and 400 to 500 guns.

With the approach of Sam Houston’s army, Sparks was ordered on April 6 to join it at Groce’s Retreat. On April 12 he joined the Nacogdoches company, commanded by Capt. Hayden S. Arnold, which was the First Company of Col. Sidney Sherman's Second Regiment, Texas Volunteers. During the battle of San Jacinto, Sparks was wounded in the knee by the bayonet of dead Mexican cavalryman. The bayonet “had lodged in the bulrushes growing along the edge of the water.” Though in pain, he continued throughout the battle. He was discharged from service after the battle and returned to live with his family in Nacogdoches. For his service at the battle of San Jacinto, he received a land grant of 640 acres on May 4, 1846. For his service at the siege of Bexar, the Texas legislature appropriated to him an additional 640 acres of land, as approved by a special act on September 1, 1856. 

On October 6, 1836, Stephen Sparks was married to Emily Beauchamp Whitaker by Adolphus Sterne, judge of the municipality of Nacogdoches. She was the daughter of William Whitaker and Elizabeth Hammond of Woodford County, Kentucky. The couple and his mother-in-law lived near Nacogdoches. The Whitakers were active in the protestant Union Church (later named the Old North Baptist Church) in Nacogdoches, where Stephen’s grandfather, William Sparks, was a deacon. Shortly after the church was officially established in 1838, Stephen was baptized and joined the Baptist Church.

In 1854 Stephen Sparks moved his family to McLennan County, Texas. The couple had seven children who survived infancy: Lula, Amanda Elizabeth, Richard William, James Hawkins, America Ellen, Stephen Franklin Jr., and Newell Crain. Emily Sparks died in January 1855. On April 14, 1856, Stephen married Jane M. Jurney (or Journey). The couple did not have any children.

While various censuses and directories listed his profession as a farmer or a wool grower, he was also a missionary Baptist preacher. Sparks was elected to the board of trustees of the Trinity River Baptist Association and helped organize many churches in the area around Waco, including the Bosque Baptist Church, the East Waco Baptist Church, and the Oak Grove Baptist Church. He served on the board of trustees for Baylor University in addition to serving as a justice of the peace in McLennan County.

He moved to Rockport in Aransas County in 1890, where his wife Jane died in 1900. He was an active member of the Texas Veterans Association and was elected as the association’s last president in 1904. The association was dissolved in Austin on April 19, 1907, during its thirty-fifth annual convention.

Stephen Franklin Sparks died on March 12, 1908, and was buried in the Seaside Cemetery at Rockport. While he was the next to last survivor of the battle of San Jacinto at the time of his death, he was the last survivor of the siege of Bexar.

Robert Bruce Blake Collection, Archives from the Office of the County Clerk of Nacogdoches, Tex., 1744–1837. Sam Houston Dixon and Louis Wiltz Kemp, The Heroes of San Jacinto (Houston: Anson Jones, 1932). Thomas Jefferson Rusk Papers, 1824–1859, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Sparks Family Papers, Ralph W. Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas. Sadie Greening Sparks, “The Family of Col. Richard Sparks of Georgia, Mississippi, & Nacogdoches, Texas & wife Elizabeth Cooper,” (http://www.sadiesparks.com/richardsparks.htm), accessed December 9, 2020. Stephen Franklin Sparks, “Recollections of S. F. Sparks,” The Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 12 (July 1908).

Categories:
  • Agriculture
  • Farmers
  • Military
  • Soldiers
  • Religion
  • Baptist
Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution
  • Republic of Texas
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Progressive Era
Places:
  • East Texas
  • East Central Texas
  • Nacogdoches

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

David L. Peavy, “Sparks, Stephen Franklin,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/sparks-stephen-franklin.

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December 14, 2020
December 15, 2020