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History of the Sheriff's Office - The 19th Century
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Karl S. Leonard 

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Chesterfield County Sheriff's Office
P.O. Box 940
Chesterfield, VA 23832-0001

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9500 Courthouse Road
Chesterfield, VA 23832
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6900 Mimms Drive
Chesterfield, VA 23832
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History of the Sheriff's Office - The 19th Century

The 19th Century

The early 1800's saw Chesterfield growing dramatically. It was during this time that the county officials were not favorable to a public school system, leaning towards the private schooling that was prominent in the county.

In 1802, the first toll road in Virginia was built in Chesterfield County. Improved transportation and shipment of goods came with the first year of operation for the Chesterfield Railroad, the first in the state.

The original jail, commissioned in 1749, was destroyed by fire in 1841. The jail was filled to capacity when the three inmates being held at that time started the fire. Plans were immediately drawn for a new jail with a design that was ahead of its time. This small facility was used until the 1940's, when it was converted to an emergency communications (dispatch) office.

The big gossip in 1851 centered on the murder trial of Anthony T. Robious. The first trial brought a death sentence, but a new trial was ordered when it was discovered that Deputy Sheriff George Snellings had taken the jurors to the home of Silas Cheatham and treated them to liquor. The courts had a difficult time finding an impartial jury for the new trial. The new jury sentenced the prisoner to death a second time. The hanging was carried out in an elaborate ceremony with Judge John B. Nash presiding. The middle 1800's was a busy time for the Chesterfield County court system. In March of 1846, Thomas Ritchie, Jr. was acquitted of killing John Pleasants in a duel. Other interesting activities included "Court Days" where the citizens would gather at the courthouse for a day of fun and socializing. These celebrations would often end in "free for all brawls" after a day of consuming "red eye." 1851 was also the year that the county began holding elections for the Office of the Sheriff.

Sheriff W. F. Gill was in office when coal mining in the Midlothian area of the county was becoming prosperous. This industry suffered a huge setback in Chesterfield in 1855 when an explosion in the mines killed 54 men and boys.

The county was again considered very strategic during the civil war because of the proximity to Richmond. Robert Gill was the sheriff when the Chesterfield Courthouse area was once again used as a training academy for soldiers. In 1860, the county population stood at 19,000, with half of that number listed as slaves. Four confederate generals were county residents. These included Young Moody, David Weisiger, Edward Johnson and Henry Heth. Once the war was over, county officials were unsure of the status of all the elected officials. New elections were held and John W. Worsham was named the new Sheriff. The Sheriff was relieved of his tax collecting duties in 1869, much to the liking of all future Sheriff's.

The first meeting of the newly formed Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors was held on June 30, 1870. This original board included Socrates Brooks of the Midlothian township, David Wood of the Bermuda township, J. J. Ivey of Clover Hill, J. R. Robertson from Matoaca and J. R. Murphy representing the Dale district. The Honorable James H. Cox was the first full time judge for the county. It was around this era that Chesterfield elected a " freed slave" to the General Assembly to represent the county. Records show a county population of 25,000 in 1880.


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