BISSHOPP (Bishop, Bishoppe, Bisshop), CECIL, army officer; b. 25 June 1783 at Parham House (West Sussex), England, eldest son of Sir Cecil Bisshopp and Harriet Anne Southwell; m. 6 April 1805 Lady Charlotte Barbara Townshend, granddaughter of George, Viscount Townshend; d. about 16 July 1813 and was buried on 17 July in Stamford (Niagara Falls), Upper Canada.
Cecil Bisshopp devoted his life to service in the British military. As a young man he joined the prestigious 1st Foot Guards and was commissioned ensign on 20 Sept. 1799. A promotion to lieutenant on 16 Oct. 1800 carried with it the rank of captain in the army. He went on half pay in 1802 but on 3 Sept. 1803 exchanged back into the 1st Guards. Promoted brevet major on 1 Jan. 1812, he briefly served as major in the 98th Foot in the spring of the same year. In 1802 he had served as private secretary to Rear-Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren at St Petersburg (Leningrad, U.S.S.R.) and participated in the expeditions to La Coruña, Spain, and Walcheren, Netherlands, in January and July 1809. He was a member of parliament for Newport from 1811 to 1812. Appointed inspecting field officer of militia in Upper Canada on 6 Feb. 1812 with the local rank of lieutenant-colonel, Bisshopp sailed for the Canadas, “to fight the Yankies,” three months after the outbreak of the War of 1812 in June.
Bisshopp remained in Montreal briefly before proceeding, with some foreboding, to his posting in Upper Canada “amongst the Indians.” In addition to inspecting the Canadian militia, Bisshopp also was given the responsibility for commanding the regular troops and militia stationed between Chippawa and Fort Erie. Considered by Major-General Roger Hale Sheaffe* “an active intelligent Officer,” on 28 Nov. 1812 Bisshopp moved “with great celerity” to repulse a large American force at Frenchman Creek. The next several months were quiet, but the Americans commenced an offensive along the Niagara frontier in the spring of 1813 with the capture of Fort George (Niagara-on-the-Lake). In accordance with Brigadier-General John Vincent*’s pre-arranged plan, Bisshopp withdrew his troops from Fort Erie to join the main force at Burlington Heights (Hamilton). From this location on 6 June Lieutenant-Colonel John Harvey* mounted a successful attack upon the Americans at Stoney Creek, and two days later Sir James Lucas Yeo’s fleet bombarded and dispersed the enemy encamped at Forty Mile Creek. During these engagements Bisshopp commanded the reserve. Later in the month he played a nominal role in the Indian victory at Beaver Dams (Thorold) [see William Johnson Kerr*], an episode usually associated with the heroine Laura Secord [Ingersoll*].
By mid summer of 1813 the British had pushed the invaders back to Fort George. Here the Americans assumed a defensive posture, thus allowing the British to make occasional forays across the Niagara River. Bisshopp was chosen to lead one such raid against Black Rock (Buffalo), N.Y. In the early morning of 11 July his force of regulars and militia [see Thomas Clark*] stormed the fort, overran the batteries, and burned the blockhouses, barracks, and naval yard, as well as a large schooner. A considerable quantity of public stores and ordnance, including eight pieces of artillery, was taken. To this point, according to surgeon William Hackett, the raid had “succeeded to the very letter.” But Bisshopp decided to remove 123 barrels of salt, “a most scarce and valuable article,” causing a critical delay which allowed the Americans time to regroup. Bolstered by a party of Tuscarora Indians, they attacked the British on the beach. A surprised Bisshopp commented of the Indian presence that “he would as soon have expected to see a body of Cossacks.” Under a galling fire, the raiders retreated precipitately. Bisshopp suffered wounds to the left thigh, left wrist, and upper right arm. Hackett hoped for a full recovery, noting that the officer was “a very young man with an unbroken constitution tho’ apparently delicate.” But his “constitution was not equal to the shock” and after lingering for three to five days, during which time he talked almost incessantly of England and his family, Bisshopp died.
On 21 March 1813 Bisshopp had written that he wanted to be of “real service” to his country. In the event, he made an important contribution to the success of the British army, symbolizing the best qualities of a regular officer serving in the Canadas. He was generous, donating £100 for the “aid and relief” of distressed families, and was popular with the militia and civilian population. His letters to his sister suggest a man of affable and affectionate nature. Indeed, at Black Rock a captured American civilian described him as “a mild humane-looking man . . . rather tall and well made and . . . of exceeding few words.” The rector of York (Toronto), John Strachan*, thought useful lessons might be derived from Bisshopp’s heroic example, and in December 1813 composed a “Life of Col. Bishoppe.” He saw in the officer “the most successful” emulation of Sir Isaac Brock’s “invaluable qualities,” particularly a willingness to “carry the war” into the United States. Further, pointing out that there was more to the defence of the Canadas than the British regulars, Strachan noted that Bisshopp “attached to himself in a very remarkable degree the Militia of the Country . . . this neglected body of men.” Commenting on the crucial contribution of the Indians, Strachan claimed Bisshopp “knew well how to turn these sons of nature to the best advantage.” Bisshopp’s life, like those of Brock and John Macdonell (Greenfield) before him, seems the stuff of the 19th-century myth of the militia’s role in the War of 1812. Strachan sought to use it to political advantage, sure that the young officer “will be remembered . . . with the most endearing regret.”
PAC, MG 11, [CO 42] Q, 317: 14–22; MG 19, A3, 13; MG 24, F4. Doc. hist. of campaign upon Niagara frontier (Cruikshank), 3: 319–22; 4: 20, 225–33; 6: 230; 9: 359. “Early records of Niagara” (Carnochan), OH, 3: 70. [J. F. Richardson], Richardson’s War of 1812; with notes and a life of the author, ed. A. C. Casselman (Toronto, 1902; repr. 1974), 300. Select British docs. of War of 1812 (Wood), 1: 650–51, 654–58; 2: 163–64. [John Strachan], The John Strachan letter book, 1812–1834, ed. G. W. Spragge (Toronto, 1946), 4–9, 52. Burke’s peerage (1970), 2663, 2908. G. E. Cokayne, The complete peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, extant, extinct, or dormant (new. ed., ed. Vicary Gibbs et al., 13v. in 14, London, 1910–59), 12, pt.ii: 953–55. G. B., WO, Army list, 1800–13. M. A. FitzGibbon, A veteran of 1812: the life of James FitzGibbon (Toronto, 1894; repr. 1972), 10–11, 107–11. Ernest Green, “Some graves on Lundy’s Lane,” Niagara Hist. Soc., [Pub.], 22 (1911): 4–6.