Bishop, Absalom (1804–1883)

By: Jennifer Eckel

Type: Biography

Published: March 24, 2008

Absalom Bishop, town founder and Texas legislator, was born on May 4, 1804, in Pendleton District, South Carolina. As a young man he married Mary Tippen, also of Pendleton District; they had six children before her death in 1879. Following his marriage Bishop moved to Spring Place in Murray County, Georgia, and became active in local business and politics following the Cherokee land lottery. Absalom Bishop along with his brother William was a member of the Georgia Guard and was involved in both the Seminole Wars in Georgia and the forced removal of the Cherokee Indians.

In 1835 Absalom Bishop was with the contingent of troops that captured and detained "Home, Sweet Home"- songwriter John Howard Payne, who had been traveling with Cherokee chief Joseph Vann. Bishop was later mentioned in Payne's memoirs. William Bishop evicted Vann from his Georgia home and gave the house to Absalom, who was forced to vacate it in favor of the Georgian who won the house in the Cherokee land lottery. During his service in the Seminole Wars and with the Georgia Guard during Indian removal Absalom Bishop acquired the rank of colonel, a title he would carry throughout his life.

While in Georgia Absalom Bishop became a notable pro-slavery agitator and was an acquaintance of Sen. Robert Toombs. Inspired by the issue, Bishop may have become too extreme for Georgia politics; his biographer notes that Bishop's activities "became so radical as to necessitate his removal from Georgia," and Absalom Bishop never returned to the state. Bishop traveled north, working for a time in Washington, D.C., on behalf of Georgia land claimants, and later as a goldsmith in New York City, apparently known for his gold pens. In 1849 in Rochester, New York, Bishop and his partner, Thayer Codding, are credited by some sources with the invention of the fountain pen.

In 1852 Absalom Bishop came to Texas, settling in Hopkins County and operating a sawmill there. In 1855 he became one of the first settlers in Wise County, settling on Sweetwater Creek about four miles east of what would become the county seat, Decatur. Bishop quickly became an important force in local politics. The first elections in Wise County were held in May 1856, and Bishop's choices were elected to several posts, while Bishop himself claimed the title of county clerk. In 1857 he was elected to the Texas Legislature as the representative for Wise, Denton, Collin, Cook, and Montague counties.

Bishop was a powerful force behind the organization of the county and chose both the name of the county and the hilltop site of the town which would become the county seat. The town, originally named Taylorsville for Zachary Taylor, was renamed when Bishop decided that Taylor's Whig politics made him an inappropriate namesake, and introduced a bill to have the name changed to Decatur, for Stephen Decatur of the Revolutionary Navy. Bishop also played a large role in planning the town's layout, which he decided should resemble the town of McKinney in Collin County, a place Bishop had visited and admired.

As the Civil War loomed, Bishop became a fiery advocate for secession, speaking before the county secession convention and inspiring Wise County's high enlistment rates. An outspoken advocate and supplier of the Confederacy, Bishop's political career was ended by the surrender in 1865. Bishop lived out his life in Wise County and died on November 30, 1883. Col. Absalom Bishop is buried in Oaklawn Cemetery under the epitaph, "Father of Decatur and Wise County."

Cliff D. Cates, Pioneer History of Wise County (Decatur, Texas: Nixon-Jones, 1907).
  • Seventh Legislature (1857-1858)
  • House

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jennifer Eckel, “Bishop, Absalom,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 15, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 24, 2008