American History

When settlers left England to colonize the New World, they took with them many of their governmental forms, including their law enforcement system. The Office of Sheriff traveled with these colonists. In New England, where towns and villages were the principal governmental units, the watch and ward was used. In the Middle Atlantic and Southern states, where people settled on plantations and small farms the county system of government was natural and strong, The Office of Sheriff was more important here, than in those areas where local government centered in towns or townships.

In 1634, William Stone was appointed the first sworn sheriff in America by becoming the sheriff in the County of Accomac, Virginia and served two (2) consecutive one-year terms. The first sheriffs in Virginia were selected from exclusive influential groups of large landholders within the counties.

There is some debate as to the who, where and when of the first sheriff in America. Some researchers state that America's first sheriff was Lord William Baldridge, appointed in 1634 in St. Mary's County, Maryland.

A series of statutes involving the appointment of county offices and office holders were created. A Virginia proclamation of March 13, 1651, required each county to choose a sheriff. In an interesting departure from the previous appointment process, which would prove to be prophetic in future years, the commissioners of Northampton County Virginia asked its inhabitants to elect its sheriff. In 1651, William Waters became the first elected sheriff in America.