"To forget one's ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root."
(An old Chinese proverb.)


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[Note:  Here appears a photograph, beneath which is the following caption:]

Deposition Made by John Sparks of Ipswich, March 25, 1662

(View Cover Photo)

From the records of the Essex County Quarterly Court, 22 March 1662, property of the Supreme Judicial Court, Division of Archives and Records Preservation, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, on deposit in the James Duncan Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts.  Reproduced from the original (File 7-51-1) with the permission of the Museum's director. (see page 4203)


THE SPARKS QUARTERLY, published by the Sparks Family Association
John J. Carmichael, Jr., President, 3408 N. Rosewood Ave., Muncie, Indiana (47304-2025)

A. Harold Sparks, Vice President, 500 1st St., N., #303, Newton, Iowa  (502087-3104)

Russell E. Bidlack, Secretary-Treasurer & Editor, 1709 Cherokee Road, Ann Arbor, Michigan (48104-4448)

The Sparks Family Association was founded in March 1953 as a non-profit organization devoted to assembling and preserving genealogical and historical materials pertaining to the Sparks Family In America.  It is exempt from federal tax under the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code, Section 503(c)(7).  Membership in the Association is open to all persons connected with the Sparks Family, whether by blood, marriage, or adoption, and to persons interested in genealogical research.  Membership falls into three classes:  Active, Contributing, and Sustaining.  Active Membership dues are $10.00 per year;  Contributing Membership dues are $15.00 per year; and Sustaining Membership dues are any amount over $15.00 that the member wishes to contribute for the support of the Association.  All members receive The Sparks Quarterly as it is published in March, June, September, and December.  Back issues are kept in print and are available for $3.00 each to members of the Association and for $4.00 each to non-members. The first issue of the Quarterly was published in March 1953. Eight quinquennial indexes have been published for the years 1953-57; 1958-62; 1963-67; 1968-72; 1973-77; 1978-82; 1983-87; 1988-92; and 1993-97.  Each index is available for $5.00. 

A complete file of all back issues of the Quarterly (1953-1993), including the nine indexes, may be purchased for $360.00.  The forty-nine years of the Quarterly (1953-1993) comprise a total of 5634 pages of Sparks Family history. The nine indexes (1953-97) amount to over 900 additional pages.  An Index for 1998-2002 will be published in 2003.  A table of contents is also available for $5.00.  Comprising 72 pages, this lists the articles and collections of data appearing in the QUARTERLY between 1953 and 2000.  It is updated at the end of each year.  The International Standard Serial Number that has been assigned to the Quarterly is ISSN 0561-5445.

Orders for individual back issues of the Quarterly, and the table of contents, as well as a complete file should be sent to the editor, Russell E. Bidlack, 1709 Cherokee Rd., Ann Arbor, MI, 48104-4448.  His telephone number is 734-662-5080;  he has no E-mail address.




By Russell E. Bidlack

[Editor's Note: The reaction of many of our readers to the detailed account that follows will probably be:  "You have told me more about John Sparks of Ipswich, and of his wife (wives) and family, than I wanted to know."  Your editor pleads guilty to writing in great detail, but his use of these details has seemed to him to be potentially helpful in correcting misinformation regarding John and the mother(s) of his children which has been in print, and repeated on a number of occasions, during nearly a century.



[It also seems appropriate to remind readers that in England and her colonies prior to September 14, 1752, the old Julian Calendar was still in daily use, while throughout Europe most governments had changed to the Gregorian Calendar, (which is what we use today)  The Julian Calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C., had been a great improvement over the Egyptian lunar calendar, for Caesar used the cycles of the sun as his basis of calculation;  he even included an extra day every four years (i.e., leap year).  Nevertheless, although used in most European countries for the next 1600 years, the Julian Calendar contained an annual excess of eleven minutes and fourteen seconds. As the centuries passed, this error became primarily a problem for the Church in determining the proper date of Easter in relationship to the vernal equinox.  By 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII introduced our present calendar, which was named in his honor, the old Julian Calendar was "off" by nine days.  The Pope solved this problem for the future by directing that any year divisible by 100 (without a remainder) should not be a leap year, except those divisible by 400. To solve the immediate problem, he ordered that October 5, 1582, be followed by October 15, 1582.

[By 1582, however, King Henry VIII of England had broken his nation's ties with Rome.  English Protestants considered the Gregorian Calendar to be a "Catholic calendar", and kept on using the old Julian Calendar.  As years passed, and trade between England's merchants and their counterparts in Europe increased, however, the confusion regarding exact dates caused more and more commercial problems.  It was not until 1752, however, that England's Parliament finally accepted the Gregorian Calendar, but by this time, the error in the Julian Calendar amounted to an excess of eleven days.  Therefore, in England and her colonies, September 2, 1752, was followed by September 14, 1752, much to the distress of some who believed that the government was robbing them of a portion of their lives. "Give us back our fortnight!" was the popular demand.

[There was another confusing difference between the two calendars.  Under the Julian Calendar, the new year began in the spring, on March 25th. Furthermore, March was considered to be the first month in the new year, with February as the twelfth month, in the Julian Calendar.  Thus, the date of birth of our first President, George Washington, had been February 11, 1731, under the Julian Calendar then in use, but under the Gregorian Calendar this became February 22, 1732.  Washington made the change in his family Bible.

[In the following article, the dates given in the original documents that are quoted appear as they were written, with an explanation where thought to be needed.

[Another justification for the length of this article is our belief that the court, land, and probate documents which we quote from the 1600s, not only provide an insight into the lives of members of this particular Sparks family, but that they also serve to describe the way of life in Colonial New England that was experienced by many of our 17th Century ancestors.]

In the June 1977 issue of THE SPARKS QUARTERLY (Whole No. 98) pp. 1904-05, we published an article entitled "John Sparks of Ipswich, Massachusetts, Born Prior to 1635, Died Prior to 1704."  In that article, we stated that this John Sparks had been married in Boston, Massachusetts, on November 26, 1661, to Mary Sinnet (born November 19, 1640) who was a daughter of Walter and Mary Sinnet (also spelled Sennot, or Sennitt) of Boston, and that they subsequently lived in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where they became the parents of six children.  We have since found sufficient evidence in primary sources (i.e., original documents) to prove that these six children (named Elizabeth, Susannah or Susan, Margaret, Rose, Sarah, and John, Jr.) known to have belonged to John Sparks of Ipswich, were born to his wife named Mary Roper, a native of Ipswich and a daughter of Walter Roper of the same place.  While it is highly probable that this same John Sparks, who was living in Ipswich at least as early as 1650, had gone earlier to Boston (in November 1661) to be married to Mary Sinnet, we have found no primary source actually to prove this.  Nevertheless, if Mary Sinnet was the first wife of John Sparks, as we believe she was, we can be certain that she died within a few years following the marriage.



Your editor deeply regrets that, like a number of other genealogists before him, he served to perpetuate in print (in the June 1977 issue of the QUARTERLY) inaccurate information regarding the family of John Sparks of Ipswich.  He based that article on secondary sources which he identified in that article, but which he now realizes contain serious errors.

In our 1977 article, we relied upon three secondary sources regarding the identity of the mother of the children of John Sparks of colonial Ipswich.  Each of these sources pertained to the Perkins family.  The first is a small volume published in 1896 in Salem, Massachusetts, and entitled Ancestry of Nathan Dane Dodge written by Mary A. (Dodge) Parsons, pp. 27-8.  The second source is Vol. 2 of the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, page 669, and the third is Vol. 7, page 175, of this same magazine, also devoted to the Perkins family.  It is probable that these two later sources simply repeated the statement made by Mary A. (Dodge) Parsons in 1896 regarding the identity of John Sparks's wife and the names of their children.  (She had made this statement in giving the ancestry of the daughter of John Sparks named Elizabeth, who was married to Jacob Perkins in Ipswich on December 25, 1684.)  We believe that Mrs. Parsons simply assumed that the wife of John Sparks, who appeared in a number of Ipswich records, was the Mary Sinnet married to John Sparks in Boston in 1661.  It was a coincidence that Mary Roper not only had the name "Mary," but that her father's name was Walter, as was that of Mary Sinnet.  The Elizabeth Sparks who was married to Jacob Perkins in 1684 was a daughter of John and Mary (Roper) Sparks.

We have obtained from the Probate and Family Court of Essex County, Massachusetts, in which county Ipswich is located, photographic copies of a number of original documents which prove that the wife of John Sparks of Ipswich, who was the mother of the John's six children noted earlier, was a daughter of Walter Roper who was a resident of Ipswich as early as 1642. One of those documents, that will be quoted later, is the will of Walter Roper in which he identified Mary as his daughter and her six children (all named Sparks) as his grandchildren.

Much research has been conducted and many documents published in the identif ication of the early settlers of New England, beginning with the Pilgrims who came to Plymouth in 1620.  This research has been based on the many colonial documents which have been preserved over the centuries.  It is quite true that there is a record in Boston of a John Sparke being married to Mary Sinnet (Sennot, or Sennitt) in 1661.  Published in Vol. 9, page 82, of Report of Record of the Commissioners of Boston, which was an attempt to publish vital records pertaining to Boston's settlers prior to 1700, is the following:  "John Sparke and Mary Sennet, dau of Walter Sennet of Boston Married 26 Nov. by John Endecott Governor 1661."

This record of the Sparke(s)-Sinnet marriage was made by Boston's town clerk.  It was this same town record that was used by the noted genealogist and historian of New England, James Savage, in his monumental work, published between 1860 and 1862, entitled Genealogical Dictionary of the First Settlers of New England.  In volume IV of this work, on page 102, Savage gave the following information about the family of Walter Sinnet: (Savage used abbreviations for common words throughout his work, as seen in the entry that follows, e.g., "w." for wife; "wh." for who; "ch." for church; "b." for born; "Eliz." for Elizabeth; "d." for died; ''aft. '' for after; ''adm .'' for admission; ''bapt .'' for baptized; ''yr.'' for year; "mos." for months; a. for age; "m." for married; etc. )



Sinnet, Sennot, or Sennitt, ... Walter, Boston, by w. Mary, wh. join. our ch. 23 May 1647, had Mary, b. 19 Nov. 1640; Eliz. 23 June 1642, d. soon;  John, 10 July 1643; and on Sunday aft. the adm. of his w. had bapt. Mary, John, and Stephen, the last "being 1 yr. 6 mos. and a. 18 days old," and he d. at 10 yrs.; Joseph, 12 Mar. 1648, a. 9 days; Sarah, 28 Apr. 1650; Thomas, 28 Mar. 1652; and Isaac, b. 22 Sept. bapt. 1 OCt. 1654, d. in few days. Mary m. 26 Nov. 1661, John Sparke.
Because Savage was, himself, a native of Boston, his reference to "our ch." meant Boston's First Church, as it came to be called later.  Mary Sinnet, wife of Walter Sinnet, as Savage noted, had become a member of this church on May 23, 1647, which entitled her children to be baptized there, even though her husband, Walter Sinnet, never became a member himself.  The church minutes indicate that it was on Sunday, "30 day 3 mo." 1647 (i.e., May 30, 1647, under the Julian Calendar) that her three children were baptized.  Thereafter, as Savage indicated, the four other children of Walter and Mary Sinnet were baptized soon after each was born.

As we have noted, we believe that the John Sparke who was married to Mary Sinnet in Boston in 1661 was the same John Sparks who was a resident of Ipswich at least as early as 1650.  We believe, also, that Mary (Sinnet) Sparks had a daughter named Mary prior to her death early in the 1660s.  For this reason, we give here the information we have found on Mary Sinnet's father, Walter Sinnet and his family.

Walter Sinnet was granted a "house lot" by the town of Boston on March 12, 1638, and another lot "at Muddy River" on February 12, 1639.  In each of these records, he was called a fisherman.  (See the First Report of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston, published in 1876, pages 32 and 49.)  It was not until August 28, 1653, that a reference to Walter Sinnet appeared again in Boston's town records.  On that date, it was noted that he "hath Liberty granted to digg a Cove in the Marsh near Mr Ramsfords to lay his boate in." (p. 117)

Boston is located in Suffolk County, and in a deed recorded in Suffolk County Liber V, pp. 378-79, dated February 11, 1667, we find a record of Walter Sinnet's death.  He died intestate (i.e., without leaving a will) prior to November 20, 1667, on which date his widow, Mary, "obtained an order for Dividing of hir said Husbands Estate between hirselfe & hir children."  (Readers are reminded that under the Julian Calendar, the year 1667 had begun on March 25th, and the year 1668 did not begin until the next March 25th.) Mary, widow of Walter Sinnet, appears from this deed to have had only two living children in 1667, her sons John and Joseph.  The common law of that time provided that the eldest living son should receive twice the share of any other heir of his father, if the father left no will directing otherwise.  This 1667 deed, by which Walter Sinnet's house and land were sold to Peter Lidget "for 68 pounds in silver," reveals that the son John was entitled to 40 pounds while the son Joseph was entitled to 20 pounds.  No other child or grandchild was mentioned as an heir in this document.  We can assume that Walter's widow received the remaining eight pounds from this sale, along with, perhaps, her husband's personal property.

From the town records of Boston and those of the First Church, we have the following record of the children of Walter and Mary Sinnet:



(Family of John and Mary Sinnet, continued:)

In his entry under "Spark, or Sparks," (Vol. IV, p. 145), James Savage identified two New England immigrants before 1692 who bore this name, one being John Sparks, subject of this article, while the other was an Edward Sparks, born about 1613, who came as a servant to Thomas Page in 1635.  We know of no family relationship between this Edward Sparks and John Sparks of Ipswich.

Of John Sparks, Savage wrote as follows (Vol. IV, p. 145); "John, Boston, m. 26 Nov. 1661, Mary, d. of Walter Sinnet, was of Ipswich 1655, may have been of Saco; and may have been f. [father] of Thomas, certain. of Eliz. wh. m. 15 Oct. 1684, Jacob Perkins, third of the name in that town."

Although Savage did quite remarkable research a century and a quarter ago, he did not have access to nearly as many original records as we do today, even though he lived much nearer the time when his subjects lived than do family historians of today.  In speculating, as he did, that John Sparks of Ipswich "may have been" the father of Thomas Sparks, for example, Savage was doubtless unaware of a deposition that is preserved among the Essex County Quarterly Court records dated June 23, 1673, in which Thomas Sparks's age was given as "about twenty-two years: (Vol. V, p. 190).  This would place his birth in about 1651, when John Sparks was only seventeen and an apprentice of Obadiah Wood.  This was at least a decade before John was married.  We believe that John and Thomas Sparks were, indeed, somehow related, possibly brothers, but they were surely not father and son. A record of what we have learned about this Thomas Sparks of Ipswich is given later in this issue of the QUARTERLY, pp. 4231-35.

In speculating that John Sparks of Ipswich was also a resident at some point of Saco, in what is now the state of Maine, Savage surely did not have access to records indicating that the John Sparks of Saco was considerably older than the John Sparks of Ipswich. See page 4231 of this issue of the QUARTERLY for information on the John Sparks of Saco.

Savage was quite correct, however, in stating that John Sparks of Ipswich had a daughter named Elizabeth who was married to Jacob Perkins on October 15, 1684, but he apparently had not studied the probate records in Essex County which prove that Elizabeth's mother was Mary Roper, not Mary Sinnet.

Perhaps it should be noted that early Boston records contain a reference to another John Sparks, a sailor on two different ships, the Gilbert and the Eagle, during the 1640s.  In the Boston Registry Departments's Records Relating to the Early History of Boston, Vol. 32, published in 1903, there are included "The Aspinwall Notarial Records, 1644-1651."  These pertained to a legal dispute in which a seaman" named John Sparks was involved.  These two ships appear to have transported goods between London and Boston.  There is a record, for example (p. 210) dated November 22: "John Sparks owed 5 Pounds 5 Shillings 5 Pence wages due as a seaman."  It does not appear that this sailor named John Sparks was ever an actual resident of Boston, although, like other sailors, he doubtless spent time there.  While it is even conceivable that he could have been the John Sparke who was married to Mary Sinnet in 1661, this seems highly doubtful.



Between 1911 and 1921, the Essex Institute in Salem published eight volumes of Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts.  These comprise abstracts, and in many instances verbatim transcriptions, of these court documents which are preserved at the Essex Institute.  The eight volumes cover the period from 1636 to 1683.  In 1975, a ninth volume was published, extending these records through April 1686.

The court divided its meetings primarily between Salem and Ipswich.  Its records are remarkable in revealing thousands of legal decision involving ordinary people in Essex County, but they also include countless depositions, writs, and other papers which provide information on family relationships as well as the ages of individuals making depositions.  Our knowledge of  John Sparks's career in Ipswich, and that of his family, is greatly enriched by these records.

Most of the settlers of New England were careful record keepers, not only individually, but also through their town clerks and the Puritan clergymen.  A father could be fined, for example, for failing to report the birth or death of a child to the town clerk, and, in keeping with the English requirement that marriages, baptisms, and burials be recorded in parish registers, so, also, was it customary for the Puritan minister to keep such records for the members of his church.  Unfortunately, however, the Ipswich church records prior to 1700 have been lost.

Records of probate and the buying and selling of land were carefully maintained at the county level of government in New England, as were the proceedings of the courts.  As the centuries have passed, however, many of these records have been lost through both neglect and natural disasters, but persons tracing their ancestry in Essex County, Massachusetts, in which county Ipswich is located, are most fortunate.  The original probate records there, beginning in 1638, had been preserved in large numbers, although, not surprisingly, some have disappeared.  Those extant are to be found today in the probate court at Salem.

In 1881, the Essex County Commissioners, aware of the importance of probate records, engaged a man named W. P. Upham to arrange and file all such records as he could locate prior to 1840.  Upham arranged these records alphabetically, numbering them consecutively from No. 1 (John Aaron) through No. 30,807 (Samuel Younglove).  The index which Upham prepared for this mass of documents has been of great help in discovering what may exist in the settlement of a given estate in Essex County, but until 1987, the search had to be conducted at Salem where these records are preserved.  Recently, however, a prominent New England genealogist named Malinda Laura Lutz Sanborn completed a decade-long project of preparing for publication a printed index to these records, using Upham's numbering system while also expanding his coverage.  Ms. Sanborn published her two-volume set in 1987.  We have made extensive use of the Sanborn index to obtain xerox copies of many key probate records to trace the family of John and Mary (Roper) Sparks of Ipswich.

Another valuable source in preparing this article has been the 1910 publication of the Vital Records of Ipswich, Massachusetts, to the end of 1849, consisting of birth, marriage, and death records kept by the town clerk.

During the 1840s and early 1850s, a man named Abraham Hammatt, a rope manufacturer from Bath, Maine, who had been married to a widow in Ipswich, developed the hobby of collecting information about the early inhabitants of Ipswich.  He died in 1854, however, without having completed a history of the town as he had planned, but the records he had copied and assembled were published between 1880 and 1899 under the title The Hammatt Papers, Early Inhabitants of  Ipswich, Massachusetts, 1633-1700.  Mr. Hammatt had researched the early town, church, probate, and cemetery records of Ipswich and Essex County with considerable care.  While the written records that Hammatt copied still exist (and prove that he copied them correctly), many of the tombstone inscriptions that he transcribed no longer survive.



Another important source for information on early settlers and families of Ipswich is the two-volume Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony by Thomas Franklin Waters published in 1904-07.  Waters did very careful research for this fine work.

In the following pages, we shall quote from a number of primary sources as well as the writings of Hammatt and Waters.  In these early records, including the Ipswich town records of the 1600s, the name Sparks was often spelled Spark, Sparke, or Sparkes, as well as Sparks.  Here we shall use the Sparks spelling, except in direct quotations.

The site of the town of Ipswich in what would become Essex County, Massachussets, had been an Indian village for many generations before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620.  It was called "Agawam" then and was a favored fishing area for the Native Americans.  Very early in the settlement of Plymouth, some of the Pilgrims actually urged their leaders to move their settlement to this more favorable site.  Thomas F. Waters wrote of this as follows (Vol. 1, p. 8):

News of the pleasantness of the Indian village, its good land and rich fisheries spread abroad.  The Pilgrims, shivering in their rude huts at Plymouth, debated whether they should not migrate to this Land of Promise.  Mourt, in his Relation under date of December, 1620, says that some of them, "urged greatly the going to Anguum or Angoum, a place twenty leagues off to the Northward, which they heard to be an excellent harbor for ships, better ground and better fishing."
The Pilgrims did not move, of course, and it was not until 1633 that the first settlement was made by English Puritans at Agawam. This was done by twelve men under the leadership of 27-year-old John Winthrop, son of the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Company.  In the following year, 1634, the Puritans gave the place a new name, Ipswich, taken from the name of a city in old England.

The new village grew rapidly as ships continued to bring settlers from England to the New World. In 1637, for example, a petition was signed by no fewer than fifty-four Ipswich townsmen.  A Puritan church was established in 1734, but as has been noted, none of its records survive for its first century of existence.

The earliest record that has been found pertaining to John Sparks of Ipswich is dated July 24, 1650, and is contained in an entry in the Records and Files of  the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts.  (As was noted above, this 9-volume work consists of quite detailed abstracts of, and quotations from, the original records.)  In Volume 1, page 200, it is stated that on July 24, 1650, "John Sparke" was bound as an apprentice to his "brother-in-law, Obadiah Wood."  Obadiah Wood was a baker ("bisquit baker") in Ipswich who had been married to John Sparks's sister, Margaret Sparks, about 1646.

A carefully researched article on the Wood family by Janet Ireland Delorey appeared in The Genealogist, Vol. 9, No. 1, Spring 1988 issue.  According to her research, Obadiah Wood had been baptized on October 2, 1625, in the parish of Nuneaton, in the county of Warwick, England, and was a son of Edward and Ruth (Lee) Wood.  He came with his parents and several siblings to the Colony of Massachusetts prior to the summer of 1639, settling in Charlestown, which is now part of Boston.   Like his father, Obadiah became a baker; he moved to Ipswich about 1646, and it is believed that it was there that he was married to Margaret Sparks, older sister of John Sparks.  It was in Ipswich that their first child, Mary Wood, was born about 1647.



Besides having this sister, Margaret (Sparks) Wood, in Ipswich, John Sparks also had a brother named Samuel Sparks, younger than himself.  The entry in the Essex County Court record immediately following that by which John Sparks was apprenticed to Obadiah Wood, states that on the same day (July 24, 1650) "Samuel Sparke" was bound to William English for seven years.  This court record also identified John Sparks as Samuel's brother, and contained the provision that "John Sparke,"would be required "to consent to the final year" of Samuel's apprenticeship.

As will be shown later in this article, a court document exists which virtually proves that John Sparks was born in 1634.  This means that he was apprenticed to his brother-in-law when he was 16 years old, and that he would come of age (21) in 1655, doubtless marking the end of his apprenticeship.  Since his younger brother, Samuel Sparks, was probably born in 1636, Samuel's apprenticeship of seven years would not end until after his older brother, John, became an adult.  It was, perhaps, for this reason, that John would be required "to consent to the final year" of Samuel's apprenticeship to William English.

William English had been a resident of Ipswich as early as 1637; he was a shoe maker who moved later to Boston where he became a constable in 1656.  Samuel Sparks no doubt accompanied him to Boston.  In a Boston tax list for 1687, a "Samuel Sparks" is listed as head of a household; he owned no land, but was taxed one shilling and eight pence.  (See First Record of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston, published in 1876, page 107.)  Whether this Samuel Sparks was John Sparks's brother, we do not know.  We have found no other record of him.

The fact that in 1650 there were three (possibly four) Sparks siblings in Ipswich (Margaret, wife of Obadiah Wood, John, and Samuel; and possibly Thomas) with two of them known to be in their teens (John and Samuel), suggests that they had probably come to New England as a family, perhaps accompanied by parents.  We wonder whether it might have been the death of their father prior to July 1650, that may have led to John and Samuel being apprenticed at that time.

It is not surprising that we should find no reference to John Sparks in Ipswich or Essex County records during his years as an apprentice. Unless an apprentice ran away from his master or committed some other crime, there was rarely an occasion for him or her to be noted in a colonial court or town record.

Serving an apprenticeship was the typical manner in which a young man, and sometimes a young woman, could qualify himself/herself as a tradesman or manufacturer in Colonial America.  (A girl might learn to become a seamstress or even a housewife.)  This system also provided a means for a colonial community to care for orphans or children from very poor homes.  The length of the apprentice ship depended largely upon the age of the apprentice at the start; for a boy, it normally would end on his twenty-first birthday; for a girl it would be over, usually, when she reached the age of eighteen.  The master of an apprentice had the same authority over the child as would the father; if punishment became too severe, the apprentice could appeal to the town or county officials, but rarely did an apprentice win such an appeal.

Because nearly all apprentices were boys in colonial Ipswich, we shall use the masculine pronouns hereafter in these comments.

The apprentice was paid no wage during his apprenticeship except for his food, shelter, and clothing which were to be provided by his master.  An apprentice's social activities were strictly controlled by his master; he was not permitted to marry during his period of service.  The master, however, was required by the local court not only to provide his apprentice with the instruction and practice to enable him to learn the master's occupational skills, but he was required, also, to see that the young person learn to read and write as well as acquire the basics of arithmetic.  At the end of the apprenticeship, the master was expected to provide the youth with two suits of clothing, one for the Lord's Day" and the other for "the working days," and often, as well, the basic tools to practice his trade.



The apprentice lived in his master's household during his apprenticeship and, in New England, attended church with his master's family, although he usually sat in the gallery with other young men.  Kind masters and eager apprentices often developed a lifelong attachment.  We can guess that this might have been especially true of John Sparks and Obadiah Wood, since they were brothers-in-law.

When an apprenticeship was agreed to, the master and his apprentice were required to abide by the same rules then prescribed in the courts of England.  If the apprentice was a boy, the master promised to teach him "the art, trade, mystery, and science," of his trade or occupation, while the boy promised that he would

truly and faithfully serve [his master], his counsels lawfully and honest obey, his secrets shall keep, hurt to his master he shall not do nor consent to be done, at unlawful games he shall not play, nor from his master's business absent himself by night or day; his master's goods he shall not waste nor embezzel, nor them lend without his master's consent.  Taverns and ale houses he shall not frequent except about his master's business there to be done, but as a true and faithful servant ought to behave himself in word and deed during the said tenure.
Obadiah Wood continued as a "biskett baker" in Ipswich for the remainder of his life.  He made his will on October 26, 1694, and he died prior to December 3, 1694, on which date his will was proved in the Essex County Court.  His first wife, Margaret (Sparks) Wood, sister of John Sparks, had died sometime after April 11, 1667, when her tenth child had been born.  Obadiah had then been married to a widow, Hazelelponi (Willix) Gee, prior to June 5, 1675, when their first child was born.  The children of Obadiah and Margaret (Sparks) Wood, who were thus nephews and nieces of John Sparks, were, according to Janet Ireland Delorey's fine article, cited earlier:  (1) Mary Wood, born ca.1647; (2) Ruth Wood, born ca.1649; (3) John Wood, born 1650/51; (4) Obadiah Wood, Jr., born 1652/53; (5) Samuel Wood, born 1655/6; (6) Josiah Wood, born ca.1658; (7) Nathaniel Wood, born ca.1661; (8) Joseph Wood, born ca.1664; (9) an unnamed son born April 11, 1665, who died young; and (10) Margaret Wood, born April 11, 1667, who died as an infant the same year.

In Ipswich, as in other Puritan towns of the 1600s, all commercial activities, as well as the inhabitants' social life, were strictly regulated by the town's officials.  Attendance at Sunday services in the local meetinghouse was not only required, but the place where one sat was assigned.  To be received as a church member, however, demanded genuine religious commitment.  Men were forbidden, for example, to wear long hair, and in 1639 the Essex County Court ordered that women not wear "sleeves more than half an ell wide in the widest place," nor were they permitted to adorn themselves with "knots of ryban, broad shoulder bands and rayles, silk roses, double ruffes and cuffs." (Quoted by Waters, Vol. 1, p. 39)

Wages were regulated for each type of labor.  A carpenter in Ipswich, for example, could not charge more than two shillings a day for his labor, and the daily wage of a common laborer was set at eighteen pence.  If an employer paid more than this, he could be fined ten shillings, as could also the workman.  Be cause of the importance of sheep for the production of wool, it was enacted in 1654 by the Essex County Court that no sheep could be sold to anyone living outside one's town, and none could be killed for meat that were under two years old.


[Here appears a photograph, beneath which is the following caption:]

Map of the Town of Ipswich in Essex County, Massachusetts

(View Photograph)

Shown here are the boundaries of the town (township) of Ipswich as they existed at the close of the Seventeenth Century.  In a Puritan community, the first settlers built their homes on lots divided among them near the meeting house where religious services were held, and those who were farmers tilled their fields in out lying farm lots within the town's (township's) boundaries.  The Ipswich settlement, with its meeting house, was (is) on the Ipswich River, not far from its mouth, at the foot of what came to be called Town Hill.  Counties in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were created in 1643, and Ipswich became a town (township) in Essex County.  Essex County, now comprising some twenty-four towns, is located in the northeast corner of Massachusetts, bulging into New Hampshiere. Its eastern border is the Atlantic Ocean and extends southward to Boston (in Suffolk County) On the west, it borders Middlesex County. The town (township) of Ipswich included the present town of Hamilton, called at first "The Hamlet," later "Hamlet Parish," until it was cut off from Ipswich as a separate town in 1793.  The area shown on the above map as Essex was called "Chebacco," or the "Second Parish," from 1680 until it was separated from Ipswich in 1819.  The above map has been reproduced from a frontispiece appearing in Vol. XVI of the Proceedings (1909) of the Ipswich Historical Society.  The towns (townships) shown as adjoining Ipswich (Rowley, Boxford, Topsfield, Wenham, and Gloucester) are in Essex County.



With these examples of Puritan law and regulations in mind, it is not surprising to note that the baker's trade, which John Sparks began learning in 1650, was carefully prescribed by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  A law of 1637 ordered that neither cakes nor buns be sold, except for special occasion, such as a "buriall or marriage." After 1639, "no bread might be made finer than to afford at twelve ounces the two penny loaf." (Quoted by Waters, Vol. 1, page 84)

As we have noted earlier, John Sparks reached his majority, we believe, in 1655, which doubtless saw the end to his apprenticeship, although he may well have then worked for his brother-in-law for a while to build up some capital toward starting his own baking business.

The original document that enables us to determine the year of birth for John Sparks is still extant among the files of the Essex County Quarterly Court preserved at the Essex Institute in Salem.  It is dated March 25, 1662, the first day of a new year under the Julian Calendar.  Because it is also one of the few instances where we have any details regarding the daily life of John Sparks, we have obtained permission from the Essex Institute to reproduce this document on the cover of the present issue of the QUARTERLY.

The court case of which this deposition by John Sparks became a part involved a dispute between Obadiah Wood, John's brother-in-law under whom he had served as an apprentice, and an Ipswich neighbor named Richard Kimball.  Besides what this document reveals about the age of John Sparks in 1662, it also gives us a glimpse of 17th century village life in New England and the fact that good Puritans sometimes quarreled among themselves.

As "commoners," both Obadiah Wood and Richard Kimball (often spelled Kemball) had the privilege of grazing their cattle on the Ipswich Common, i.e., land owned by the town, not by individuals.  Although each owner of livestock at that time was supposed to have a registered "earmark" for his animals, in order to avoid disputes of ownership, a disagreement such as that between Wood and Kimball occasionally arose.  From the evidence presented, it appears that on March 19, 1661 (1662, under the Gregorian Calendar), a grandson of Richard Kimball named Robert Dutch (Jr.), had removed from the town's common a heifer which Obadiah Wood claimed was his.  A deposition by Martha, wife of Thomas Harris, made on March 25, 1662, reveals what had happened: "...that being at Robert Dutch's house, and Goodman Kemball being there also, Goodwife Wood [i.e., Margaret (Sparks) Wood, wife of Obadiah Wood and sister of John Sparks] came in and was much troubled that the boy [Robert Dutch, Jr.] had taken away the heifer.  Goodman Kemball said that he would uphold the boy in what he had done, and that Goodman Wood [Obadiah Wood] did no better than steal the heifer from among his cattle...,' (Vol.11, p. 349 of the published court records).  Readers are reminded that in New England in the Seventeenth Century, the great majority of men were addressed as "Goodman" and women as "Goodwife," as illustrated in the above quotation.

Apparently there was some question about this heifer's earmark as well as confusion between it and a calf with similar markings.  Edward Lummas, "aged about fifty-eight years," deposed that Obadiah Wood "the baker" had said:  "I will tell you how you may know her by this:  if you Com neare and hold out your hand to her, the heffer will Com to you, for I used to give her Bis Cake." Lummas swore that, indeed, when he held out his hand, the heifer claimed by Wood came to him. (Vol. II, p. 350 of the published court documents

The deposition by John Sparks, reproduced on the cover from a photographic copy provided by the Essex Institute, reads as follows:



The Deposition of John Sparke

Aged 27

This Deponent sayth that he went along with John Harde [Hardy] to Soisbery [Salisbury] where the heifer is that his brother Wood and goodman Kemball are in controversy about and he found the heifer to Beare the same marks every way as John Harde did describe before Deacon Pingry and himself, before he went to Solsbory to se[e] it, which markes were a little white Spot close by her bag & a brownish tayle & legs & black horns bending a little inward and without any eare marke, and further more this Deponent sayth that he saw John Harde single out a heifer from all the rest of the Cattle that were there and did affirme it to him that that very heifer was goodman Woods for he knew it from a yong calf by the same marke he did discribe to him which he also saw & tooke notice of
Sworne in Court held at Ypswch the
25 of March 1662 Robert Lord Clerke
In referring to Obadiah Wood as his "brother," John Sparks meant, of course, his brother-in-law.

Wood was successful in his suit against Kimball, so it appears that John Sparks's testimony was helpful to him.  Of particular interest to us, however, is the fact that in this testimony on March 25, 1662, John gave his age in court as twenty- seven.  To give a falsehood in a deposition before a court among Puritans was a mortal sin, so we can be certain that John Sparks believed he was of the age that he stated.  Since, under the Julian Calendar, this was the first day of the new year (1662), we can be quite certain that John Sparks had been born in 1634. (Should it have happened that his birthday was on March 25, (one chance in 365), he would have been born in 1635 ).  This would mean that he had been sixteen years old in 1650 when he had been apprenticed to Obadiah Wood. Apprenticeships for boys did not normally extend beyond their twenty-first birthday, so John had probably been bound to Wood for only five years, or until 1655.

If John Sparks of Ipswich was the John Sparke who was married to Mary Sinnet in Boston on November 26, 1661, as we think very likely, it then follows that he brought his bride to Ipswich soon thereafter.  It is also probable that John and Mary (Sinnet) Sparks had a daughter named Mary born in the early 1660s.  This is based on a statement contained in a publication entitled Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire by Sybil Noyes, Charles Thornton Libby, and WalWer Goodwin Davis published between 1928 and 1939 in five parts in Portland, Maine, (page 650).  These authors stated that a John Harris "fisherman, Isle of Shoals ... married Mary Sparks (daughter of John Sparks of Ipswich and Boston), marriage bond 24 June 1687, surety Jabesh Negus of Boston.  There after he [Harris] lived in Ipswich where his wife died 6 May 1730, he died 3 Dec. 1738."

While we lack proof of a primary nature regarding whether John Sparks of Ipswich was the John Sparke who was married to Mary Sinnet in Boston in 1661, there can be no doubt that John Sparks of Ipswich was married sometime after 1662, but not later that 1664, to Mary Roper, daughter of Walter and Susan Roper of Ipswich.  It is our belief that this was a second marriage for John Sparks; that Mary Sinnet had been his first wife, and that she died after bearing a child.



Only one reference to Mary Roper, prior to her marriage to John Sparks, has been found among court records.  In a case before the Essex County Quarterly Court meeting in Ipswich in March 1662 involving a claim by Jana Tuttle, widow  of John Tuttle, against her renter, Richard Shatswell, the defendant presented a list of his expenses.  Besides paying Walter Roper two pounds "for groundseting the house and other worcke," Shatswell had paid "Mary Roper" six shillings for assisting himself and Robert Purnell "one day about thatching."  (pp. 363-4, Vol. II, of the Quarterly Court records of Essex County, cited earlier)  Mary Roper, daughter of Walter Roper, was obviously not yet married to John Sparks at that time (March 1662).

Walter Roper was a resident of Hampton, located in what became New Hampshire, but then under the jurisdiction of Essex County, Massachusetts.  He became a freeman there (a citizen) on May 18, 1642, and it was there that his daughter, Mary, had been baptized on August 22, 1641.  (See Vol. III, p. 575 of Savage, cited earlier.)  Walter Roper and his family were in Ipswich by September 3, 1652, for on that date, he bought a house and lot on High Street from Allen Perley.  The location of this lot is shown on page 4206 in the diagram reproduced from Vol. I of Waters.  This diagram records first owners of Ipswich lots; that of Allen Perley adjoined that of Geo. Smith, just beyond the cemetery.  (See Vol. II, p. 374 of Waters, cited earlier, who gave his source for Roper's purchase of the Perley lot in 1652 as Ipswich Deeds 2:44.)

It was the custom among Puritan church members to have a child baptized, if possible, on the Sunday following its birth, so we can assume that Mary Roper was probably born as well as baptized in August 1641.  Thus, she was probably at least twenty-one years old when she was married to John Sparks; he was her senior by about thirteen years, a fact that gives further credence to the probability that she was his second wife.

In 1664, John Sparks's name again appeared in the town records of Ipswich.  In that year, he was identified as a "tenant of Thomas Bishop," and, as such, he qualified to become owner of a plot of land on Plum Island, when that portion of the town was divided among its adult property owners.

Plum Island, then accessible only by boat across the swift Plum Island River, was completely isolated during each winter, but it was still viewed as an asset by three competing towns, Ipswich, Newberry, and Rowley.  The General Court of Massacusetts had determined in 1649 that two-thirds of it belonged to Ipswich, and in February 1664/5, the Ipswich property owners demanded that the town's portion of the island be divided among them.  The island's fertile land was then divided in four-acre shares, or lots, as the first step in this allotment.

One's current wealth determined one's share of common land at that time in New England, with the exception of magistrates and Puritan clergymen.  In this instance, the Ipswich schoolmaster also qualified.  The twenty-eight largest land owners of Ipswich each received a "double share" (eight acres) of the town's portion of Plum Island.  Seventy lesser land owners qualified for one and one half shares (six acres), and the remaining 105 small property owners received one share (four acres).  Obadiah Wood was in this latter group, as was also Walter Roper, father-in-law of John Sparks.  How it was that John Sparks was able to qualify for a share as a tenant of Thomas Bishop is not clear, but he did so and thus came to possess Lot 74 on Plum Island, giving him the important status of "property owner."  (See Thomas F. Waters' "Plum Island, Ipswich, Mass." in Publicationsof the Ipswich Historical Society, Vol. XXII, 1918.)

Thomas Bishop was a resident of Ipswich as early as 1637, and he gradually be came a prosperous merchant. In 1653, he had acquired a lot on the north side of the Ipswich River on which the town's public library stands today, east of the "Meeting House Green."  (See Waters, Vol. I, p. 400, whose reference is Ipswich Deeds 1:132 and 154.)  There Bishop built a house to accommodate two families, and sometime during the 1660s, he rented half of it to John Sparks.



Bishop also permitted Sparks to construct an outdoor oven for baking.  We can speculate that in constructing his oven, John Sparks had advice from his brother-in-law and former master, Obadiah Wood.

Succeeding as a baker, Sparks soon expanded his business to include an "ordinary," a license for which was obtained by Bishop on behalf of his tenant.  Often called an inn or tavern as well as an ordinary, such an establishment provided a resting place for travellers as well as offering meals, including "wine and strong water," not only to travellers, but to townsmen as well.

The operation of an ordinary was carefully regulated by the county's officials, including the amount that could be charged for such service.  For these reasons, a license was required.

While the Puritans believed that a moderate use of alcoholic beverages was beneficial, they considered their excessive use to be sinful.  Therefore, the operator of an ordinary was forbidden to sell "wine and strong water" to "habitual tipplers" as well as to boys.  He was forbidden, likewise, to permit dancing or gaming in his establishment, and guests could not bring their own "wine and strong water" into the ordinary for consumption there.

John Sparks continued to rent the Bishop property for his bakery and ordinary, with Bishop holding the license in his own name  (since he owned the house and lot)  until Thomas Bishop died in 1670. In his will, Bishop specified that his wife should have his house until her death, after which it should become the property of his son, Samuel Bishop.  (Essex Co. probate file 2483)  Apparently, young Bishop, aware of Sparks's success in the ordinary business, convinced his widowed mother that they should immediately lay claim to the part of the house which Sparks occupied and to start their own business.  Sparks was, therefore, "warned out" of the Bishop property within a year of Thomas Bishop's death.  Several of the leading townsmen of Ipswich, learning of this action, believed Sparks had been treated unfairly by the Bishops and encouraged him to purchase a lot of his own on which to build his own bake oven and to apply for a license to operate his own ordinary.  This John Sparks did, acquiring a nearby two-acre lot from William White, facing the "Meeting House Green," on which there was already "a house, barn, orchard, garden, and parrocke or inclosure of earable land adjoyning." (Ipswich Deeds 3:216)  In this deed, dated February 15, 1671, Sparks was called "Biskett Baker."

This lot had once belonged to William Fuller who had sold it to John Knowlton, a shoemaker, in October 1639.  In the diagram appearing on the following page, this lot is shown with the name of its original owner, William Fuller.  (William Fuller and his younger brother, John Fuller, came from Chelmesford, England, to Boston on the ship Abigail in 1635 and settled in Ipswich;  by coincidence, John Fuller was an ancestor of the present writer.)

Waters, in his history of Ipswich, wrote as follows:

Sparks ... received his first license for a year in Sept. 1671 to sell "beere at a penny a quart, provided he entertain no Town inhabitants in the night, nor suffer to bring wine or liquors to be drunk in his house."  (Records Ipswich Quarter Sessions Court)  Here he kept a famous hostelry for twenty years.  Judge Sewall on his circuits tasted its good cheer, and many a man of renown tarried about its wellspread board.  Officers and soldiers were quartered here in time of danger from Indian attacks. (Waters, Vol. I, p. 345)


[Note:  Here appears a photograph, beneath which is the following caption:]

Diagram Showing Location of John Sparks's Inn, Ipswich

(View Photograph)

The above diagram is reproduced from that drawn by John W. Mourse for Vol. II of Waters' Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony published in 1905.  It appears on the verso side of page 339.  Here Mourse showed the original owners of lots located northeast from the Ipswich Meeting House and its surrounding "green." Of particular interest to us is the lot shown as granted originally to "Wm. Fuller," facing the "Meeting House Green," for it was there that John Sparks operated his inn (ordinary) and his bake oven from 1671 until 1693. Waters provided the fol lowing history of this lot: (Vol. II, p. 345)



William Fuller's grant was next to Christopher Osgood's on the north east by the record of 1635.  William Fuller, gunsmith, was "lately possessed of one house lot, half an acre of ground, to which he added one house lot, half an acre more, also a parcel in the same place bought of Christopher Osgood, all which as they lye together, being about five roods, the highway to the Mill on east and south east, the house lot of Thos. Towlinson northeast, the land of Christopher Osgood south and southwest touching upon the house lot of Hugh Sherrat, north."  This lot, with one small dwelling, he sold to John Knowlton, shoemaker, Oct. 1639 (Town Record).  The Fuller-Knowlton lot came into the possession of William White, who sold two acres here, with "house, barn, orchard, garden and parrocke or inclosure of earable land adjoyning," to John Sparks, "Biskett Baker," Feb. 15, 1671 (Ips. Deeds 3:216).

In her Social Life in Old New England  (Boston, 1914), Mary Caroline Crawford wrote:

Inn-keeping ... was a most respectable occupation.  In several of the early college catalogues son of innkeepers may be found taking precedence of ministers' sons!  This was because an innkeeper had to be as moral as a minister and possess property besides. ... (pp. 137-8)

When the Quarterly Court met at Ipswich in September 1672, "John Sparks had his license renewed for a year." (Vol. V, p. 93)  Each September thereafter until 1693, when he "laid down" his license with retirement, the Quarterly Court renewed it.  Although there is no court record that mentions the role played by John's wife, Mary (Roper) Sparks, in the operation of his ordinary, we can be sure that it was a partnership, and that its fine reputation, particularly its "wellspread board," was surely as much due to the efforts of Mary as to those of her husband.

Reference has been made to the remarkable view of life in Ipswich during the Seventeenth Century that is provided in the nine printed volumes of abstracts and quotations from the Essex County Quarterly Court records.  We can only regret that the last volume, IX, ends in 1686.  We have not found it possible to search the unpublished court records beyond this date.  Although Mary (Roper) Sparks does not often appear in these nine large volumes of court records, an interesting deposition that she made in the spring of 1673 is included in Vol. V.  This involved a complaint by a fisherman named William Rowe against another Ipswich resident named John Leigh.  Rowe charged that Leigh had been spending an excessive amount of time with his wife, Sarah Rowe, back in Ipswich, while he had been fishing off the Isles of Shoals  (eight small islands in the Atlantic some ten miles southeast of Portsmouth, usually called "Isle of Sholes" in these court records).  Rowe's charge against Leigh was, of course, directed against his wife, Sarah, as well.  As is often true in studying old court records, our story of this domestic dispute is incomplete, and we are uncertain whether the deposition of Mary Sparks influenced the matter, but she:

deposed that being at William Rowe's house, together with Thomas Day and his wife one Sabbath day at night, there arose a discourse between us about fishing, and some of them asking him whether he intended to go out of the town this winter although he said he had an invitation by a letter from a friend to go to the Isle of Sholes to split fish by the month.  However, he did not intend to go for such small wages as were proffered him.  This was before his child died. (Vol. V, pp. 186-7)


When the Quarterly Court met in Ipswich in May 1674, a number of citizens complained that Freegrace Norton, who was then operating the town's mill, had been cheating--that there was a frequent shortage in the weight of the flour received when compared to the weight of the wheat that had been delivered to the mill.  One of the documents that the editor of these court records chose to copy exactly, as representative of this case, was a deposition by John Sparks.  As will be noted, Sparks believed that the problem had not arisen because of dishonesty on the part of Norton, but rather because of his carelessness.  The Court agreed with Sparks's assessment.  Norton was fined forty shillings for his negligence and was "enjoined to keep a beam, scales and weights always in readiness for any to weigh their grists, also to be ready to take off and lay on men's grists."  Following is the text of John Sparks's deposition, being an exact transcription:

... that through the default of bad grinding and want of measure in my meale for this sundry yeares together, not holding out to make so much bread in quantity as I used to do in Serg. Waites dayes, to my greate losse, the merchants exspecting theire due, and I not able to make it good as formerly, I made my complaynt to sundry persons, and to one amonge the rest a person of worth and quality Mr Saltonstall by name who promised me Amendment, but I having found since that I have not had so much meale nor so good as formerly, was forced to carry his wheate to Rowly mill where I might have it smaller ground that soe it might answer his endes;  but I found that the wheate that went from hence to Rowly did fall as much short in measure as that which was ground here   I conceive the reason was the wetnesse and dampness of the wheate this last yeare by reason of this last wet harvest, I often have missed much meale in quantity for this many yeares, but I aprehend not through goodman Nortons dishonesty, but by reason of the mill lying so carelesly and so open that somtymes any one might who was dishonest draw out a grist from under the underpining, which is a thing I have often complayned of and it is lately I have spoaken of it and have asked them that are concerned in the mill who should make my meale good if it was stolen. (Vol. V, p. 304)

Among those testifying regarding this matter besides John Sparks was Thomas Sparks (or Sparke) whom we believe may have been a younger brother of John.  Thomas was identified in these proceedings as a servant of William Goodhue, one of the principal merchants of Ipswich. (See the article on this Thomas Sparks beginning on page 4231 of the present issue of the QUARTERLY.)

During the Quarterly Court's session in Ipswich in March 1677, Nathaniel Roper, a brother of Mary (Roper) Sparks, brought charges against three "young lads"  (Joseph Stephens, Ephraim Foster, and John Bridges), "for abusing his horse about six weeks since."  This abuse was described as "cutting off his hair."  In the end, the court found young Bridges innocent, but Stephens and Foster were found guilty and were fined.  Our interest in this rather insignificant event centers on the testimony presented by John and Mary Sparks, which follows, as summarized by the editors of Vol. VI of these court abstracts:

John Sparke and his wife Mary testified that John Bridges said he knew nothing about the trimming and Mary said she had been in town and heard that there was one in Andiver who knew something about it.  Bridges replied that it was his man, and when he should come down he would probably tell about it for he was a very honest fellow and would tell the truth.  Deponent [John Sparks] asked him where he and Nat. Roper were that night and he said at Serjeant Ingollses, where there was a company of young lads, among them Joseph Stevens, and that the latter and two others sat whispering and laughing, until he wondered if they were laughing at him.  Also that he and Roper went home at ten o'clock, the young men going a little before.  Elisabeth Smith attested to the same. Sworn in court. (Vol. VI, p. 251)


Steeped in the tradition of uprightness among our New England ancestors of the 17th Century, including the strict manner in which Puritan parents reared and instructed their sons and daughters, it comes as a shock to read the Essex County, Massachusetts, Court records to find the frequency of references to fornication, adultery, and illegitimate births therein.  Heavy fines and public punishment, including whippings of women and well as men, seem not to have had the effect on morals as one might imagine.  This kind of corporal punishment in the instances of illegitimacy seems to have been administered primarily because of the concern that the child might become an expense to the community.  Unwed girls, known to be pregnant, were required publicly to identify the father; if they refused, the midwife was instructed to demand this information during the delivery, the belief being that death so often occurred with or following childbirth that the unwed mother would not dare lie, knowing that her soul would surely be dammed if she did so.  A man identified as the father under these circumstances could rarely convince a court otherwise, and he would be forced to obtain a bond that would assure the child's future support.  Men signing such a bond had to possess sufficient property in the community to satisfy the court that they could assume such responsibility if necessary.  John Sparks became a bondsman in such a case in 1674.

During a meeting of the Quarterly Court of Essex County in Salem in June 1674, the second son of John Sparks's brother-in-law, Obadiah Wood, under whom John had once been apprenticed, was accused by nineteen-year-old Mary Talbott of "uncleanness."  "Uncleanness" was a euphemistic term used by Puritans for indecent behavior, especially illicit sex.  These same Puritans, however, did not hesitate to label a child born of such behavior as a "bastard."

Mary Talbott, a daughter of William and Siscilla Talbott of Boston, had been born on June 21, 1655.  Sometime prior to 1674, she had become an apprentice to Samuel Hunt, a glazier, in Ipswich.  She was probably more of a servant to Mrs. Hunt than to Samuel.  (The name Talbott was sometimes spelled "Tarball" in the initial court records pertaining to this case, as well as Talbot, Tullbott, etc.)

The son of Obadiah Wood who was accused by Mary Talbott of having impregnated her, was also named Obadiah and was about twenty-one years old in 1674.  On June 10, 1674, in response to Mary Talbott's complaint, Obadiah Wood, Jr. "denied every charge" in a written statement, and his father, Obadiah, Sr. and his uncle, John Sparks, signed his statement as his witnesses.

Because all of the persons involved in this case, including the witnesses, were residents of Ipswich, the matter was postponed until the following autumn when the Quarterly Court would meet in Ipswich.  The court required a bond from Samuel Hunt to guarantee Mary's appearance at that time, while John Sparks and a neighbor named Henry Bennet agreed to become sureties for young Wood, to assure his appearance before the court.  It appears that the court was not willing for Obadiah Wood, Sr. to serve as one of his son's bondsmen at this time. The Sparks-Bennet bond was in the amount of fifty pounds, a considerable sum.  (The name Bennet was often spelled Benett.)

The Essex County General Court began its autumn session of 1674 in September, but it was not until November that the Talbott-Wood case was presented.  The delay was probably related to the expected date of birth of Mary Talbott's child, which occurred in the following October.



On November 4, 1674, the court's clerk recorded that "Obadiah Wood [Jr.], not appearing to answer his complaint, court ordered the bond forfeited."  (Vol. V, p. 411)  This meant, of course, that Sparks and Bennet would be required to pay the fifty-pound bond if young Wood could not be found.  We can imagine the effort that they made, probably through Sparks's old master and brother-in-law, Obadiah Wood, Sr., to persuade Obadiah, Jr. to come forward.  (Margaret [Sparks] Wood, sister of John Sparks and mother of young Obadiah, had died several years earlier and was thus spared this family scandal.)  Indeed, the court record goes on to state that "afterwards, he [Obadiah Wood, Jr.] came into court," and his bondsmen were thus relieved of paying the fifty pounds.

Obadiah Wood, Jr. presented a plea of innocence in a lengthy petition to the court.  While admitting that "contrary to the advice of all his friends, especially his Father, whose counsell & command he ought to have attended," he had, in deed, frequented Mary Talbutt's company "at unseemly times" and had been "an earnest suitor," adding that, although he "desired to marry her, she would not have him."  He went on to claim that during Mary's "abode in  town, she had been known to be much in company of young men," and that she had been known to be "out all night without the consent of her master."  Young Obadiah claimed, also, to have ended his "attentions to her" when he learned from Samuel Bowden that Mary "was a common baud," and when he heard that "Seth Story had been with her near the river."

A number of witnesses were heard both for and against Obadiah Wood, Jr., but in the end, the judges declared that he was, indeed, "the reputed father of the child and he was sentenced to pay 40 S. [shillings] in corn to Samuel Hunt for his charges and 3 S. [shillings] per week to be paid to Mary Talbut every week or at least 12 5. per month where she dwells." (Vol. V, p. 411-13)

In keeping with Puritan values, it was Samuel Hunt, Mary Talbott's master, who was considered to be the principal party wronged in this matter, and when the Essex County Quarterly Court met in Ipswich on March 30, 1675, the following judgment was reached:  "Upon Samuel Hunt's complaint of what loss he had suffered by his servant Mary Talbut's being with child, court ordered her to serve said Hunt two years longer." (Vol. VI, p. 20)

The last court record in Essex County pertaining to Obadiah Wood, Jr. is the above, with the footnote that he and Mary "were presented for committing fornication."

In her study of the Wood family, Janet Delorey has determined that Obadiah Wood, Jr. left Ipswich soon after he was found guilty of fathering Mary Talbott's child.  Like thousands of other American men before and since, upon finding themselves disgraced in their communities, Obadiah was able to run away from his obligation by "going west."  In 1675, "going west" included going from Massachusetts to Connecticut, and it was in Hartford, Connecticut, that Obadiah Wood, Jr. appeared as early as March 2, 1675, there to start a new life.

In running away to Hartford, young Obadiah obviously had no intention of meeting the financial obligation placed upon him by the Quarterly Court:  to pay Samuel Hunt "for his charges" and to help support Mary Talbott in raising their child.  When the Quarterly Court met in Salem in July 1675, Samuel Hunt demanded the forfeiture of the fifty-pound bond which John Sparks and Henry Bennet had signed on Obadiah's behalf in 1674.  They protested, of course, claiming that their bond had pertained only to Obadiah's appearance before the court in November 1674, but the judges ruled in Hunt's favor, although "moderation of the bond was respitted," meaning that at a later date the court might consider lowering the amount of the bond.  (Vol. VI, p. 47)  To hold Sparks and Bennet liable, however, a writ dated June 24, 1675, was issued by which there was an "attachment of Spark's house and [of] a horse and cattle of Bennett's."



Not knowing the whereabouts of Obadiah, the Quarterly Court meeting in Ipswich in September 1675, took the following action:

In the following March, Samuel Hunt was again in court, complaining that Sparks and Bennet were still not "performing the court order of the moderation of a bond, not paying corn or anything else.  The court responded to Hunt's complaint, again ordering "that execution be issued." (Vol. VI, p. 136)

There being no further reference to this matter in the Essex County Quarterly Court records, we must assume that John Sparks and Henry Bennet now had no choice but to pay as the court directed.  These two men must have had strong feelings against young Obadiah Wood, for his disappearance had cost them dearly.  Perhaps Obadiah's father, the senior Obadiah Wood, reimbursed these old friends for their losses, but we can only speculate.  It appears that the incident did not cause a permanent rift between the two brothers-in-law, however, for when the elder Obadiah made his will on October 26, 1697, John Sparks signed as a witness.

One other reference is found in these court records to Mary Talbott.  During a meeting of the court in Ipswich in April 1677, there was issued a clarification of the two-year extension of Mary Talbott's servitude to Samuel Hunt.  It was noted that her extension of service was "to be to the said Hunt and his assigns."  In other words, Hunt was given the right to sell or otherwise transfer Mary's remaining indenture to someone else, which he probably did.

Although the child of Mary Talbott was obviously alive and with her/his mother in the home of Samuel Hunt in September 1675, we have no knowledge of what became of this child.  Mary returned to Boston at the end of her servitude where, as Ms. Delorey notes, she "went on to be the respectable wife of two husbands," the first being Thomas Tawley.  After his death, she was married to John Endicott.  As the widow of the latter, Mary made her will on May 17, 1718.  She made no mention therein to a child born out of wedlock in Ipswich. Likewise, when the undated will of Obadiah Wood, Jr. was probated in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1712 by his second wife, there was no mention of a child born in Ipswich nearly forty years earlier.

The first child born to John and Mary (Roper) Sparks was named Elizabeth. The early records for the First Church of Ipswich do not survive, nor were the town records of Ipswich kept as thoroughly as they were in most Puritan towns, with the result that we can only speculate that Elizabeth was born in the mid-1660s.  A second daughter, Susannah (often called Susan and probably named for her grandmother, Susan Roper), was born about 1667/68.  While the dates of birth for neither of these daughters have been preserved in the town records of Ipswich, those for the four other children of John and Mary were recorded and survive.  A third daughter, Margaret, was born on March 2, 1670, followed by Rose on April 18, 1673, and by Sarah on February 17, 1675.  Their only son, John Sparks, Jr., was born on September 15, 1678.  More will be said of each of these children later in this article.



Earlier we quoted from Waters' history of Ipswich regarding Judge Samuel Sewall having been one of the important men in Massachusetts who had stopped for food and lodging at John Sparks's ordinary.  Samuel Sewall (1652-1729/30) of Boston held numerous public offices during his lifetime.  He is particularly remembered today not only because he served as a judge during the infamous witch trials in and around Salem in 1692 but, more importantly, because later he asked public forgiveness for having wrongfully helped to condemn to death several innocent old women.  He is also remembered for having kept a detailed diary for some fifty-six years, from 1673 until three months before his death on January 1, 1729.  A two-volume edition of this diary was published by Farras, Straus and Giroux in 1973, on page 57 of which appears Sewall's first mention of John Sparks.  In noting three recent deaths in the colony, Sewall wrote on November 28, 1684:
"... About a fortnight agoe, one [death] at Sparks, the Ordinary at Ipswich near the Meetinghouse, falls down stairs or the like, and dies. ..." Sewall did not record the name of this unfortunate guest at Sparks's inn.

On Wednesday, February 11, 1684 (it would have been 1685 under today's Gregorian Calendar), Sewall recorded:  "Joshua Moodey and self set out for Ipswich.  I lodge at Sparkes's."  On the following day he wrote:  "... goe to lecture which Mr. Moodey preaches, then I dine with Mr. Cobbet, and so ride to Newbury's to visit Mr. Richardson;  [I was] sick of the dry Belly ake." It was doubtless at John Sparks's ordinary where the judge and his friend had dined, so one may wonder what Judge Sewall ate there to have caused his "dry Belly ake."

On the following February 17th, a Tuesday, Sewall returned to Ipswich and wrote:  "I and Brother, sister Stephen Sewall Ride to Sparkes's by the Ferry, great part in the Snow; Dined with Ipswich Select-Men."  On Tuesday, March 13, 1688, Judge Sewall wrote:  "Waited on the Judges to Ipswich, Mr. Cook and Hutchinson going up the river.  I lodged at Sparks's whither Mr. Stoughton and Capt. Appleton came to see me in the evening."

In his history of Ipswich, Waters noted that when the Quarterly Court met at Ipswich on September 22, 1686, John Sparks's license to keep an ordinary was renewed, as it had been each year since 1671, and that that of Abraham Perkins was likewise renewed.  The Massachusetts Bay Colony at this time was governed by Sir Edmund Andros, an appointee of the British Crown, who had arbitrarily introduced numerous laws and regulations which were extremely obnoxious to the colonists.  For example, Andros demanded that the sale of liquor be curtailed, and in Ipswich only John Sparks and Abraham Perkins were permitted to sell alcoholic beverages "indoors."  The rules under which they could operate their businesses were set forth in detail:

The above reference to "any strange person" calls attention to the concern in New England towns that only individuals approved by the town's authorities be permitted to take up residence therein in the 1600s.  Homeless people in those days suffered even more than today, for they were often simply driven out of one community after another as they sought shelter.



In the summer of 1689, there was an Indian uprising in which twenty-three settlers in the village of Dover in Massachusetts were murdered.  Fearing that other towns would be attacked, military units were organized throughout the colony.  A company of soldiers was stationed in Ipswich between August 8 and September 2, 1689. Waters tells us that these soldiers

Exactly when John Sparks retired from keeping his ordinary is not known.  On May 1, 1691, he sold one and a half acres of his two-acre lot, which he had bought from William White in 1671.  The buyer was Col. John Wainwright (1649- 1708), one of Ipswich's leading and wealthiest citizens (he left as estate valued at nearly 20,000 pounds when he died in 1708).  The deed (Book 12, p. 118) indicates that, included in the sale, was Sparks's bake-house and barn, as well as a "messuage" or tenement.  Sparks's dwelling house, however, remained on the half-acre of land which he retained.  While the "messuage" which was included in the sale to Col. Wainwright must have been used by Sparks as an extension of his inn, a portion of his dwelling house must also have been used for that purpose as well, for officials of the town continued to meet in the Sparks home.  For example, in April 1692, a summons was issued involving a witch trial to be held "at the house of Mr. John Sparks in Ipswich."  This document, preserved by the Antiquarian Society, was quoted by Waters (Vol. 1, p. 461) as follows:

Not only is it of historical interest that the trial of a witch was held in the house of John Sparks, but it is significant that he was called "Mr." in this document.  The title of "Mr." was reserved for men who were highly respected in a Puritan community, and who were usually men of wealth, as well.

In the end, poor Rachel Clenton was found to be innocent, although she was im prisoned in irons for a period of time before being set free.  A number of other Ipswich citizens were also accused of witchcraft during the summer of 1692, but unlike what happened in other towns, such as Salem, only one Ipswich resident, Elizabeth How, was actually put to death.



John Sparks's license to operate his ordinary was last renewed in 1692.  The following year, he "laid down" his license, and it was issued, instead, to Col. Wainwright who had purchased over half of the Sparks lot in 1691.  Waters quoted from the court record of March 1693 as follows (Book 2, p. 74)

Thus did John Sparks's career as innkeeper come to a close in 1693, but no record has been found to reveal when he died, nor does a record appear to exist regarding the settlement of his estate.  We know only that he had died before March 12, 1704, (under the Julian Calendar) for on that date John Roper, his wife's only surviving brother, acting as executor of John Sparks's estate, arranged to sell to Col. Wainwright the half-acre dwelling house "formerly in posession of Mr. John Sparks, now in possession of Mary, widow of John."  (Ipswich deeds, Vol. 18, p. 16)  This was the house and half-acre of land that John Sparks had retained when he sold the one and one-half acres, with his oven and "messuage," to Wainwright in 1691.  There must have been many other papers created during the settlement of John's estate, but they cannot be found today.

This deed of March 12, 1704 (1705 under the Gregorian Calendar), also included "two roods of ground which I [John Roper] bought of Thomas Metcalf of Ipswich, adjoining the land on which the house stands."

It was a condition of this sale, however, that Mary Sparks should remain in possession of the house, that had been her home for some forty years, during the remainder of her life.

Mary was still living three years later when, on February 6, 1707, Col. Wainwright sold this entire two-acre lot to Deacon Nathaniel Knowlton, for in this deed (Ipswich Deed Book 20, p. 145) Wainwright stated that there were two houses on this lot (one obviously being the "messuage or tenament" that had been used by Sparks as his inn), and that one of these structures, the "messuage," was now occupied by "Thomas Smith, innholder."  The other was occupied by the widow, Mary Sparks.  Her right of occupancy was stated in this 1707 deed as follows: "... which she is to possess during her natural life, with a garden plot as it is now fenced in, and is situate at the southeast corner of said tenement."

As we have noted earlier, few women in Colonial America, including Mary (Roper) Sparks, were recognized in documents of the period for the vital role that we know they played in their families and in their communities.  We can be sure that, besides filling the role of wife and mother, Mary Sparks also figured importantly in the daily operation of her husband's bake oven and ordinary, but we can only speculate in this regard.  Fortunately, Mary left a will when she died in 1712.  This document, preserved in file 25951 of the Essex County Probate records, is one of several which prove beyond question that she was a daughter of Walter Roper of Ipswich, not Walter Sinnet of Boston, as we erroneously stated in the June 1977 issue of the QUARTERLY, Whole No. 98.  Before presenting this record, however, we shall note certain other documents pertaining to the Roper family.

Walter Roper was born in England between 1611 and 1613.  These dates are based on three different documents in which his age was given.  The earliest record found for him is in the town of Hampton and is dated 1641.  In that year, he was a proprietor of Hampton which was then within the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but in that part which, in 1679, became the Royal British Province of New Hampshire.

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