History of Sheriff's Office

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The Sheriff (Shire-Reeve), as known today, originated in England over a thousand years ago. In the early days the Sheriff was the steward of the King's estates, guardian of the peace, judge and jury of the Shire County (county court) and was the local agent of the King in military affairs. The King also appointed him as the Chief Police Magistrate.

The Office of the Sheriff was first established in Virginia in early 1634. On October 9, 1662 the General Court of Virginia issued a commission to Captain Samuel Stephen "to be a Commander of the Southern Plantation" and authorized him to appoint a Sheriff. Although this was Virginia, the "Southern Plantation" was in a part of which would later become North Carolina. Hence, North Carolina has had a Sheriff in existence since 1662.

The settlers in 1736 thought that one Sheriff for the whole Colony was not enough and that there should be a system of Sheriffs as existed in England and Virginia. So in 1738 the Office of the Sheriff, as it is known today, was created in the Colony of North Carolina by the Governor. The Governor appointed the first Sheriffs in North Carolina to serve two-year terms.

In 1829 the Sheriff became an elected official while other county and municipal officials did not become elected until 1868. Thus the longest elected official position in North Carolina has been the Sheriff. In 1829 each county was broken down into a Captain's District, a minor division of the county for military purposes. From this time on the Sheriff was the Chief Law Enforcement Officer and for many years with the exception of the militia was the only law enforcement officer.

In 1881 a Bill was introduced in the N.C. General Assembly that established the County of Durham. The Bill stated "commissioners at their first meeting shall appoint a sheriff, a coroner and constables." The newly formed Board of Commissioners on May 2, 1881 appointed the first Sheriff of Durham County, Jas. R. Blacknall who served from 1881 to 1883. After the appointment of Sheriff Blacknall the following Sheriffs have served the citizens of Durham County:
  • 1881 - 1883 Jas. R. Blacknall 
  • 1884 - 1886 Felix Donaldson Markham, Sr. 
  • 1886 - 1888 John V. Rigsbee 
  • 1888 - 1894 Felix Donaldson Markham, Sr. 
  • 1894 - 1896 John V.Rigsbee 
  • 1896 - 1906 Felix Donaldson Markham, Sr. 
  • 1906 - 1930 John F. Harward 
  • 1930 - 1958 Eugene G. Belvin 
  • 1958 - 1970 Jennis M. Mangum 
  • 1970 - 1977 Marvin L. Davis 
  • 1977 - 1982 William A. Allen 
  • 1982 - 1992 Roland W. Leary 
  • 1993 - 1994 Albert L. Hight 
  • 1994 - 2011 Worth L. Hill 
  • 2012 - 2018 Michael D. Andrews
  • 2018 - Present Clarence F. Birkhead
The Office of Sheriff has changed dramatically over almost 150 years, from that of collecting taxes to a full-fledged comprehensive law enforcement agency and keeper of the Detention Facilities of the County.