REV. JOHN SPARKMAN
By William Henry Harrison Hays
The subject of this short notice was born in Jasper county, Ga., in the year A.D. 1831; professed faith in Christ in his 18th year, and was baptized into the fellowship of the Bethesda[i] Baptist church by Eld. John Dodd.[ii] He afterwards united by letter with the Flint River Baptist church, in Henry county;[iii] was united in marriage with Martha Jarrell in 1853,[iv] who at the time had three children, all of which were boys, who are now useful men with families, two of them being physicians, the other one a successful farmer in Rusk county, Texas,—all of them being prominent members of the Baptist church.
He moved with his family to Texas the same year in which he was married, and settled in Rusk county, where he and his wife united with the Holly Springs church.[v]
He was licensed to preach by this church in 1860, — was ordained to the full work of the ministry in 1861 — Elders William Gwin, G. W. Rogers and M. Melton acting as presbytery.
He had born to him seven children, four boys and three girls, five of whom are still living: Addie, the wife of James Wallace, in Austin county, Texas; Thomas, who is a successful physician, now at Alvord; Virgil, who is with his brother in the drug business in the above mentioned town; A. D. Sparkman, a promising young lawyer, who is the present county attorney of Rusk county; Mattie, the youngest daughter, who now has charge as teacher, of the music school at Clayton, Panola county, Texas. His wife still survives him, and is living at Minden, Rusk county, Texas, where she is spending a happy old age.
Eld. John Sparkman was a self-made man; but his great familiarity with the Bible made him successful, and a power whereever he went. He started in this life poor; not having the advantages of early training in school, he dug his theology from the Bible by a pine knot light at night. It is said of him, that while following his plow, he had a board arranged upon the beam, where he would lay his open Bible, and read and study as he plowed. The Bible was his dictionary, geography, grammar, rhetoric and logic. He was a man of strong convictions, devotedly pious, and earnest and forcible as a speaker, carrying the masses with him in his plain, scriptural arguments, drawing his illustrations principally from the common field of nature, his leading theme being the doctrines of grace, while he was well posted in the distinctive principles of the denomination, and ably defended them when it became necessary.
While he was a great preacher, he was at the same time a successful farmer,—an avocation in which he delighted when not actively engaged in the ministry; hence, by this means, he left his family in good circumstances.
His entire ministerial life was spent in Eastern Texas; being pastor, at different times, of the most prominent churches in Rusk, Panola and Nacogdoches counties. He served with honor to himself, and satisfaction to the brethren, the Mt. Zion Association, as Moderator, for ten years. While he kept no record of the number of conversions and baptisms in connection with his labors, yet there are numbers in the eastern and far western portions of Texas, that were brought to a knowledge of the truth through his preaching, and were by his hands buried in baptism.
He was afflicted with cancer of the face, about one year before his death. Amidst his great affliction, which confined him to his room almost continually, his faith was unshaken, and his principal conversation was upon the love of Christ and the fulness of His great atoning sacrifice.
On the 23rd day of Oct., A.D. 1882, peacefully and quietly, like the beautiful setting sun, he fell asleep in Jesus. His remains were laid away at Zion Hill church,[vi] of which he had been a member, and the beloved pastor since its constitution, in the midst of a great throng of the brethren and sisters of Zion Hill and neighboring churches, as well as friends from all over the country, who had loved and honored him in this life. As we walk through the church yard at Zion Hill, our eyes are attracted by a simple marble slab, that tells us of the last resting place on earth of Eld. John Sparkman.
“Servant of God, well done;
Rest from thy loved employ,
The battle fought, the victory won,
Enter thy Master’s joy.” — W.H.H.H.
[i] Hays gives the name as “Bethesda,” but it probably should be Bethsaida. Robert G. Gardner, Georgia Baptist Historical Society and Senior Researcher in Baptist History, Mercer University, wrote, “The only Bethsaida church was in Fayette County, with J. S. Dodd as pastor in at least 1849-1853. His post office address was Fayetteville (1849-1850) and Fairburn (1852-1853).” Bethsaida Baptist Church, formed in 1829, was led by itinerant preachers traveling in the area. In April, 1843, John S. Dodd, was called to pastor the church on a permanent basis. He faithfully served the church for 50 years, retiring January 25, 1892.” In 1975, Bethsaida merged with Capitol View Baptist Church to form United Baptist Church. Further support of Dodd baptizing Sparkman comes from the fact that the Sparkmans and the Dodds are living in same county – Fayette County, Georgia – when the 1850 census was compiled. 1850 would be roughly the time Sparkman was in his 18th year.
[ii] If the above is correct, the baptizer of John Sparkman was John Sample Dodd (1809-1892). Dodd was a pioneer Baptist preacher in Georgia. He pastored the Bethsaida Church of Campbell County, Georgia for fifty consecutive years.
[iii] “Flint River Baptist Church (predecessor of First Baptist Jonesboro) was organized January 25, 1825, and was located on three acres of land southwest of what is now Spring Street and Highway 19/41. Rev. William Mosely served as the church’s first pastor for three years, during which time membership increased from 14 to 79.”
[iv] Martha M. Buckner married Henry Jarrell in Butts County, Georgia in 1846. After his decease, she married John Sparkman.
[v] It appears that the Sparkman family lived in three different locations in Rusk County – somewhere near the Holly Springs Church (Pine Hill), somewhere near the Mt. Carmel Church (Glenfawn area), and lastly somewhere near Zion Hill.
[vi] Sparkman led in forming the Zion Hill Church in 1868, and the Smyrna Church in 1873. He was the first pastor of each of these. Sparkman also pastored the Mt. Carmel Church in Rusk County and the Union Church in Nacogdoches County, among others.
[From William Henry Harrison Hays, Texas Historical and Biographical Magazine,1891, via R. L. Vaughn Blog, Ministry and Music, 2018. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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