Pope was almost certainly born in Southampton County in 1851 and was the son of a prosperous planter, Harrison Peterson Pope, and his first wife, Virginia Ann Edwards Pope. His mother died when he was very young, and his father remarried and had several more sons and daughters. Pope inherited land from an uncle who died in 1870 and paid taxes on more than 500 acres of land in 1875 and more than 2,100 acres of land in 1877. He also inherited from his father, who died in 1877, the 900-acre farm worth about $7,000 on which Pope then lived near Newsoms. On April 11, 1882, he married Jennie B. Prince. They had one son.
By 1874 Pope had joined the local Conservative Party and in September 1879 was named a canvasser for the upcoming election. A few weeks later, under circumstances that were not reported in surviving newspapers, Pope won the nomination of the Readjuster Party for the Southampton County seat in the House of Delegates. The biracial Readjuster coalition of Conservatives and Republicans promised to refinance the prewar public debt to reduce interest payments in order to be able to increase appropriations for the public schools. In November, when Readjusters won majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, Pope defeated the Conservative incumbent Luther R. Edwards by a margin of 2,060 to 599.
Pope, who has been mistakenly identified as African American in some sources, was elected secretary of the Readjuster Party caucus at the beginning of the one legislative session of his two-year term and served on the relatively inconsequential Committees on Enrolled Bills, on Officers and Offices at the Capitol, and on Public Property. He voted to elect the Readjuster Party’s leader, William Mahone, to the United States Senate, but was not a very active member and several times requested and was granted leaves of absence. Pope missed the critical vote on the bill that the assembly passed but that the governor vetoed to refinance the debt. The Readjusters proposed a constitutional amendment to remove payment of a poll tax as a prerequisite to voting, but Pope voted with the Conservative minority against it. The only bill he introduced, to amend the charter of the town of Franklin, did not pass. Pope either did not run for or receive the nomination of the Readjuster/Republican coalition for a second term in 1881.
Pope wrote a will late in August 1883, perhaps because he believed that he would soon die young. His will was unremarkable in most respects. He provided for his wife and bequeathed the bulk of his estate to his infant son but stipulated that if the son did not live to adulthood, the children of one of Pope’s elder brothers should inherit the property. The will was unusual in one requirement. Pope directed that his executor or the guardian of his son have the boy “well educated & kept at school until he is twenty one years old if circumstances so admit, and to impress upon him the importance of preparing himself for some good profession or occupation,” but that he should never be sent “to a school where the tenets of any particular denomination are taught, or any teacher or governess employed who would teach or instill in him the doctrines of any particular church.” Joseph B. Pope died, probably in Southampton County, on an unrecorded date early in 1884. His will was proved in court on 18 February. He was buried in the family cemetery about two miles northwest of Newsoms.