Cross Keys Plantation | Union County, SC | c. 1812
The story of Cross Keys Plantation reaches back to the early 1700s with Gabrielle Beaubeau, a French Huguenot who fled religious persecution imposed on Protestants by Louis XIV. Babeau arrived in the New World in 1700 and settled in Culpeper County Virginia.
His grandson, Captain Lewis Bobo, was a land surveyor and moved from Virginia to Union County, SC in the mid-1700s where he helped to establish a community that came to be called Cross Keys.
During his life, he led a platoon in the Spartan Regiment through several battles in the Revolutionary War and fathered a multitude of children including one named Barrum Bobo.
Barrum was born on March 28th of 1776 and in 1797, he made Frances Anderson Woodson his bride. They took over a large land parcel, that they likely inherited from the Bobos, and began to build what would become a prolific family. Eventually birthing at least 15 children here, Frances would lose the first of many of them in 1806 when the first burial in this Bobo Family plot was laid.
Cross Keys Plantation
Around this time, the first post office began operation under postmaster George Gordon in the Cross Keys community and just a few years later in 1812, construction began on Cross Keys Plantation, built by Barrum Bobo.
Back then, Cross Keys Plantation was the centerpiece of the community and at its largest, including 900 acres. The property was farmed by enslaved people who were forced to work the land for the benefit of the family who owned it. And while records aren’t clear about exactly how many people came to be enslaved here, we do know that they lived in various structures spread out across the expansive property. In most cases, their shelters would be located nearest to where they were made to work, so enslaved workers inside the house would’ve lived nearer to the building than those who worked in the fields.
The Old Stage Road
And while it was one of the largest plantations in this section at that time, it was also an important landmark for people moving through the region on stage routes. It sat at the crossroads of the Old Piedmont Stage road and the Old Buncombe road, and so for many travelers along this route, the home, which served as a tavern and stage stop, was a welcome sight.
If you visit Cross Keys Plantation today, you will still find the milestones marking the distance to both Columbia and Union to remind us of the significance of this early road system, and thus the importance of this place along the route.
Barrum Bobo Dies
Thanks to the wealth they generated from the work of slaves on their plantation, the Bobos would enjoy 2 decades of prosperity here until September 20, 1829, when Barrum Bobo passed away inside his home after a severe and extended illness.
I found his will, dated September 12, 1829, where he lists his family inheritance:
“…my estate should be appraised by five freeholders chosen by my executors; my plantation business in general to continue for three years and employ Samuel Peckring my present overseer; to my wife Frances Bobo, the plantation and lands annexed thereto where I now live called the Cross Key place, also 10 negroes of her choice, at the time my son Fincher Gist comes of age; to my son Barrum Bobo, when he shall come of age, three negroes such as I have before given to my children and such other property as his mother shall think fit; to my daughter Eliza M. Bobo, when she shall come of age or marry, three negroes; my younger children be supported and educated, to do equal justice to my my eight children Wm J., Spencer A., Jane L., Sarah, Barrum, Eliza M., Fincher Gist and Louisa; my wife Frances Bobo and Robert Martin and John T. Murrell my son in laws exrs.”12 September 1829. B. Bobo (LS), Wit: John Ray, Joseph H. Dogan, Frances Ray (X). Proven and recorded 3 October 1829 Union County Will Book B, pp. 152-156
Just 3 years later, one of his eldest sons, also named Barrum, was murdered in a gunfight in the nearby town of Union, SC. According to the book: ‘History of Union County’ by Allen D. Charles: “The fight was over words spoken to a female regarding the other man, who fled to Alabama and was never caught or prosecuted for the murder. In fact, he became a judge in Alabama.”
The Bobo Family Leaves For Mississippi
Shortly after the second Barrum’s death, the Bobo family decided to relocate to Panola County, MS and in September 1838, they took out this advertisement in the Columbia Telescope, listing their Cross Keys property for sale that mentions its advantageous location.
The ad said: “persons wishing to connect merchandising in tavern keeping with farming and planting would not find a situation better suited to the business in the Upcountry, South Carolina.” Cross Keys Plantation was sold shortly after and the Bobo Family made the journey 600 miles west by wagon where they eventually settled in northern Mississippi in a community that came to be called Bobo after their family name.
Among the group to make the trip to Mississippi was Barrum Sr.’s widow, Frances Woodson Bobo, mother of at least 15 children. There, Frances is buried with other Bobos from the group she raised. Also leaving South Carolina for Mississippi were the Bobo Family branch from the nearby Sedalia Plantation, also in Union County, SC.
The Whitmire Family Moves into Cross Keys
The Cross Keys House sold to the Whitmire-Davis Family who would usher this building through another era of American history. The new lady of the house, Mrs. Mary Ann Elizabeth Bobo Whitmire-Davis, was a distant cousin of Barrum Bobo.
A Famous Visitor Comes to Cross Keys
As the inevitable end of the Civil War neared, Confederate President Jefferson Davis fled the previous Confederate Capitol in Richmond, VA after Generals Lee, Johnston, and Beaureguard had surrendered. He made his way South with his cabinet and military escort of five brigades. On April 30, 1865, Mrs. Whitmire-Davis heard a knock at the door of her Cross Keys home and she answered to find a group of well-dressed gentlemen asking to stop to join them for lunch.
Hoping to keep their identities a secret, the men only made vague introductions and sat down to join for a meal as so many travelers before them had. Their unsuspecting hosts served them a meal of mutton and sent them on their way. It wasn’t until the visitors left that Mrs. Whitmire-Davis recognized one of the visitors’ faces on a stamp; Jefferson Davis.
The table he sat at, the platter he ate from, and the knife he used to carve the lamb, are still in the family today.
The Past 70 Years at Cross Keys Plantation
In the 1950s, William Claude Wilburn took control of the Cross Keys Plantation until 1987. During this period, the home was still filled with original furnishings, china, glass, silver, and family photos from all of the previous owners.
In 1969 it was surveyed by the American Building Survey and in 1971, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2006, the Union County Historical Society purchased the home and 25 of the original acres it sat on. Over time, the society has relocated various historic buildings from surrounding areas that have been restored and now serve as examples of a period-specific blacksmith shop, barn, log cabin, and detached kitchen.
The house is open for tours by pre-scheduled appointment through the Union County Historical Society on the first and third Saturday of each month.
Family legend says that Barrum was a mason and the details at Cross Keys reflect that this might be true. This Georgian Colonial style building is made of common brick bond with identical pairs of end chimneys that include a date stone placed underneath each second-story gable. One on gabled stone is carved the date when house construction began (1812) with the initials W.B. and on the opposite stone, the house’s date of completion (1814), with the original owners’ insignia (B.B. for Barrum Bobo) and crossed keys.
Large transom topped double doors mark the entrance to the home at the small front porch. This design was matched by a wide rear porch across the entire length of the house, branching off in an L shape where the kitchen was. There is a large hall in the center of the house, downstairs and upstairs, on each side of which are four rooms- two upstairs and two downstairs.
The main sitting and dining room were on the first floor, left side of the house, and directly above them are two nursery rooms (one for boys and one for girls) with a small stairway that leads to these rooms from the dining area so that the children would not have to use the main stairway. There was also a stairway leading from the nursery rooms to the attic where the children would play. Each of them had an enslaved caretaker assigned to watch over them.
The home is two full stories with an attic and is filled with many beautiful carvings in wainscotting, molding, and mantle carved by enslaved craftsmen with penknives. Barrum spared no expense filling the home with custom furniture and decor like mirrors that he had shipped in from Paris.
At the entrance of the home were planted two gardenia bushes and cedar trees that had been imported from Puerto Rico which were set out at the time the building was constructed.