History of the Sheriff's Office

What Does a Virginia Sheriff's Office do?

The position of Sheriff was established by the Virginia Constitution, with the sheriff and his/her deputies having both civil and concurrent criminal jurisdiction countywide. Sheriffs’ terms are for 4 years and are not term-limited. A sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer of a county or any area that does not have an established police department. James City County has a police department which was established in 1983, subsequent to legislation passed by the Virginia General Assembly allowing counties to establish police departments by referendum. The City of Williamsburg has had a police department since July 12, 1947. 

Functions of the Office

Prior to 1983, the Sheriff's office handled all police functions for James City County, while a sheriff performed court/jail functions for Williamsburg. When James City County established its County police department it operated under the County sheriff for 3 years before becoming a separate agency. Williamsburg's Sheriff's Office was comprised of only 8 personnel, and eventually merged with the James City County's Sheriff's Office to form the Williamsburg-James City County Sheriff's Office, effective Jan. 1, 1998. 


Virginia is unique in that all cities are independent jurisdictions, separate from any county. Thus, all cities have elected sheriffs, most of whom focus on court and jail operations. By law, sheriffs can enforce all the laws of the Commonwealth in the jurisdiction they serve. Some city sheriffs also work alongside the city police departments in responding to calls and enforcing traffic violations.

Some cities, such as Poquoson and Williamsburg, still use the Sheriff for civil process and court services. Those sheriff's offices still have concurrent jurisdiction in those cities but do not generally exercise them, deferring to the city police to handle criminal/traffic matters.

Past Sheriffs

In 1634, the history of the American Sheriff began after the settlements in Virginia were sufficiently established to allow for the replacement of the military regime by a civil government. James City “Shire,” now known as James City County, was one of 8 original Virginia “Shires.” In 1649, in Jamestown, Virginia, the Sheriff was empowered as the King’s representative to keep peace. Until 1776 all Sheriffs were appointed by the British Crown. From 1776 to 1851, the Sheriff was appointed from a list of magistrates. In 1851 the Office of the Sheriff became an elected position. 

  1. 1600's
  2. 1700's
  3. 1800's
  4. 1900's
  5. 2000's


Captain Robert Hutchins 


The men listed below likely served as Sheriff during this time; the exact dates are unknown:

  • Stephen Webb
  • Edward Travis
  • Thos. Loveing
  • George Jordan
  • John Sheppard
  • Thomas Warren
  • Robert Ellyson


Thomas Ballard


Francis Kirkman 


Edmond Jenning
His name may have been Jeffing


Major Samuel Weldon 


Henry Gauler 


Captain Benjamin Goodridge
George Marable could have been a sub-Sheriff. 


Michael Sherman 


George Marable
After this appointment, on the June 10, 1712, a new list of commission of justices was issued and his name was omitted. It is stated that he misbehaved in office and commission. He is then listed as having rank of Captain. 


Edward Ross 


George Marable
I guess they changed their mind!


Henry Duke