The Coat of Arms of the Kings of Great Britain of the House of Hanover -- on a building in Williamsburg, VA.
The following is an account of the office of Sheriff in Cumberland County, in the Piedmont of Virginia, during the 18th century:
The office of sheriff was a “fee officer” position, as the sheriff received payments for the duties he performed. Nevertheless, a “salary” of one thousand pounds of tobacco was allotted to cover any other expenses. The governor appointed the sheriff, upon the commendation of the county court, to serve for not more than two years. Typically, the court submitted the names of three men – all of whom had to be presently sitting on the court: “no one but a justice could be sheriff.” Thus, the
17 October 1770
excerpt from the Executive Journals of
the Council shows:
John Mayo, William Smith, & Richard James, Gentn. Having been recommended by the Court of Cumberland County, as Persons proper for the Office of Sheriff of that County for the ensuing Year, & divers Certificates being produced of the said John Mayo’s having declared he would not accept of the said Office;
Ordered, that a Commission immediately issue, appointing the said William Smith Sheriff of the said County.
Once appointed sheriff of the county, membership in the House of Burgesses [the colonial assembly and forerunner of the House of Delegates] was forbidden. Indeed, in 1769 “this prohibition was extended to two years after the sheriff completed his term.” Hence, when George Carrington was named sheriff of
in 1764, he
relinquished his seat in the House to Thomas Prosser. This was one instance were the possession of
multiple offices was not deemed acceptable. Cumberland
The sheriff of
Cumberland, as any colonial county, was
responsible for numerous and varied duties.
In addition to law enforcement, the sheriff was responsible for the
upkeep of the jail and any prisoners,
the collection of taxes,
the overseeing of elections for the House of Burgesses,
and generally being the “chief executive officer of the county,” which included
a great deal of other “miscellaneous administration.” Needless to say, this kind of authority,
particularly regarding collecting of taxes and fees and the managing of
elections, was prone to abuse. Hence,
the Assembly in Virginia
constantly passed laws to remedy “the problem child of the period.” Indeed, a “bond of 1000 £ sterling…to insure”
that the sheriff “shall collect and account for Williamsburg rents and dues, and all other
matters relating to his office” was demanded!
This was required of the first sheriff of Cumberland , Stephen Bedford, and he, along
with Alexander Trent and Archibald Cary, paid the bond on Cumberland 22 May 1749. Particularly challenging was the accurate
listing of tithables and collecting of the taxes. The fact that the sheriff received a
commission on the taxes that he collected was problematic. Lieutenant Governor Francis Fauquier, in his
account of the quitrents paid for the year 1765, notes that Cumberland County
paid some £295, 18 shillings, and 6 pence for 295,923 acres of land. The allowance granted to the sheriff for the
collection of this amount was £29.11.10.
seemed to have little habit of paying the quitrent in arrears. Much like the county court, the sheriff was
primarily concerned with maintaining the common good and order of the county;
viz., with keeping the king’s peace. Cumberland
in , 28. In Porter, 73, a schedule of fees as of 1732
for a Virginia
sheriff is given. It includes the
following: “Making an arrest…30, Serving an order of the court…15, Use of the
stocks…10, Keeping a prisoner, per day…5, Calling a court…200.” Cf. IV Hening 348. Virginia
 Ibid., 69.
 Executive Journals of the Council of Colonial
Vol. VI, 1754-1775, 369. Virginia
 Ibid., 30.
 Ibid., 74.
 Kolp, Gentlemen and Freeholders, 32-35.
 Ibid., 68.
 Cumberland County, Virginia deeds, 1749-1752 (Miami Beach, FL: TLC Genealogy, 1990), 3.
 George Reese, ed., The Official Papers of Francis Fauquier, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, Vol. III (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1980), 1417. Lest the reader be confused, the currency of the day was either in pounds sterling, or pounds tobacco. If pounds sterling, 1 pound, or £1, was equal to 20 shillings, and 1 shilling was equal to 12 pence. Thus, £29.11.10 is the shorthand way of writing twenty-nine pounds, eleven shillings, and ten pence. For what its worth, the penny was divided into four farthings.