History of the Sheriff’s Office

Darby Butler, Sheriff
Dixie County, Florida
P.O. Box 470
214 NE 351 Highway, Suite L
Cross City, Florida 32628


History of the Sheriff’s Office

Sheriffs have served and protected the English-speaking peoples for a thousand years. The Office of the Sheriff and his law enforcement, judicial, and correctional functions are over 1000 years old. The Office of Sheriff dates back at least to the reign of Alfred the Great of England, and some scholars even argue that the Office of Sheriff was first created during the Roman occupation of England.

Around 500 AD, Germanic tribes from Europe (called the Anglo-Saxons) began an invasion of Celtic England, eventually leading over the centuries to the consolidation of Anglo-Saxon England as a unified kingdom under Alfred the Great late in the 9th Century. Alfred divided England into geographic units called “shires,” or counties.

1066 William the Conqueror defeated the Anglo-Saxons and instituted his Norman government in England. Both under the Anglo-Saxons and under the Normans, the King of England appointed a representative called a “reeve” to act on behalf of the king in each shire or county. The “shire-reeve” or King’s representative in each county became the “Sheriff” as the English language changed over the years. The shire-reeve, or Sheriff, was each county’s chief law enforcement officer in the year 1000 AD. He will still have the same function in the United States in 2000 AD.

The “County” and “Sheriff” concepts were essentially the same as they had been during the previous 900 years of English legal history. Because of the English heritage of the American colonies, the new United States adopted English law and legal institutions as its owners.

The Sheriff is the only viable officer remaining from the ancient offices, and modern society has significantly influenced his contemporary responsibility as a conservator of the peace. As the crossbow gave way to the primitive flintlock, the Sheriff is not unaccustomed to change. But now, perhaps more than ever, law enforcement faces complex, moving, rapid changes in methodology, technology, and social attitudes. Thomas Jefferson wrote in his THE VALUE OF CONSTITUTIONS, “The Office of Sheriff is the most important of all the executive offices of the county.”