April 6, 2011

The Short Story of Walter H. Bishop

This plain stone, wiped almost clean by the hands of time, marks the grave of Walter H. Bishop in Freedom West Cemetery in Freedom, Ohio. Walking through the cemetery today, nothing would compel you to stop and linger at Walter’s grave. Only his first name is readable. But even the plainest stone has a story to tell.

Walter’s obituary in the Ohio Star on September 3, 1845 gives a little more of his story. It says that Walter H. Bishop died 24 ultima (the previous month) in Freedom at age 13 months, 14 days, the son of Fitch and Sarah A. Bishop.1 This identifies his parents, gives his date of death, and tells us he was just an infant when he died. But like his stone, the obituary is frustratingly cryptic. I want more details!

My research on the Bishop family shows that Walter H. was the third child born to Fitch Bishop and his wife Sarah Ann. Fitch was a farmer with 21 acres of good, fertile land in growing Portage County, Ohio, part of the Western Reserve. He and Sarah already had two sons, five-year-old Albert and three-year-old George, when Walter was born on July 10, 1844. Nothing tells me if Walter was a healthy baby or if he was sickly from the start. Did he like watching his brothers play outside in the yard? Did he crawl around in the small farmhouse during the long Northeast Ohio winter? Did he suddenly become ill, or was there some kind of accident? All I know is that he lived barely past his first birthday. On August 24, 1845, he was gone.

Walter’s is the oldest burial in the Bishop family plot (no. 91) at Freedom West Cemetery. It seems likely that Fitch, needing a place to bury his little son, bought the plot in 1845. The tombstone he installed originally read, “Walter H., son of F. & S. Bishop, died Aug. 24, 1845, age 13 mos., 14 days.”2 For almost two decades, Walter’s was the only marker in the Bishop family plot. The next burial there was another toddler, Lettie A. Bishop, the 14-month-old daughter of George and his wife Mary, who died in April 1864. Lettie would have been Walter’s niece.

Fitch and Sarah went on to have two more children. A daughter, Ann Jennett, was born in December 1846, and a son, Walter F., in August 1851. I can’t help but think that this second Walter was named in memory of his lost brother.

A faded tombstone and a brief obituary are all that remain to tell us about Walter Bishop’s short life. But he was a real little boy, and no doubt very much loved. I guess that’s why it seems so important to try to piece together even a little more of the story behind the stone. Maybe I'm just sentimental, but somehow it feels good to share and preserve it.

1.  Michael Barren Clegg, Portage County, Ohio Newspaper Obituary Abstracts, 1825-1870 (Ohio Newspaper Abstracts Series, Vol. 2: Ft. Wayne, Indiana, 1982): 16.
2.  Portage County Genealogical Society, compiler, Portage County, Ohio Cemeteries, Volume IV: Freedom Township and Windham Township, 1812-1992 (the Society: Ravenna, Ohio, 1993): 90-91.

Related Posts:
The Final Days of Fitch Bishop
Walter F. Bishop, Aged 20 yrs.
Lettie A. Bishop - Wednesday's Child
Albert Bishop (1838-1865)
More Questions than Answers: Augusta Bishop


  1. I love these combo headstone obituary posts. And as I was tossing and turning (literally) deciding what to do with Family Epic, I thought of this genre as one way of keeping up with new content. Opted for a bigger break, but someday, I'd like to follow your lead! These are wonderful memorials.

  2. Thank you, Malissa! I like writing them--helps me see the whole person, beyond just the bare records. Enjoy your break!


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