Select Bishop Surname Genealogy

Bishop comes from the Greek episkopos, meaning “overseer” from the elements epi or “over” and skopein, “to look.” The early Christians adopted the name for a religious leader.  The Old English equivalent word was biscop.  The Venerable Bede recorded the death of Benedict Biscop in 690.  He was the founder of the Monkwearmouth-Jarrow priory in Northumberland.

The surname Bishop in medieval times could describe a bishop.  However, it was more likely that most of the present-day Bishops owed their title to the custom of electing a boy bishop on St. Nicholas’ Day (December 6).  The boy bishop ceremony was a very familiar one in medieval times.  In the same fashion the surnames King and Pope have been pageant names, rather than having been derived from real kings or popes.

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Select Bishop Ancestry

England. There was one early Bishop family in the north of England.  The forebear of this family was said to have been Walter Bishop from Gascony in France who came to England in the mid-12th century and married the daughter and heiress of Sir John Pocklington of Pocklington in the East Riding of Yorkshire.  His descendants were ecclesiastical personages – Thomas the abbot, John the prior, and William the bishop.  A later Thomas Bishop took part in the Catholic Rising of the North of 1569 and was executed at York.  Other descendants were to be found in west Sussex.

But Bishops were more likely to be found in SW and SE England.  The Victorian surname mapper Henry Guppy described the Bishop presence as follows:

“The Bishop name is confined south of a line drawn from the Wash to the Dee.  It is at present most numerous in the western half of this area.”

SW. England
. The early spelling here seems to have been Bysshop or Bisshop.
Sir John Bisshop was the MP for Gloucestershire from 1305 to 1313.

Meanwhile John Bysshop married Agnes Burguillon around the year 1400. Their descendants were recorded at Taunton in Somerset in the 1450’s (where a later John was park-keeper to the Bishop of Winchester) and in Herefordshire and Dorset, according to the Visitations of Dorset in 1574.  They were established at Holway manor in Cattistock, Dorset by this time. Richard Bisshop acquired the manor of South Warnborough in Hampshire in 1635.

Anthony Bishop held the Bordesley manor in Oxhill, Warwickshire during the 16th century. And there was a Bishoppe family in Bristol a century later.  Edmond Bishoppe was the Sergeant of Mace and minister to the Tolsey court in Bristol at that time. 

SE England.  The Bishop name here extended into Norfolk in East Anglia.  Land records at Hevingham north of Norwich have shown five generations of Bisshops living there between 1484 and 1573.  One family history began with the marriage of Benjamin Bishop and Elizabeth Green at Bale in 1777.

A Kent line began with the marriage of Giles and Ann Bishop in Sutton Valence in 1579.  Another line has been traced in Tenterden from the 1730’s to the 1890’s.

The best-known Bishop family, however, was to be found in Sussex.  The forebear of this family was Thomas Bishopp who prospered in the service of Sir William Shelley and acquired property at Henfield in the 1570’s.  His descendants retained the Bishopp spelling.

His son Thomas had powerful friends who promoted him to Parliament and enabled him to acquire the Parham House estate in Sussex in 1597 and become a baronet.  His second son Henry wasthe first Postmaster General of England in 1660 and devised the first postmark to be used on mail.  He announced:

“A stamp is invented that is put upon every letter showing the day of the month that every letter comes to the office so that no letter carrier may dare detain a letter from post to post, which before was usual.”

A later Bishopp, Sir Cecil, was noted for his large number of children.  In 1760 Horace Walpole remarked on his “endless hoard of beautiful daughters.”  His son Sir Cecil died in 1828 and was the
last of the male line at Parham. The baronet line continued through a younger brother Edward.

Scotland.  The Bishop name also surfaced in Scotland where the early spelling was Bischop or Bischope.  John Bischope was recorded as having held land in Edinburgh in the early 15th century and Gabriel Bischop, reputedly Flemish and a manufacturer of broad-cloth, arrived in Edinburgh in 1601.  The name had become quite common in that city by the 18th century.  There were also Bishops at Whitburn in West Lothian at that time.

Ireland.  The Bishop name in Ireland spread around Ireland, but has mainly been found in Ulster.  Bishop may be an anglicization of MacAnespie or Gillespie.   A branch of the O’Sullivans was called Bishop.

America.  Early Bishops came to New England.  

New England.  Thomas Bishop had arrived in Boston with his brothers from Surrey in 1634 and moved that year with a number of Salem settlers to found the town of Ipswich.  He left a large estate there on his death in 1670.  His son Thomas was a merchant trading to the West Indies.  Two of his other sons, Samuel and John, were the first settlers of Norwich, Connecticut.

Edward Bishop was said to have been in Salem, Massachusetts as early as 1639.  He was one of three, possibly four, Edward Bishops living in the town at the time of the witchcraft hysteria of 1692. His son Edward and wife were accused of witchcraft that year, imprisoned but escaped.   However, Bridget Bishop – possibly from another Bishop line – was accused of bewitching her husband in April and was hanged two months later.

There were three notable early Bishop settlers in Connecticut:

  • James Bishop had come to Boston with his other brothers in 1634.  Four years later he and an elder brother Henry were among the original group of settlers of New Haven, Connecticut.  James served as the deputy governor of the colony from 1683 until his death in 1691.  
  • John Bishop and his family, reportedly from Suffolk, were part of the Rev. Whitford’s contingent that came to New England in 1639 and founded the community of Guilford, Connecticut.  William Cone’s 1951 book Record of the Descendants of John Bishop covered his line.  
  • while the Rev. John Bishop from Dorset came to New England in 1640 and settled four years later in Stamford, Connecticut.  He was the minister of its First Congregational Church for close on fifty years.  One descendant line settled in upstate New York where Charles Reed Bishop was born in 1822.  At the age of 24 he departed for Hawaii where he made his home and married into the royal family.  The Bishop Museum in Honolulu is his legacy.  

Eleazar Bishop was reportedly kidnapped on the Channel Island of Jersey in 1692 and brought to New London, Connecticut where he has taken under care in the Dart family. 

Elsewhere.  According to family lore, six Bishop brothers of Quaker descent came to New Jersey from either Connecticut or England.  The progenitor of the Bishop family of Burlington, New Jersey, however, seems to have been Thomas Bishop from Dorset who arrived in New Jersey in the early 1700’s.  Later Bishops were to be found there or in the Philadelphia area.

Nicholas Bishop is believed to have been Scots or Scots Irish. He was first recorded in New Castle county, Delaware marrying Dorcas Sinex in 1711.  His son Nicholas migrated to Chester county, South Carolina in the 1760’s.

“At least four of his sons fought in the Revolutionary War.  The Bishop family’s involvement was so pronounced that Nicholas’s home was seized by the British and burned to the ground.”  

Some Scottish Bishops came to America in the early 19th century from Whitburn in West Lothian.  Two brothers Robert and Ebenezer Bishop arrived in Kentucky in 1804, Robert later moving onto Ohio and Ebenezer to Illinois.  Their history was recorded in Stanley Scott’s 1951 book Family History of John Bishop of Whitburn.  

German.  The German Bischoff or Bishoff name, of similar meaning, often became Bishop in America.  Heinrich Bischoff came to Pennsylvania from Germany in 1733 and made his home in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania.  His son, known as Henry Bishop, moved with his family to Ohio in 1805.  Richard Bishop of this family became Governor of Ohio in 1877.

Another Bischoff/Bishop line began with Johannes Bischoff who came to Philadelphia on the Two Brothers in 1747.  Johannes soon became John Bishop and settled in Montgomery county, Virginia.

Canada. Billy Bishop, the World War one flying ace and later Air Marshal, was said to have come from American Loyalist roots.  The first recorded Bishop of his line was Avery Bishop in Toronto.  In the 1850’s his son Eleazar, a saddler, migrated to Owen Sound on the upper reaches of the Great Lakes, which was where Eleazar’s grandson Billy Bishop was born.  Billy is commemorated there today by the Billy Bishop Museum.

Thomas Bishop, an orphan, came to Canada in the 1890’s, hoping to emulate his hero Buffalo Bill.  He started his own Wild West show in 1914.  It has now gone through a hundred years and three generations of Bishops.

Australia and New Zealand. James Bishop from Somerset arrived in South Australia in 1849.  His son Charles came to live on the Bishops Adelaide Hills property at Basket Range in 1882.  Its main homestead Tetratheca was built by his son William in 1920.  This has remained the family home.

Tetratheca – named after a wild flower native to the Adelaide Hills – was famous for its Cherry Blossom Festivals and for the collection of conifers and oaks in the homestead gardens.”  

The sixth generation member of this family is Julie Bishop, Foreign
Minister in the Abbott administration.

George and Argyles Bishop were distillers in Maidstone, Kent.  Many of their offspring departed for New Zealand, commencing in the late 1840’s. They were among the first settlers of Canterbury, South Island.  Edward was the most prominent of these Bishops.  He like his father became a distiller.  Later he served as the chairman of Christchurch Town Council and was Mayor of Christchurch in 1872.

Select Bishop Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Select Bishop Names

Henry Bishopp was the Postmaster General of England in 1660 and inventor of the first postmark used on mail.
Sir Henry Bishop
was an English composer of the first half of the 19th century, famous for such songs as Home! Sweet Home and Lo! Here the Gentle Lark.
Billy Bishop
was a Canadian flying ace in World War One. 
Joey Bishop
, born
 Joseph Gottlieb, was an American TV entertainer and talk-show host who was a member of Sinatra’s famous “Rat Pack.

Select Bishops Today

  • 35,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 45,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 37,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


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