Sparks, William (1761–1848)


By: David L. Peavy

Type: Biography

Published: June 16, 2021

Updated: June 16, 2021


William Sparks, militia soldier, farmer, and Baptist elder, was born to Matthew Sparks and Sarah (Thompson) Sparks on April 3, 1761, near Salisbury in Rowan County, North Carolina. Just prior to the American Revolution, the family moved to New River in Wilkes County (now Ashe County), North Carolina. Of Matthew’s known ten sons, three—John, Matthew Jr., and William—provided military service during the Revolutionary War. At the age of seventeen, William Sparks joined the Wilkes County Militia Regiment in 1778 as a mounted rifleman in companies commanded first by Capt. John Cleveland and later by Capt. John Beverly. At the end of the campaign, he was discharged and joined a company of mounted minuteman under the command of Capt. Andrew Baker and his brother, Lt. John Sparks. He served in this unit until the end of the war.

In 1784 Matthew Sparks moved his family to Georgia, in the newly-created county of Franklin, near present-day Athens. This land formerly belonged to the Creek Indians (known as the Oconee), but after the war, the British ceded their ally’s land to the Americans, and the area was opened to settlement by the Georgia legislature in February 1784, which precipitated the twelve-year Oconee War. As a result of attacks by the Creeks, the Sparks family constructed “Sparks Fort”; the structure was eventually burned during an attack in 1788.

Around 1791 William Sparks married Mary “Polly” Fielder in Franklin County, Georgia. They had seven children: Richard, Sarah, John, James, Edith, Levi, and Eli. In March 1791 Sparks received a land grant of 420 acres in Franklin County.  Before 1811 he moved his family across the Oconee River into Morgan County, Georgia. On September 16, 1811, William received a passport from the Georgia governor to travel through the Creek Nations with his family (consisting of his wife, five children, and two enslaved persons) and others to the Mississippi Territory, where the family settled near the village of Silver Creek, on the east side of the Pearl River, in newly-formed Marion County (present-day Lawrence County).

William Sparks was a deeply religious man of the Baptist faith, and throughout his life he served in a variety of church leadership positions and provided financial support. He and his wife Polly were members of the Silver Creek Baptist Church, which he represented at the Mississippi Baptist Association convention in October 1818. The following year, he and others were authorized to organize the Bethany Baptist Church at White Sandy Creek in Lawrence County. Sparks deeded two acres of land to Bethany Baptist Church on May 17, 1823, and was named a church trustee in 1824.

Sparks’s wife, Polly, most likely died sometime after November 1830. She and William sold their property in Lawrence County in November 1830 for their move to Yazoo County (which is now Holmes County). Polly Fielder Sparks is no longer found in any records in Mississippi after 1830 and is not on any documents with William after he moved to Texas.

According to his Revolutionary War pension application, William Sparks arrived in Texas in March 1836 and settled in the Nacogdoches area near his son Richard (who arrived in Texas in early 1834) and other relatives, in what was then called Sparks Settlement. All of his seven children and their families eventually settled in Texas.  While Sparks did not take an active role in the Texas Revolution, his family was well-represented in the Revolutionary Army, including his sons Richard and Eli, as well as two of his grandsons (William “Billy” Fielder and Stephen Franklin). If William Sparks arrived in Nacogdoches by the time of the Runaway Scrape, he would have taken shelter in the two-story log fort built by his son Richard. Families stayed inside the stockade and fort, located five miles north of Nacogdoches (where the community of Redfield is located today) until news reached them of Sam Houston’s victory at the battle of San Jacinto.

Sparks quickly rose to prominence within the Nacogdoches community. In August 1837 he was selected to be the moderator between a deputation from the Ionie (Ironi) and Anadaco (Anadoia) tribes of American Indians and the citizens of Nacogdoches. His son Richard, was a member of the committee of citizens charged with representing Nacogdoches in the peace negotiations.

As he did in Mississippi, William Sparks involved himself with the local Protestant community. His daughter-in-law, Massie Wadlington Sparks (wife of James), is credited with forming the faith community that became the first Baptist church in Texas. The first service was held under a live oak tree, just after the battle of San Jacinto, and led by a preacher Massie had invited. In October 1836 the community built a one-room log cabin to serve as a school house, named the Liberty School House, where church services were also held, and in May 1838 the Union Church was organized in the Liberty School House. It was named Union because it was a community of followers of various Protestant denominations. Each denomination met on a different day of the week. Sparks served the church as a deacon until April 1844, when he “petitioned the church to release [him] . . . as he was to [sic] old and infirm to attend to them any longer.” The Union Church was eventually renamed the Old North Baptist Church and is considered to be the oldest Baptist church in Texas.

Sparks is recorded as paying taxes to the Republic of Texas in 1837, 1839, 1840, 1845, and 1846. The 1840 Republic of Texas tax roll states that he owned 2,214 acres of land, in addition to two enslaved persons.

William Sparks died in 1848 and is presumed to have been buried on the land his son donated; now called the Old North Church Cemetery. Memorial plaques from both the Sons of the American Revolution and the Daughters of the American Revolution honoring William’s service during the American Revolution have been erected at the cemetery.

Rev. A. J. Holt, “A Brief History of Union Baptist Church (Old North Church),” East Texas Historical Journal 9 (1971). Sparks Family Papers, Ralph W. Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas. Sadie Greening Sparks, “The Family of William Sparks of North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, & Nacogdoches, Texas & Wife Mary Polly Fielder, October 18, 2000 (http://www.sadiesparks.com/wmsparks.htm), accessed June 10, 2021. Stephen Franklin Sparks, “Recollections of S. F. Sparks,” The Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 12 (July 1908). William Sparks, Revolutionary War Pension Application File R. 9,960, September 1, 1846. Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, Washington, D. C. Telegraph and Texas Register, September 9, 1837.

Categories:
  • Agriculture
  • Farmers
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • Pioneers
  • Religion
  • Baptist
Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution
  • Republic of Texas
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, William,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 30, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/sparks-william.

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June 16, 2021
June 16, 2021