Kingsport Times-News: A visit to my ancestral home place fails to generate the attention and recognition I craved

A visit to my ancestral home place fails to generate the attention and recognition I craved

Jeff Bobo • Apr 30, 2018 at 8:30 PM

This past Saturday, Lynn, Maggie and I spent the day in one of the few places on Earth where the last name Bobo is more of an asset than a liability.

My great X5 grandfather Capt. Lewis Bobo was one of the first settlers to arrive in Union County, S.C.

His grandson Barrum Bobo built a large plantation house there in the Cross Keys community completed in 1814 which today is a historical landmark open for tours.

Visiting Cross Keys Plantation on Saturday was a big deal for me because for most of my life neither I nor my dad had any idea there was any history connected to our goofy last name.

Dad and I simply accepted the fact that we were born with an unusual last name that sometimes causes people to snicker and/or tell us that's also their dog's name.

But thanks to the Internet, and my mom's genealogy research skills, we've learned a lot over the past decade, which I was anxious to share with folks on my highly anticipated trip to Cross Keys.

A brief glimpse at my Bobo family history

My dad and I are descended from a French Huguenot by the name of Gabriel Beabeau (1651-1717) who fled religious persecution imposed on protestants by Louis XIV. He arrived in the New World in 1700, when he settled in Culpeper County, Va., and became the progenitor of all North American Bobos.

Gabriel's grandson Capt. Lewis Bobo (1736-1808) was a surveyor who moved from Virginia to Union County, S.C., in the mid-1700s, was a founder of the Cross Keys community, led a platoon in the Spartan Regiment (named after Spartanburg) through several battles in the Revolutionary War and had way too many children and grandchildren to keep track of, including Cross Keys Plantation builder Barrum Bobo, who isn't in my direct lineage.

Fast forward 90 years, Lewis' great-grandson and my great-great grandfather Jason Bobo (1830-1903) fought with the 15th S.C. Infantry and was wounded at the Battle of South Mountain during Gen. Lee’s Maryland Campaign. He was wounded again during the Slaughter of Drayton’s Brigade under Brig. Gen. Thomas F. Drayton. After the Civil War, Jason received a land grant in Corinth, Miss., and 80 years later that’s where my dad was born.

Visiting the Bobo ancestral home place

This past weekend, Cross Keys Plantation hosted a living museum event, free guided tours of the house, a Civil War battle re-enactment (even though there wasn't a battle near there), and a re-enactment of Cross Keys greatest, albeit dubious, claim to fame.

On April 30, 1865 (153 years to the day of the writing of this column) the fleeing Confederate President Jefferson Davis passed through Cross Keys with his remaining cabinet members and about 2,500 soldiers. The soon to be deposed and imprisoned president knocked on the door at Cross Keys Plantation, asked for lunch and received a meal of mutton from Barrum's cousin and the lady of the house at the time, Mary Ann Elizabeth Bobo Whitmire-Davis, who didn't even know who they were.

According to the plantation tour guide, as they were leaving, Mary's husband came in and met Jefferson Davis briefly and later commented that their departing guest looked familiar. Mary’s husband said Davis looked like either an undertaker or a politician. A short time later, while checking his mail, he noticed Davis' picture on a stamp and had an "Ahhh haaa" moment.

What did I really want out of this trip?

One reason I've been so anxious to visit Union County, S.C., is that’s where Bobo is not only among the oldest names in the county, there's also that famous plantation house built by Barrum Bobo.

You have to understand, where I grew up there was no one with my last name, nor had anyone ever heard of anyone with my last name, and often times people thought I was joking about that being my last name. Cross Keys was going to be the place where I could scream my last name with pride from the highest treetops.

I looked on this trip to Cross Keys as a family reunion of sorts, even though my family hasn’t lived there for 150 years. I wanted to talk to people about my family history and ancestral connection to that community and maybe even learn more about my own roots.

More importantly, I wanted attention and recognition. I wanted to tell someone my family connection to that community, and for them to say, “Wow. That’s interesting. Welcome home, cousin.”

Nobody cares 

The plantation tour guide (I didn't catch his name) was very knowledgeable about the house and the people who had lived there, and especially the Jefferson Davis luncheon. He was also a very good storyteller and a very congenial fellow. After one of his tours, I tried to pull him aside and talk to him about my connection to the Cross Keys community.

I told him the story about Gabriel Beabeau, Capt. Lewis Bobo and Jason Bobo, who was the last in my direct lineage actually born in Cross Keys.

He smiled politely and nodded as I told my story, and then he excused himself, apparently to take a restroom break before the next tour began.

I don't know what I expected. At the very least a minor spark of interest on his part. After all, I am a real Bobo. I have two photo IDs to prove it.

Apparently his mind was focused on anecdotes about Jefferson Davis' lunch, the dishes he ate off of, the mirrors Barrum Bobo brought back from Paris, the reason Mary didn't smile for her portrait (because she probably didn't have teeth), and a pair of shoes upstairs that no one touches because they're haunted.

On this day he had no room in his brain for my stories, and he failed to provide me the selfish, self-centered attention and recognition I was seeking.

When the tour went upstairs, I stayed downstairs and spoke to the re-enactor who has played Mary Ann Elizabeth Bobo Whitmore-Davis for the past 11 years. She was a very nice elderly lady who politely smiled and nodded as I repeated my stories about Gabriel Beabeau, Capt. Lewis Bobo and Jason Bobo.

Again, I think her focus was so deep into playing Mary, I doubt if anything I told her really registered. Even though she was very nice to me, she failed to give me any feedback or the attention and recognition I craved.

So then I exited the house where Lynn and Maggie Mae were sitting under the shade tree in the front yard talking to some Civil War re-enactors.

I tried one last time to engage someone in conversation about my connection to Cross Keys. I told the re-enactor, his wife and son the about Gabriel Beabeau, Capt. Lewis Bobo and Jason Bobo.

I thought they would at least be interested in Jason Bobo, who during his Civil War service was wounded, captured and paroled twice.

As I told my stories, they politely smiled and nodded and didn’t give any indication that they’d heard a word I said. Their focus was on the Civil War re-enactment and this was their show. They could have talked all day about bayonettes, rifles, uniforms and cannons, but some guy claiming to be a big shot Bobo descendent was outside their scope of interest.

So what did we learn from this?

Despite my inability to interest anyone in my Bobo ancestral connection to Cross Keys, I'm not going to call the trip a complete failure. I finally saw the community where four of my great-grandfathers were born — people I never even knew existed for most of my life. 

But I'd hoped to learn more about my own ancestral history, and all I learned was that Jefferson Davis ate mutton there. By the way, the person who owns the dishes he ate off of has willed them back to the plantation, so some day those will be part of the re-enactment. 

I also learned that no one there cares about my ancestral background. By the end of the day, even I didn’t care about my ancestral background. In the immortal words of Thomas Wolfe, "You can't go home again" — even if you've never been there before.

The most you can hope for is a polite smile and a nod.


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