Stephen Bishop and the Making of a Documentary

Stephen Bishop and the Making of a Documentary

Stephen Bishop was a slave who worked as a guide at Mammoth Cave from 1838 until his death in 1857.  He was born around 1820.  As you might imagine there were very few video cameras present during his lifetime to record his activities.  There were no moving pictures.  There were no sound recordings. And there were very few photographs of anyone from this time frame.  There were none of Stephen Bishop.  The first photographs at the cave date from 1865 – eight years after Stephen’s death.  What kind of visual documentation was present during his lifetime?  There were drawings and paintings of scenery and portraits of a few people available at that time, but none of them depicted Stephen Bishop.  There is one drawing of Stephen Bishop – but it was created in 1880 long after his death.


When we think of historical documentaries the first that comes to mind is often those produced by Ken Burns on the Civil War.  It includes interviews, scenes from the present day sites, and most prominently lots of photographs.  With these historical photos Ken applied slow zooms into the image to highlight specific people or points of interest, slow pans across the image to add motion to the static photograph.  These have colloquially even come to be called ken Burns effects.  I am certainly going to use these techniques for many of the images collected as part of this project, but problem with Stephen Bishop is that we have no photographs or even drawing of the man from his lifetime.  What to do?  That is the question.

1) The one thing we are not going to do is to provide a fictionalized recreation of the man and include it as a docudrama segment.

2) I have one drawing made in 1880 of the man that we can use.  It is not a life portrait, but people who knew him were still alive when it was created, so it likely is a fair representation. (above)

3) Interviews – I am planning on interviewing Greg Sorvig.   He is creating a website which will include every bit of information and records of every account of Stephen Bishop he can locate.  He is the expert on Stephen Bishop and the piece will rely on his expert interviews.

4) There are many accounts of interactions with Stephen Bishop with tourist parties that he led.  These can be used as voice-overs for still segments.  The specific accounts are still to be determined as research continues.

Image 1842 Universalist

5) I currently have one photograph of a Stephen Bishop signature from the cave, but there are many others.  Photos of the signatures can add a graphic element to the mix.  Most are dated, and Greg Sorvig says an evolution of signature styles can be observed.


6) Photographs of some of the original documents and newspaper accounts can be included.


7) I have an old photograph of a cabin found on the Bishop property.


8) I have photographs of Stephen’s tombstone in the “Old Guides Cemetery” at Mammoth Cave. (I need to get a better one.)


9) I have a copy of a property transfer from Lowry Bishop to Franklin Gorin from 1837 which probably includes the sale of Stephen to Gorin, as well as that of his mother and brother.


10) I have a nice account talking about Stephen Bishop from a letter sent to Dr. Forwood from Franklin Gorin in 1869.

ImageImage  1870 Forwood

11) There is mention of Stephen Bishop and his wife Charlotte in the property holdings and will of Dr. John Croghan directing that they be freed seven years after Croghan’s death.

12) It is generally assumed that Lowry Bishop was Stephen’s father although there is not any direct admission of paternity, however I have a copy of the divorce proceedings between Lowry and Catherine Bishop who each make unflattering comments about the other.  Edmund G. Hall in an affidavit states that Lourey Bishop frequently claimed to be the father of the two mulatto children he had about the house. “That frequently he, (Bishop) would come into the room where she (Mrs Bishop) was and call the child of the Mulatto that he said was his child to Come to its Grandfather…The eldest of the mulattos that he said were his children is about 17 years old and the other 9 or 10.”

13) I have a land sale document from October 1856 between Martin Shackleford and Stephen Bishop only a few months prior to his death.

14) We are shooting several in cave sequences (pending permits) of areas frequented by the early guides.  These will examine some of the places in video of many of the places he gave tours for nineteen years.

15) We will feature the Bottomless pit crossing as told in the old stories, and the alternative route that bypasses the pit as described by Roger Brucker and others.

Image  1841 JSW

16) We will spend some time dealing with the discovery of the various rivers in the lower levels of the cave by Bishop, using video, stills, and written accounts.

17) I am trying to find a good scan or photograph of an actual original copy of the cave map published in 1844 drawn by Stephen Bishop.

Image 1844 Bullitt

18) There is an interesting account of a wedding party being a bit rowdy and swamping a boat in the Echo River.  In the story Stephen kept them all calm and holding onto the boat in the dark and safe until Mat Bransford came looking for them a few hours later.

19) I have some information on Stephen’s wife Charlotte and his son Thomas.

So I have quite a collection of material to work with, and I am gathering more.  I will be using these materials to try to provide an accurate, interesting, and visually interesting account of Stephen Bishop in spite of original contemporaneous images of the man.

Edward Forrest Frank

About Edward Forrest Frank

My name is Edward Frank. By training I am a geologist with published research on caves found in the United States, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. I am the webmaster, BBS administrator, and run the Facebook Page for the Native Tree Society and am involved with tree research with the group. I am the author, or coauthor, of a number of tree related articles and publications available for download from the NTS website and NTS BBS. I edit the monthly magazine for the group - eNTS Magazine. I write science fiction and fantasy stories reflecting a lifelong love of the genres. Most recently I published a fantasy role playing game Knarf 4, available through Amazon Kindle. I have an extensive science fiction and fantasy library and have long enjoyed table top role-playing games. Not satisfied with commercially available games, I started creating my own game variations in the mid 1980's. Knarf 4 is latest version best version of those games. I also write non-fiction. I currently am working on a book on "The Old-Growth Forests of Cook Forest State Park, PA" targeting older children and teens. I am suave, sophisticated, funny, kind, considerate, thoughtful, brilliant, devilishly handsome, and above all modest.
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3 Responses to Stephen Bishop and the Making of a Documentary

  1. Albert says:

    Hello, I just stumbled upon this blog, I know it is a bit random, and I am not sure if you are still active on here, but I have sort of an interest in early photography. I wanted to say althogh photography was rare, especially rare in the case of enslaved blacks, there would have been a lot more surviving photographs in the 19th century, many photographs were destroyed and their materials reused,nor simple thrown out when they had no sentental meaning. There is a great deal of early photography that is not totally lost to us, and I have a suspecion that the engraving of Mr. Bishop was based on a photo that still existed at the time, even though he had passed away


    • Albert says:

      The likeness of him looks far too natural just to simple be a composite sketcg, either this artist was particularly good at reconstructing faces(which even now is extremely difficult, if you have see many police composite sketches) or it was likely based off a photograph, which seems more likely to me. I also know that the photographs, if photographed on a metalic base, could be caved on directly, tracing the likeness, and used for engraved printing itself. In all likelihood, imo, this is an authentic likeness of Stephen Bishop, even if the photo it was based on is long gone.


      • Edward Forrest Frank says:

        Stephen Bishop died in 1857. The first photographs we have from Mammoth Cave itself were taken by Aiden Styles in 1865. He took the first photos of guides Nick Bransford and Mat Bransford outside the cave entrance. In 1866 Charles Waldack took a series of flash photographs published as stereoviews from nside the cave and some surface shots. By these dates Stephen Bishop had been dead for 8 years. There are rumors that an unsuccessful attempt to shoot photos in the cave had taken place a couple years earlier but again after Stephen had died. Mammoth Cave was a big deal with dozens of books illustrated with drawing of the cave published in the time Stephen Bishop was there. If there had been any photos they most ;likely would have been published. Notably Stephen was taken to Locust Grove – the estate of his owners family – Dr. John Croghan. A book was published – Rambles in Mammoth Cave in 1844 with illustrations and a map drawn by Stephen Bishop. If photos had been taken at that time they likely would have made it into the book. Again there are also no known photos of his owner at the time Dr. John Croghan. This was really the frontier at the time with miles of rough roads. There aren’t any accounts out of dozens that mention attempts at photography at the cave… I really don’t think any photos of Stephen Bishop exist. My guess would be that the sketch that did not appear until (1882?) in Hovey was based upon a real person, just not the actual Stephen Bishop. Have you seen this document?

        Edward Frank


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