BURPEE BISHOP – OUTSTANDING HISTORIAN, KENTVILLE CITIZEN (August 1/06)

In 1918, Burpee Robertson Bishop and William Edward Boggs collaborated to compile the genealogy of Planter grantee John Bishop. When it was completed, the work (The Genealogy of the Bishop Family of Horton) listed the descendants of John Bishop from the time he settled in Horton in 1760.

Inspired undoubtedly by the genealogies published by Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton in his Kings County history, it was a seminal work of some importance. The Bishop-Boggs compilation was the foundation for the 1990 four-volume update of the Bishop genealogy, and the editors of Tangled Roots acknowledged this in dedicating the work to them. The 1918 compilation established the reputation of Burpee Bishop as a historical author, and it’s as a historian that he’s mainly remembered today.

In the two decades I’ve been writing this column I’ve found many references to the historical detective work of Burpee Bishop. Ernest Eaton and other local writers quoted him often, and his status as a historian appears to be on a level with Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton. Other than a few newspaper articles and the 1918 compilation, however, I’ve been unable to find other published writing by Bishop. Kentville historian Louis Comeau has two copies of undated articles by Bishop, one an early history of Kentville, that were published in a Kings County newspaper, possibly The Advertiser.

Burpee Robertson Bishop (1868 – 1957) was born in Highbury. When he was 10, his father George Calvin Bishop moved to Kentville and opened a grocery business. In 1888 Burpee and his brother Trueman (1860-1923) took over the business. MacAlpine’s Business Directory shows that Burpee and Trueman were still running the grocery store in 1904 but it may have been operated until Burpee retired. Burpee remained a Kentville resident all of his life and was one of the town’s most prominent citizens. Kentville historian Louis Comeau has identified his residence as once standing on River Street, the site now occupied by the Royal Canadian Legion building.

While widely recognised as a historian, Burpee was accomplished in other fields. His obituary reads that he has been “a merchant and a manufacturer, has acted as town clerk, leader of the Kentville Citizens’ Band and town assessor.” For many years, his obituary read, Bishop was active with the Kentville Board of Trade and was a charter member and held all offices on the Board; he was a Baptist Church choir member for 70 years and served on the town’s hospital board. As Kentville’s assessor he pioneered the numbering of the town’s streets.

I’ve been unable to find any record of Bishop’s education. However, he was a dabbler in the arcane field of patent medicine and may have had training as a druggist. Several sources note that Burpee was a “manufacturer,” a reference to his possibly having concocted and having marketed several types of patent medicine.

Burpee definitely was a purveyor of patent medicine and the evidence is in Louis Comeau’s collection of old bottles. Comeau has three patent medicine bottles under Burpee’s name, the labels reading as follows: “B. R. Bishop’s Liniment, Kentville N.S.,” “Ferguson’s Liniment, B. R. Bishop, Kentville,” and “B. R. Bishop’s Cough Syrup;” Burpee also marketed a cleansing product labelled “Bishop’s Household Ammonia.”

Burpee Bishop is buried in Kentville’s Oak Grove Cemetery. Copies of the Bishop genealogy he compiled with William Boggs, some 174 pages in all, can be found in the Kings County Museum, Kentville.

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