Boone County Kentucky Historical Society

Sheriffs of Boone County, 1799-1850

History of the Boone County, (KY) Sheriff's Office
     The First Half-Century: 1799-1850
   by James Duvall, M.A.
The Kentucky High Sheriff
In many Kentucky counties the highest aspiration of all political positions was to become Sheriff. He was called the High Sheriff, and often his wife was called Mrs. High Sheriff. The story is told of a man coming home on election day and telling his wife and children he had won the election. "Does that mean we're all High Sheriffs?" asked one of his little boys. "No," replied his mother, "Just me and your Pa."
Under the Second Constitution of Kentucky of 1799 Sheriffs were appointed by the Governor, though this office had been elective under the first constitution:
Sheriffs shall be hereafter appointed in the following manner: When the time of a Sheriff for any county may be about to expire, the county court for the same (a majority of all its justices being present) shall, in the months of September, October, or November next preceding thereto, recommend to the Governor two proper persons to fill the office, who are then justices of the county court; and who shall, in such recommendation, pay a just regard to seniority in office and a regular rotation. One of the persons so recommended shall be commissioned by the Governor, and shall hold his office for two years, if he so long behave well, and until a successor be duly qualified. If the county court shall omit, in the months aforesaid, to make such a recommendation, the Governor shall then nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, appoint a fit person to fill such office. [Article III. §31.]
This produced many political consequences, which have been discussed in detail by Prof. Ireland [The County Courts in Antebellum Kentucky (1972), p. 79-85.]
Relation to the Court. The Sheriff was generally the senior magistrate on the County Court. This was not by age, but by length of time served on the court. This meant many Sheriffs were well along in age before their turn came. That Boone County followed this custom is evidence by orders recommending Sheriffs to the Governor to be commissioned, the order ending "with due regard to seniority".
Functions.  Taxes, law.
Difficulty of the job. The Sheriff had a difficult job. He was the chief law officer in the county, but he was also the primary tax collector. This meant the administrative aspects of the job were much more difficult than the enforcement part. Many people did not pay their taxes, and the Sheriff was liable for any taxes not paid, except those allowed as delinquent by the Court. There are many cases in which the Legislature voted extensions for individual Sheriffs to settle their accounts. This could become a nightmare if the Sheriff died in office.
The Sheriff was the chief political figure in the county, until the office of County Judge was created. He sold the property of bankrupts, and foreclosures. He enforced the orders of the county court, and provided security for their meetings.
The first Sheriff of Boone County was John Cave, Jr., who became Sheriff at the constitution of the county 17 June 1799.  A Sheriff's bond DB/ A-58.
John Hall - 16 February 1801. Cave Montague became deputy sheriff.
John Brown was commissioned as the third Sheriff, but refused to make the bond by which he would qualify. This is why his successor was not to take office until May.
Archibald Huston (__ -1826) was sworn in as Sheriff 9 May 1803. In July 1802 he took James Allin as his deputy sheriff. Huston was associated with the
Sheriff’s office for the next decade. He was Sheriff three times (more than any other person?) He was a deputy in 1810.
Archibald Reid became Sheriff, 6 May 1805, and Huston became his deputy. In August of the same year Augustine Smith, became also a deputy. Smith, a colorful Boone County personality, was noted for calling the Worshipful County Court a lot of "damned fools" (he knew them well). For this he was given a choice of being fined or spending two hours in jail. He probably chose the jail time, for when he offended the court again several years later they did not give him a choice, but insisted on the fine.
Huston again became Sheriff in June of 1806, and he chose John Hawkins as his deputy. In October he added Moses Scott as a deputy.
Moses Scott was an interesting person. He was the county surveyor, and later became a magistrate and served in the Legislature. He was early noted as a fiddle player, but gave it up for religion. Many of the early surveys were drawn by him, including the line between Boone and Campbell Counties.
In January 1807 John Bush became Sheriff, and Huston his deputy. Bush had served as a Justice of the Peace in the Campbell County Court before the establishment of Boone, and was well-known. He was a ferry-keeper, and was in constant dispute with his brother-in-law, Cave Johnson, the Court Clerk, who had a ferry nearby. Bush chose Archibald Huston as his deputy; and it is likely that most of the work of the office was done by Huston, who had much experience in handling the affairs of the office.
In 1808 Huston again became Sheriff, and John Hawkins, who had served with him in his first term, became his deputy. There was some problem with the financial accounts of Sheriff Huston, and this was not settled until 1814, when the Kentucky Legislature granted him a quietus on taxes, since he had not received credit for taxes he had paid into the treasury. [1814, 1/8 Ch CXXII] Huston died in 1826.
In 1809 Elzaphan Hume (ca. 1766-1831) became Sheriff, and Huston, once again became the deputy. Hume was from the Mudlick area, below Big Bone. He
is buried in the Hume Cemetery, near Verona. It is likely that Huston did most of the active work of the office.
In January of 1811 Alexander McPherson, a revolutionary war veteran, from the Big Bone area, became Sheriff after having served on the Court a number of years. He chose Benjamin Cave as his deputy. In April of 1812 he took an additional deputy, John Hedges. McPherson's son, Mark, served as a Justice for many years, but never became Sheriff. Alexander McPherson did not settle his accounts with the county when he left office, and there are several court orders concerning this. He is ordered to attend court, to show cause, why he should not be prosecuted for the unpaid balance of county levies paid into his hands. [Court Order/ B-27;6 Oct. l817; alsoB-35.]
William Sebree (__ -1815) became Sheriff in 1813, and chose Isham G. Hamilton (1792-1873) as his deputy. Sebree married Susan, the daughter of John Grant. Hamilton, born in Buckingham County, Virginia, 2 June 1792, was much involved in Boone County politics. He never became Sheriff, though he served as Jailer, several terms as deputy, and in other offices, and eventually served as the Boone County Clerk for almost fifty years. He died 21 May 1873 and is buried in the Old Burlington Cemetery.
In 1815 Roger Wigginton became Sheriff, and Isham G. Hamilton served also as his deputy. When Wigginton settled with the county for the year 1816 he was to collect 1003 tithes at fifty cents each, that is $502.50. After all of his deductions were allowed he owed the county $297.00.
Abner Gaines was sworn in 30 Oct 1816. Gaines is best known as the proprietor of Gaines Tavern, near Walton. This became known as Gaines's Crossroads, and was a stop on the coach line between Florence and Georgetown. Gaines served on the court for a number of years before becoming Sheriff. He chose Isham G. Hamilton as his deputy. Hamilton had served as jailor, but he resigned this post in April 1817, continuing to serve as deputy. One of Gaines' first acts as Sheriff was to protest the condition of the jail, which he regarded as insufficient for the county's needs. The county soon allowed the Sheriff to let out repairing the jail to the highest bidder.
In October 1818, Gaines settled his accounts for 1817 with the County Commissioners, who were Joseph Graves, and Willis Graves. He was to collect 1105 tithes at $1.50 each, which was a large increase over the previous year. He was to have collected $1656.   After allowance for delinquents the account stood at $1602. He was given further credits and claims that amounted to $306.90. He owed the county $1295.10. Gaines remained Sheriff until 1818. In October of that year the county accounts show he was given $40.00 to cover his expenses, and 62½ c for serving processes, such as summonses.
Soon after this Gaines became embroiled in money problems with the Court. His settlement of accounts with the County for 1818 showed that he owed about $2000 in collected tax levies; however, he refused to pay over the money. It was the highest rates the county had ever levied to date, $2 per titheable. There were 1158 tithes, which was reduced by 120 delinquents; but still a large amount of money had come into Gaines's hands.   He still owed the county $1844.55.   It is possible he had lost the money in speculation during the economic boom that occurred about that time; there was apparently little division between the official and personal funds of the Sheriff at this time, and he simply did not have it. At any rate he did not pay.
In February 1819 there was an order directing that Abner Gaines "late high Sheriff of this County be notified to appear at the next Court to shew cause if any he can, Why Judgment should not pass against him for having failed to pay over the county levies collected pursuant to law." [Court Order/ B-84; 1 Feb 1819] He refused to appear. This lead to further summonses, as had happened with McPherson, and eventually to a court case. This went on for several years, and in December 1820 proceedings against the late Sheriff were still being continued.
The Kentucky statutes made provision for such cases:
If any Sheriff shall fail to attend the justices who shall be appointed by his county court to settle with him at the time and place they shall appoint, provided he have reasonable notice thereof, he shall forfeit and pay the sum of one hundred dollars, to be recovered with costs, by action of debt or information, in the court of quarter-sessions of the county, to be applied towards lessening the county levy.
[An Act to reduce into one, the several acts or parts of acts concerning Sheriffs. Approved 19 Dec 1796; Laws of Kentucky(1799), Chap. XCVIX, p. 342-354.]
Presumably this meant that the said Sheriff would also have to pay over the money. By 1818 this law was a little toothless: It may have been good deterrent when the county levies were generally much less than a hundred dollars, but it was not much of a penalty when several thousand dollars was at stake. Gaines avoided this part of the penalty by meeting with the Commissioners and making an accounting; he simply refused to pay the money.
In December of 1818 Jeremiah Kirtley, Jr. became the Sheriff. His father Jeremiah Kirtley, had been one of the first assistant Quarter Sessions Judges in Boone County, and was one of the early settlers in the county. The family was intimately associated with the Bullittsburg Baptist Church. Kirtley's deputy was John H. Moore (1799-1885), later Captain Moore.   When the Commissioners settled with Kirtley in January of 1820 for the previous year, there were 1232 tithes at $2.50 per head. This was the highest tax rate levied to date, but it was not to be so again, for in 1820 the Legislature set the maximum tithe the county courts could levy as poll tax at $1.50 per titheable. When it was settled, Kirtley owed, and paid, the county $2,306.91¼.
Joseph Graves (1773-1836) became Sheriff in October 1820. Joseph Graves was born 20 June 1773 in Culpeper Co., Virginia, and died 22 April 1836 in Boone Co., KY. He moved to Kentucky with his family in about 1797. He married Malinda Watts, daughter of Johnson Watts and Susan Davis of Boone Co. 4 May 1812. He chose as his deputy Philip S. Bush. In July of the same year he chose additional deputies, William Cave, and Washington Watts. His older brother, Absalom Graves, pastor of the Bullittsburg Baptist Church, was Clerk of the Courts for many years.
In October 1822 the Sheriff appointed was Benjamin Willis.
Whitfield Early 1777-1865) was one of the first magistrates in Boone County. He was not part of the founding Court, but was appointed soon after. He became Sheriff in 1824. His deputy was John Gaines (1791-1873).
Dec 1826 John M. Merrill (1790-1859) . . .
In December 1830 Thomas Connelly (1763-1835), was sworn in as Sheriff. He was seated on the Court as a Justice of the Peace in 1818.   His tombstone notes he emigrated to Boone County in 1803. He is buried near Beaver Lick.
In November 1832 Cave Johnson became Sheriff. Col. Cave Johnson is, in many ways, the grand old man of Boone County history. He was an early settler in the Commonwealth, and left interesting memoirs about this part of his life. He was in the Indian attack on Bryan's Station. He became Clerk of the Woodford County Court, when this area was still part of that county, and he helped lay off the town of Versailles. He became the first Clerk of Boone County, and remained so for many years. He was a member of the Kentucky Legislature, and was instrumental in the founding of the Burlington Bank. He served as a member of the County Court after his resignation as Clerk. He built the first brick house in Boone County, which is still standing. It is the northernmost house in Kentucky. Col. Johnson is buried in the Sand Run Baptist Church Cemetery, in Francisville.
Dec 1834 Maj. Chasteen Scott (ca. 1785-1861)
Covington Journal, 2 November 1861, p. 2: "Died. At his residence, near Union, Boone county, Ky., on the 18th of October, Major Chasteen Scott, in the 76th year of his age. Major Scott was born in Virginia, but emigrated to Kentucky at an early day; was an officer in the regular army in 1812, and remained all his relations of a parent, Christian, soldier and friend with marked ability and fidelity." Covington Journal, 26 October 1861, p. 3: "Major Chasteen Scott a well known citizen of this section of Kentucky, died at his residence, near Union, Boone county, on the 18th inst. at the age of his 76th year. Major Scott served his country in the War of 1812."
Scott served in the Kentucky Senate from 1836-1838. [Collins, History of KY,  2. 771.] In 1850 he was a director of the Union Turnpike Co. 20 Jun 1816, Chasteen Scott married Abigail Fowler, and Thomas D. Carneal was the bondsman.
John P. Gaines became Sheriff in Mar 1837. His deputies were John Cave, and V. M. Calvert.  
John Pollard Gaines (1795-1857), was the son of former Sheriff, Abner Gaines, and he followed in his father's footsteps, going on to bigger things. Gaines was born September 22, 1795 in Augusta County, Virginia, to Abner Gaines and Elizabeth Matthews. His grandfathers and great-grandfather served during
the American Revolutionary War. He received an education and studied law, and volunteered in the War of 1812. In 1819, Gaines married Elizabeth Kincaid. He became a lawyer practicing here in Boone County, and served as a state legislator in Kentucky during the 1820s and 1830s. Gaines volunteered and was appointed the rank of "Major" during the Mexican-American War in 1846. During the war in 1847 he was General Winfield Scott's aide-de­camp. He and some 80 soldiers were captured at Incarnation in January 1847. They were held captive in Mexico City until August. While a prisoner, Gaines was elected to the 30th United States Congress from Kentucky's 10th Congressional District. He served one term and lost reelection. Governor of Oregon Territory At the end of his term as congressman he returned to Boone County, and in October of 1849 he accepted the position of Governor of the Territory of Oregon. He was a supporter of President Zachary Taylor, who was elected in 1848. The Taylor administration rewarded Gaines by appointing him to be the Oregon territorial governor. He arrived in the territory by ship, losing two of his daughters to yellow fever along the way in Santa Catarina Island, Brazil. Shortly after arriving in the territory, his wife died in 1851 after falling off a horse. His political career was difficult. After his military experience he entered politics. He was a Whig member of the United States House of Representatives, representing Kentucky from 1847 to 1849, and he served as Governor of the Oregon Territory from 1850 to 1853, stepping down after a turbulent term in office.
Benjamin Watts (1787-1859) had a long career of public service. He was commissioned a Justice of the Peace in 1827. He became Sheriff in November 1838. He was clerk of the Sand Run Baptist Church, a position he held until 1823. He became the second Judge of Boone County, an elective office that was created in 1850 by the Third Constitution of Kentucky. He was Judge until his death 26 February 1859.
Dec 1840 Samuel Hardesty. He became Justice of the Peace in 1827. In 1845 Hardesty was allowed an additional year by the Kentucky Legislature to collect his fee bills and claims, along with the Sheriffs of four other counties. [2/7 Ch 189]
Oct 1842 William Calvert.   In 1843 the Sheriff of Boone County, along with those often other counties, was given additional time to file a list of delinquent taxpayers. (See Calvert Gen Book)
Oct 1844 Robert Walton (1782-1852). Robert Walton was born June 19,
1782, Wednesday morning about 10 o'clock & was married to Elizabeth Holton the
24th December 1801, Thursday. Appears in 1850 Census  
Jan 1848 William J. Sandford. Sandford was allowed additional time to return his delinquent lists, along with the Sheriffs of three other counties. [1848 2/9 Ch 216]   Three months was not enough time. An act of the Kentucky
Legislature in 1851 allowed Sandford additional time, till the first Monday in March, to return his delinquent list. Then, by another enactment, he was to have a further two years to collect taxes, fee bills, etc. [1/16 Ch 131; 3/11 Ch 413] He married Anna Calvert (8 Dec 1846). The Federal Census of 1850 taken in Burlington 30 Aug, shows they were both 25 years of age, and that Sandford was still the Sheriff, and that he had three children, and an Irish hired-hand. He also owned four slaves, a black man, age 85, a black woman, age 50, a black male age 17, and a mulatto girl who was 14.
Oct 1848 Benjamin W. White (1796-1851).  Benjamin W. White, born 1796, Maryland, died Dec., 1851, Florence, Boone Co., Kentucky. He married Lavinia Wilhoite in Boone County in 1826.
Henry F. James (1799-1870), was sworn in as a Justice of the Peace in December of 1832, and remained on the Court for many years. He became Sheriff in October 1850. Henry F. James is noteworthy as Boone County's first novelist. When he became Sheriff in 1850 he is the first Sheriff to have served under a County Judge, and position created that year by the Constitutional Convention. James was a slave-holder, and fervent anti-abolitionist.   The year he became sheriff he published a small booklet entitled: Abolitionism Unveiled! Hypocrisy Unmasked! and Knavery Scourged! The sub-title was even more venomous: Luminously Portraying the Formal Hocusses, Whining Philanthropists, Moral Coquets, Practical Atheists, and the Hollow-hearted Swindlers of Labor, Except the "northern abolitionists." (New York: T.V. Paterson, 1850). It was but 32 pages long.
When Henry James read Harriet Beecher Stowe's book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, it must have boiled his blood. This called for even greater effort on his part, and he replied a few years later with his own novel, using his old title, Abolitionism Unveiled (1856). His book is not so literary as Stowe's, he seems to have spent less time on it, and the storyline, such as it is, bears the strain of a load of propaganda for his position. He predicted the demise of slavery more than a decade before the end of the Civil War, and he lost no money on them, as he had sold his slaves long before the war began. James eventually became the Agricultural agent for Boone County, living at Burlington, and is buried near the
Owen House on the Bullittsburg Road.  James was the last of the Boone County Sheriffs who were commissioned by the Governor, before it became an elective office under the Commonwealth.
May 1851 - Special Elections held for offices under the new Constitution.