Sheriff's Office History
The Chesterfield County Sheriff's Office has a rich history and extends back to 1749 and includes:
The Sheriff’s Office Throughout History
The area surrounding the Courthouse was a very strategic location during the Revolutionary War. Our leaders in this war frequented this area. March of 1775 saw Patrick Henry recite his famous speech from St. John’s Church. "Give me liberty or give me death" were the words heard around the world.
Taking Up Arms
The Revolutionary War witnessed several Chesterfield residents taking up arms for the cause. These included the clerk of the court, Archibald Cary. Cary was chosen to lead a group of soldiers from the county. The courthouse area became a training camp for the war.
Of the names listed, Thomas Burfoot was the Quartermaster, Edward Steward was listed as the youngest soldier, and Barron Von Stueben was a "hard core" drills Sergeant. In 1781, General Phillips led a group of enemy soldiers into the camp and set numerous fires. This forced the camp to close. Later that year, Sheriff George Robertson was in office when the British surrendered at Yorktown.
A New Sheriff
In 1784, Sheriff Benjamin Branch was in office. Governor Patrick Henry took up residence in what is now referred to as the Salisbury section of the county. The year 1784 also saw the Jefferson family taking up residence at the Eppington plantation located in southern Chesterfield, where his two daughters were left with their aunt. One daughter died while visiting Eppington and is buried there in an unmarked grave. The cousin, Lucy Eppes, also passed away from the "whooping cough" that same year. The big social event for the county in the late 1700’s was the marriage of Mary Jefferson to John Eppes of Eppington Plantation.
The County in an Uproar
In 1786, the county was in an uproar. Sheriff Branch was killed after being thrown from his horse. The Sheriff had not yet collected all of the tax levies owed and his accounts were in an unintentional snarl. The resolution of the situation took almost two decades, but the county suffered little financial loss in the end.
The Sheriff During Washington’s Presidency
Sheriff Thomas Barfoot was in office when George Washington was elected as the first president of our country. Washington took office in 1789. The county’s population at this time was 14,214, with half the number being slaves.
The section of Virginia now known as Chesterfield County was formerly a part of "Henricus." On May 12, 1749 a "Commission of the Peace" was issued by Governor William Gooch that created a judicial body to administer general laws. This "commission" or proclamation described how the Judges were to hear cases and determine punishment. The proclamation also outlined the powers of the Sheriff, Justices and Clerks.
Duties of the Sheriff
One of the most important duties of the Sheriff in this era was to collect taxes. Governor Gooch appointed John Archer the first Sheriff of Chesterfield County. Because it was a period before the Revolutionary War, the sheriff swore his allegiance to England’s majesty. Duties of the Sheriff were described as "bringing to court persons who broke the peace or suspected of breaking the law." Griof Randolph was named his assistant. Sheriff Archer and Undersheriff Randolph were the first law enforcement officers for the County of Chesterfield. These gentlemen were also tasked with the security of the Judges, the courthouse and the jail.
Creation of a New County
On May 25th, 1749, the Virginia General Assembly passed the act that separated Chesterfield from Henrico County and created the new county. The county is named for the Earl of Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope. Stanhope was famous for his "good manners and writings." Part of the act states the reasoning for the division: For the ease and convenience of the inhabitants of the County of Henrico in attending courts and other public meetings.
First Court Session
The first court session was most likely held in the home of John Howlett, Jr. Judge John Bolling, who was a direct descendant of John Rolfe and Pocahontas, presided over this first session. The earliest court records show a session taking place on July 7, 1749. Benjamin Watkins was named clerk in the Governor’s "commission." In this session the court created the first acts of authorization for the building of a courthouse, prison and pillory.
Chesterfield’s First Jail & Courthouse
Chesterfield’s first jail had a rated capacity of three. The first Courthouse in Chesterfield was built in 1750.
A Pillory & Punishment
A pillory, more commonly known as a stock, was a mechanism for public punishment of criminals. The other form of punishment for lesser offenders was a "ducking stool." This was a contraption very similar to a swing tied to a tree next to a body of water. Chesterfield’s "ducking stool" was built in the area called Bermuda Hundred, which was the closest body of water. The judge would sentence offenders to the "ducking stool" for common offenses such as trespassing or littering.
The original jail also included a "debtor’s cell" reserved for those who did not honor their debts. This cell was constructed entirely of wood and was an addition to the building.
The French-Indian War
The French-Indian War was fought during the terms of two Sheriff’s. Sheriff William Kennon was in office when the fighting started. Eleazar Clay was only 14 when he took up arms as a Chesterfield County soldier in the French-Indian War. Clay later became Sheriff in 1811. Records show that William Kennon took the oath at an annual salary of 1248 shillings. This amounts to a salary of approximately 350 dollars yearly.
Robert Kennon was the Sheriff as the war ended in 1763. There are no records indicating the relationship between the two Sheriff’s. Passing the position of Sheriff through a family was very common in the early days of the Sheriff’s Office.
Baptist Preachers Jailed
In 1770, Chesterfield County and its leaders followed the Presbyterian doctrine as their governing religious belief. That year, several Baptist preachers refused to get a license to preach and were subsequently thrown in to jail. Judge Archibald Cary sentenced the preachers to jail until they changed their minds.
Sheriff John Archer Jr., son of the first Sheriff of Chesterfield, jailed the preachers as the judge ordered. One of the prisoners was John Weatherford. Weatherford would preach from his jail cell after receiving a signal from his faithful followers outside. Sheriff Worsham succeeded Archer and also was forced to deal with this situation. The preachers were finally released in 1774.
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.
The First Toll Road
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.
A New Jail
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.
A Murder Trial
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.
Sentenced to Death a Second Time
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.
A Busy Time
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 Civil War
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 Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors
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.
The century began with the continued service of Sheriff William Chastain Gill. Son of Sheriff William Eldridge Gill and brother of Sheriff Robert Eldridge Gill and survivor of Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, W.C. Gill was elected as Sheriff in 1881 after serving 10 years as a deputy; he served 44 years as sheriff before his death.
Streamlining the Criminal Justice System
With County Constables taking over more and more of the law enforcement duties in the county, the Sheriff’s Office began to assume a more streamlined role in the criminal justice system. Then in 1914, the County’s Police Department was created, replacing the constable system.
Tragedy struck Chesterfield County on January 22, 1912, when Deputy Archer Thomas Belcher was mortally wounded. Deputy Belcher, a farmer from Matoaca, was guarding inmates from the State Convict Road Force housed at Camp number three in Ettrick.
Attacked by Inmates
While on Hickory Road doing repairs, some inmates attacked him. One prisoner was using an axe to cut roots and while watching him, another inmate attacked him with a knife. When Deputy Belcher turned to defend himself from the knife attack, he was struck from behind on his head by the inmate with the axe. Three inmates escaped, taking Deputy Belcher’s weapons.
Death of a Deputy
The unconscious deputy was taken to the Petersburg Hospital, where he died on February 17, 1912. Deputy Archer T. Belcher was 47 years old at the time of his death, leaving behind his wife of 23 years, Mary Dance Belcher, and ten children, Florence, Charles, Ermine, Emma, Annie, Sallie, Mary, Zelma, Melvin, and Raymond.
The inmates were captured by a posse after a running gun battle near Farmville, where one of the escapees was mortally wounded. The other two inmates were convicted of capital murder by Chesterfield County Judge Robert Southall on April 5, 1912 and both were executed in the electric chair on June 14, 1912.
A Long Term
In late 1924, due to health issues, Sheriff Gill asked Ordway Benjamin Gates, his Chief Deputy, to take over his duties. Unfortunately, Sheriff Gill died a few months later in April 1925 and Judge Edmund P. Cox appointed O.B. Gates, as Sheriff to complete Sheriff Gill’s unfinished term in office. This was the beginning of yet another long term in office for a Sheriff of Chesterfield County.
Forging an Agreement
Gates and Gill had forged an agreement that Nathan Herbert Cogbill would remain as the "Chief Jailor" and Gill would support Gates as next Sheriff. Gates agreed to the terms and Nathan remained in the position for decades.
Nathan’s wife would prepare meals for the inmates and bring it to the Jail in a large iron pot. Family ties were strong…Nathan was related to Marcus Cogbill,the Commonwealth Attorney, and Philip Cogbill, the Clerk of the Court. O.B. Gates, since he had the support of the community easily won the 1925 election for sheriff. Throughout his career Sheriff Gates took a softer approach to his position. During his entire tenure as Sheriff,Gates never wore a uniform or carried a weapon.
Escape From Jail
In the 1930’s, the original jail was "bulging at the seams" with 12 inmates housed at a time. Unfortunately, due to the condition of the 1892 jail, three inmates in 1936 were able to obtain a can opener and cut their way through the tin roof of the jail and escaped; most were recaptured later.
Caught in the Act
Another inmate attempted to chisel his way out of the brick walls in 1937, but even though he had saved all his butter rations to use in his escape, his body became stuck in the tight hole in the wall; a passerby noticed the struggling inmate and raised the alarm by ringing the courthouse bell.
Also during this time period, Sheriff Gates was heavily involved in enforcing prohibition laws. This resulted in the impounding of several "bootlegger" automobiles that were actually stored on the Gates property off of Beach Road.
At the time, Sheriff Gates’ staff consisted of Deputy Albright, Deputy Gilliam Cogbill, son of Nathan, and Deputy Rudy. Because of the escapes and the poor conditions of the 1892 jail, Sheriff Gates was faced with the closing it. Sheriff Gates made plans to house Chesterfield inmates in jails operated by other localities (Henrico and Petersburg) which was accepted by the State and the 1892 jail closed in 1943.
An Excellent Relationship with Citizens
During his term as the Sheriff of Chesterfield County, Sheriff Gates had an excellent relationship with the citizens of Chesterfield and there are several glowing tributes to his service. Gates also served the county as Sheriff during a major growth period. The population increased from 23,000 to 77,000 before his departure from office in 1967.
A Modern Jail Facility
This method of housing Chesterfield inmates at other jails continued until 1962, when a "new, modern" facility opened for business. The new jail consisted of what was referred to as "A" building. This new facility became a family affair because the building included living quarters for a married couple.
Staff & Operations
Deputy Joe Partin operated the jail while his wife cooked the meals in the jail kitchen. This arrangement continued until Sheriff Emmett Wingo’s tenure in 1968. After Gilliam Cogbill died in 1965, Deputy Clarence G. Williams, Sr. was selected as Chief Deputy. In 1971, Joe Nunnally, (later known as Captain Nunnally) was hired as one of the few deputies on duty on the midnight shift, working with a trustee in order to open cells and care for the few inmates at that time. This trustee was just that, a trusted inmate who was allowed to carry keys to the facility.
Training Standards Changes
Statewide changes in Sheriff / Deputy training standards took effect in Chesterfield County in 1968, when Sheriff Emmett Wingo, Chief Deputy Clarence Williams, Sr., Bailiff Fred Bray, Chief Jailer Joseph Partin, Deputy Olin Taylor and Deputy R. E. Phillips attended the first Basic Jailor’s School. This school was designed to provide the Sheriffs and Sheriff Deputies of Virginia common standards in basic job duties. The course included training in civil processing, security in handling prisoners, riot control and firearm proficiency.
First Basic Sheriff Academy
Later Sheriff’s Office training standards took a whole new meaning in 1994 when Sheriff Clarence Williams, Jr, son of the former Chief Deputy Clarence Williams, Sr, started the First Basic Sheriff Academy. During this decade (1970s) a two-story wing was added to the 1962 jail which included additional tier and dorm space to accommodate the bulging population of 90 inmates.
A New Courthouse
In 1988, Ground was broken for a new courthouse and Sheriff Walter Minton was present, with several other county and state dignitaries for the grand opening of this new facility in 1990. The building faces northwest and is a red colored brick, concrete, and glass structure with spacious landscaped grounds. The northwest front has a large portico supported by four large concrete columns rising to a pediment with fanlight at the roof line and a porch runs on either side of the portico supported by columns.
Administrative Offices & Jail Annex
The ground floors of the building contained offices for the Sheriff’s administrative staff. Then in 1994, separate inmate housing area (jail) was added to the 1962 jail complex. Called the Annex, the structure was completed in the spring of 1994 and was built to hold 115 inmates. The name ’Annex’ followed historical precedence; during the 19th Century, due to the difficulty in transporting prisoners by horse, there were several ‘annex’ jails located throughout Chesterfield County. The only existing structure from that period is the 1860 Summerseat house in Ettrick, Virginia. It was the residence of the local magistrate and the ‘jail annex’ was in the lower corner basement where offenders were temporarily housed before being transferred to the Chesterfield Courthouse.
A New Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court
Finally, at the close of the 20th Century in 1999 Sheriff Clarence Williams was present at the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of a new Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, which opened in 2001. The building, built to reflect the style of the 1990 Courthouse, faces south and is a two-story red colored brick, concrete, and glass structure.