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.