Estuarium hosts Sparrow signing

Published 7:57 pm Monday, April 16, 2012

A collage of letters from long ago, and excerpts of ancestors’ diaries, pieced together make the history of a family. But these particular pieces combined with this prominent family represent a book that also tells the history of Washington by those who lived it.

Saturday, the North Carolina Estuarium, in partnership with the Washington Area Historic Foundation, will host a book signing for author Joy Sparrow’s book, “Sparrows’ Nest of Letters.”

In the book, Joy Sparrow traces the Sparrow family from their early years in Washington in the 1850s, through son George Attmore Sparrow’s time at Hillsborough Military Academy, his father Thomas Sparrow III’s leadership of the Confederate Washington Grays and his mother’s and sisters’ struggles to cope with the Union occupation of the town.
Included in the book is correspondence between Thomas Sparrow III and Gov. John W. Ellis, as well as letters to and from his wife, Annie, when they were separated by war. His diary includes his first-person account of the Battle of Hatteras, a stint as a prisoner of war at Governor’s Island, N.Y., and a day-by-day account of what life was like during that era of America’s history.

“There are so many things in the book about the history of Washington,” said Dee Congleton, of the Washington Area Historic Foundation. “It gives you insight into so much.”

Highlights of the book include a Sparrow daughter’s account of a Union mandate after Washington’s second siege that every resident over the age of 12 must take an oath of allegiance to the United States government or leave town within 10 days. The family used the 10 days, and the cover of night, to store all their valuables at neighbors’ homes. They were forced to leave town with two trunks of clothing and feather mattresses tied with quilts — this for a woman and her six children.

The detailed information in the letters and diary were what prompted Joy Sparrow to delve into the family’s history.

“The letters were just so interesting,” explained Sparrow. “I took them to Dr. Keats Sparrow who was the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at ECU, and he said I should do something with them.”

It took some time, but Sparrow, between raising her sons, would work on the project when she found time. Though “Sparrows’ Nest of Letters” was published in July of last year, according to Sparrow, she’s still working on gathering information about the family, and to fill in some of the Sparrow history’s blanks this weekend.

“(Washington) is where the Sparrows are from,” Sparrow said. “I’m anxious to meet some of the descendants. There are some questions I want to see if anybody knows … like the name of the invalid sister of Annie Sparrow’s who lived with them during the war.”

Copies of “Sparrows’ Nest of Letters” may be purchased at the event from 10 a.m. until noon Saturday in Nature Room at the N.C. Estuarium.