This letter comes from a descendant of the Bishop family in the tri-corner area of Calhoun-Lafayette-Pontotoc in Mississippi. It was written by Dock Bishop, who was convicted for the killing of a federal marshal and hanged in Pittsboro, Mississippi, on July3, 1886.
The circumstances of the crime and the atmosphere of the time and place were such that Bishop passed from outlawry into legend, and his story became a fireside tale in the area for generations. The letter is uneven and at times unintelligible, but those are likely for the most part due to my errors as a transcriber, and a sentence may be missing, since this is a poor copy of the original.
A few things to note are, first, the date, which Bishop gives as Oct. the __ 1850, cannot be correct, since Bishop murdered Detective Wise October 2, 1884. Why Bishop gave this date is unaccountable, but duress likely played a factor. The handwriting is in Spencerian script, a Copperplate-based style, widely used from approximately 1850 to 1925, the American de facto standard writing style for most correspondence prior to the typewriter. The use of this script, along with somewhat good—if uneven—spelling indicates some degree of education. The use of “verrie” for “very” is likely due to a familiarity with older versions of the King James Bible, composed when that variant was still in use. The letter does not mention his two co-defendants in the crime(s), Jim Bishop and Bob Lamar, but a certain G.D.A. comes in for condemnation, and the wording hints that Dock is trying to put the finger on him.
Finally, it seems to be that Dock signs the letter “Jeff Bishop,” and it seems reasonable to assume that Jeff/Jefferson may well have been Bishop’s actual given name.
Oct. the ___ 1850
Mr. Bill Bishop
My dear cousin, with pleasure I write you this leaves me well and hope this will find you and all the counsel. The same I wrote has as soon as I got back from Pittsboro tho have not heard from him, yet I will not have my trial the 26 of this month for the judge has called in his court and now I will have to say here until March. I think that my case will be misprocessed here and then they will send me to Coffeeville. I fear though I hope that I can stay here where I can be with my friends. I have not seen my counsel in time time cousin I am so troubled now I have a letter from my sister and ma is dead and it is verrie grevous to me to hear
I get my trial and want you to find out all you can for me so I still have no trouble when the time comes for my trial I want you all to write me for I am glad to hear from you all tell Jim that I want him to come to me soon would be glad to read a letter from him and learn all the news. I have been expecting some of you up for some time. I want you to bring me a bushel of potatoes when you come. I hear from my wife each week she is well and in good heart about my cast and has no fears but what I will come home when I have my trial she has some good evidence for me since court. Cousin, I want you to not forget to go to see
I will take it as a favor if you all will do this much for you and you shall never lose anything by it in the future. Give my love to Cousin Mallie and kiss the little ones for me. Tell them I will send them my picture when I go out to court so I can get one taken for them. Tell my little cousin that I got those peaches she sent me while I was at Pittsboro. Would be glad if you could bring them all with you at court here to see me. Tell Hal I don’t think that he has treated me right by not evidencing my card. Cousin, I have a heap to tell you when I have a chance. Tell Henry to not think hard of me for not writing him for I have so much writing to do. I want you all to come around to see me when you can
at Pittsboro this month that I think that I can demand a trial at any time and they are bound to give it to me if my liberties is debared on account of that case being against me there I want you to do all you can here on this case for I think that Jim will be present in his trial in this court and get up all you can in regards to evidence. Let me hear from you as soon as you get this with the news in the community. I hear that G.D.A. was gone and I think he is ashamed of himself and can not stand to face everybody that ever knew him after surviving such lies as he did. He is 8 miles (about) Pontotoc near Cedar Grove. I am your true cousin with love to all the connections.