History of the Office of Sheriff
When English settlers came to the new world, they brought with them the disciplines they believed were needed to maintain order and protection — a sheriff. The office of sheriff has a rich and proud history that spans well over a thousand years, beginning sometime during England’s early Middle Ages. In the early days of England, families grouped together into “tuns” (now known as towns). Over the next two centuries, tuns became “shires” (what is now known as counties). As the kingdom was “shired” into these sections, the king appointed a representative, a “shire reeve”, to maintain order over each. The shire reeve was the most powerful English law authority figure. The modern word “sheriff” is derived from this English title.
Over the next few centuries, the sheriff remained the leading law enforcement officer of the county. To be appointed sheriff was considered a significant honor. The honor; however, was a costly one. If the people of the county did not pay the full amount of their taxes and fines, the sheriff was required to make up the difference out of his own pocket. Sheriffs were also expected to pay for lavishness as they played host to judges and visiting dignitaries. The sheriff’s position was often held by wealthy men, who did not necessarily seek the office — nor welcomed it, but if chosen had to serve. Early American sheriffs were not expected to pay extraordinary expenses out of their own pockets.
In current day North Carolina, as in most states, the sheriff in each county is an elected official just as the governor, attorney general, clerk of court, register of deeds and numerous other elected officials. In the chain of command, these elected officials report solely to the citizens in their jurisdiction.
Sometimes the Sheriff’s Office is mistakenly referred to as the Sheriff’s Department. The sheriff is an elected official and is not hired or appointed as with other county agencies such as the health department, water department, or department of social services. Referring to the sheriff’s office as the sheriff’s department would be as incorrect as referring to the Office of Governor as the Department of Governor.
It is evident that the role of sheriff has evolved over the years and has become a unique American tradition, and continues to hold fast to its mission: protect, promote, preserve and to enhance the office of sheriff.
For more information on the history of past Duplin County Sheriffs, please click here to access a document researched and written by Mr. Davis Brinson, Registrar of Deeds for Duplin County.
Past Duplin County Sheriffs
L. Glenn Jernigan
1999 – 2002
1986 – 1999
1962 – 1986
Ralph J. Jones
1946 – 1952
David Stephen Williamson
Charles McGee Ingram