Sheriffs

This seems to be a partial quote from an internal report. Please note the reference to the inaccuracies of two highly regarded histories. NEVER take anything at face value!

Quoted from the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department website:
The office of the sheriff has been a very important part of the society, economy, and polity [policy?] of North Carolina from the very beginnings of the state. The sheriff was once called the Provost Marshal, but the name was changed early in North Carolina’s history with the reorganization of the colonial government in 1739. The Civil Process handbook for Sheriff’s states: “No other officer in the colony exercised such complete and absolute executive and administrative powers as the sheriff.”

He was both the executive officer of the county court and the representative of the crown in the county just as the English sheriff was in England. The full power “posse comitatus” was his as a peace officer of the county. He was also a very important fiscal officer as the collecter of taxes for the colony, the county, and the parish. He was responsible for holding the elections of members of the legislature and the local vestries and through this exercised great influence over elections and the legislature. In most counties, he acted as vendee master, conducting public sales, and possessed important powers in connection with that office. All of these powers made the office of sheriff a position of great importance and one highly sought after and prized in colonial North Carolina.

In 1767, North Carolina was divided into six Judicial Districts: Wilmington, New Bern, Edenton, Halifax, Hillsborough and Salisbury. County courts were established in every county then “in esse” at the same time. The sheriff had a very active role as the executive officer of the court. He and his crier opened court with a call for silence and attention and then called each action as it appeared on the docket. He submitted the names of the men summoned for service on the grand and petit juries when ordered to do so. In criminal actions, he had in his custody or under bond the defendants in the actions and suits before the court. If the defendant was in his custody or in jail, he brought him before the court at the proper time to answer as the case required. The sheriff summoned the witnesses for the cases pending prior to the opening of court. During and after the court session the sheriff served the court’s orders and writs, levied executions, proclaimed acquittals and supervised the infliction of punishments: the stocks and pillory, whippings, brandings, cropping of ears and hangings.

Though Guilford County was formed in 1771 and began conducting court business during this time, no County Court Minutes exist for the period from 1771 to 1781. Some scant records are available through The Colonial Records of North Carolina, land records and a few other sources but much of the history of law enforcement in Guilford County in the 1770′s possibly including the identities of up to four sheriffs may be lost forever.

The search for the eighteenth century sheriffs of Guilford County County, especially those who served during the 1770′s, was painstaking and time consuming. Much of the original research had to be scrapped after it was discovered that most of the published materials regarding sheriffs and the dates they served, including a couple of highly regarded histories of the county, were inaccurate….

By Susan Vicent Pons, Former Guilford County Sheriff’s Deputy, 1990


List of Sheriffs compiled by the County Coordinator
This list is incomplete; please contact the CC if you have relevant information.
“Term” refers to county court records.

James Brown

  • “Ordered that Alexander Caldwell & George Peay Esqrs. be appointed a Committee to settle with James Brown, Esqr. former Sheriff of this County…” (Aug Term 1783)
  • “Ordered that the Sheriff or some of the Collectors pay James Brown £ 20.6.9 which appears to be due him for the Settlement of his Account as former Sheriff of this county” (Nov Term 1784)

Henry Reed

  • “Ordered that William Dent & Adam Lackie Esqrs. are appointed to settled with Henry Reed former Sheriff of this County” (Feb Term 1784)

Daniel Gillespie

  • “Daniel Gillaspie Qualified as Sheriff of the County of Guilford” (Aug Term 1781).   He is still noted as sheriff during May Term 1783.

John Gillespie

  • “John Gillaspie, Esqr. produced a Commission from his Excellency the Governor appointing him Sheriff of this County of Guilford …”  (Aug Term 1782)
  • “Col. John Gillaspie high Sheriff of Guilford County came into Court …” (Nov Term 1783)
  • “Ordered that the former Sheriff Col. John Gillaspie be fined £100 nisi for not returning sundry Writs returnable to this Court.” (August Term 1784)

James Mulloy & George Parks

  • “James Mulloy & George Parks Qualified as Deputy Sheriffs … ” (Nov Term 1783)

James Hunter

  • “James Hunter, Esqr. being Elected Sheriff of this County Ordered that he be recommended to his Excellency the Governor to be Commissioned for that purpose” (Feb Term 1784)
  • “James Hunter Esqr. is unanimously Elected Sheriff of this County for the present year.” (May Term 1785)

John May, John Hunter & Peter Dent

  • “John May, John Hunter & Peter Dent Qualified as Deputy Sheriffs under James Hunter, Esqr. High Sheriff” (August Term 1784)

Hance Hamilton

  • “Hance Hamilton was by the Court elected Sheriff of the County & that he be recommended to his Excellency the Governor to be commissioned accordingly … the said Hance Hamilton produced a Commission from the Governor appointed him Sheriff…” (May Term 1786). He is mentioned as High Sheriff during August Term 1786. Elected sheriff for 1787 at May Term 1787 & May Term 1788.

Joseph Hoskins & John Spruce

  • “Joseph Hosking and John Spruce qualified a [sic] deputy Sheriffs…” (August Term 1787)