Copyright © Janice Tracy, Cemeteries of Dancing Rabbit Creek.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Rev. John B. Babonneau's Memorial Marker

Above: The memorial marker of Rev. John B. Babonneau in St. Mary of the Springs Cemetery near Rayville, Mississippi. Rev. Babonneau's marker shows that he was born in France and died in Vicksburg, Mississippi on September 14, 1853

The memorial marker of Rev. John B. Babonneau, a Catholic Priest, stands tall near the middle of St. Mary of the Springs Cemetery, located near Raytown, Mississippi. This cemetery is among the oldest cemeteries in Madison County, and it contains the graves of many Catholic emigrants and their families whose beginnings were in several foreign countries, primarily France, Germany, and Ireland. After arriving in the ports of Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana, some of these families traveled northward into the Mississippi Territory in the early 1800s, where many settled near Natchez or Vicksburg before traveling into other places like Madison County. In the early to mid-1800s, most of these emigrants still spoke their native languages.

Rev. Babonneau was one of these emigrants. According to his memorial marker, he was born in France in 1824. Without a doubt, he still spoke his native French, and that ability served the priest well. It enabled him to communicate successfully with with French parishioners about their spiritual and physical lives in a new country. Possibly, he spoke another foreign language, too. But the life of Rev. John B. Babonneau, like large numbers of others who settled in or traveled through the lower Mississippi River Valley in the mid-1800's, was cut short when he lost his life to yellow fever. This disease, which reached epidemic proportions in Mississippi and elsewere, is the cause of death of hundreds buried in the old cemeteries of Madison County. Rev. Babonneau's marker in St. Mary's Cemetery shows that he died in Vicksburg on September 14, 1853. The fact that Rev. Babonneau died in Vicksburg and may be buried in Madison County some 30-40 miles away, brought up some questions for me.

Available on Google Books, an anthology of writings, "The Metropolitan: A Monthly Magazine, Devoted to Religion, Education, Literature, and General Information," compiled in February 1853 by Martin Joseph Kerney and published that same year, Rev. Babonneau's death was listed in a chapter entitled "Record of Events." Dates and information documented in this chapter seem to be a recap of important ones that occurred in 1853, and that recap included the deaths of some priests. In the chapter referred to earlier, the mention of Rev. Babonneau's death was a single sentence that read: "
on the _____of September, at Vicksburg, Miss, Rev. J. B. Babonneau."

Rev. Babonneau was not the only Catholic priest or nun who died that year from the Yellow Fever Epidemic. According to "The Metropolitan," the Catholic Church lost at least four other religious servants to this epidemic. in September, two Sisters of Charity, Sister Francinia Gallagher and Sister Mary Chrysostrom, died at the Orphan Asylum operated by the Order in Natchez, Mississippi. Fr. Antony Parret, S.J., was among those who died of yellow fever in September of that same year in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And in New Orleans, Sister Lina Griffin, 26 years old, and one of the Sisters of Charity caring for the ill at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, also died as a result of the disease.

Since the publication above is dated February 1853, could it be that Rev. Babonneau died in September of 1852 instead of 1853 as his marker shows? And is Rev. Babonneau actually buried in St. Mary of the Springs Cemetery, or is this truly a "memorial" marker, as the inscription on the stone marker states?

I attempted to locate Rev. Babonneau on the U. S. Census of 1850, the last federal census recorded before his death, I was unable to find anyone with that surname or a similar one. The names "Babineau" and "Babineaux" are fairly common names along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in Louisiana today, so I searched for these possible variations of the older French name "Babonneau" on the U. S. Census of 1850, as well. But again, I was unsuccessful in my efforts. One thing I did find during some additional non-census research was that "Babonneau" is the name of a town on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. Perhaps Rev. Babonneau's family had roots in St. Lucia as well as France.

Since Rev. Babonneau was a Catholic priest in the 1800s, he would not have been married nor is it likely he would have had descendants. The fact that he died in Vicksburg, and may have been buried miles away near Raytown, Mississippi, poses some additional questions. Even 30-40 miles away was a long distance in those days.

If Rev. Babonneau actually is buried in the cemetery, why was he interred there instead of in Vicksburg where he apparently died? In the early 1850's, there was already at least one Catholic cemetery in Vicksburg.

Was Rev. Babonneau a former parish priest of St. Mary's parish, and the parish simply wished to honor him with a memorial marker? Or was he a relative of someone else buried in the cemetery?

It sounds as if my research is not done.

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