I’m sure that there are some people who would like to yoke me to a pillory occasionally when I lash out from this column and rant about what I think is an unfair practice or policy in Chesterfield. You know, sometimes you just can’t hold back. That’s when names fly and some apologies are in order.
It wasn’t too long ago when some Chesterfield schools’ staff probably wanted me punished by ducking stool at Bermuda Hundred as was a punishment in Chesterfield in the 1750s. I had compared some community relations actions to propaganda in Germany in the 1930s. A ducking chair was an instrument of punishment consisting of a chair in which an offender was tied and plunged into water. This was actually carried out in this county just as was being pilloried by being attached to a wooden framework to be formally locked by the neck and wrists and exposed to public abuse and ridicule.
Most recently in a rant about those who opposed the idea of me running for election, I made a statement about the Commonwealth’s Attorney and Sheriff in Chesterfield writing letters of endorsement for my opponent. I wrote that both wrote those letters with the county and state seal on the letterhead. In fact, only the Commonwealth’s Attorney letter had the seals on the top. Sheriff Dennis S. Proffitt had only his name on the letterhead. I want to man up and make a sincere apology for my oversight. In the process of ranting I included Sheriff Proffitt when he had not made the same mistake of including the seals. Not that I agree with the message, mind you.
So Proffitt may want to duck stool me and pillory me, but I don’t think he wants to jail me like in 1770 when Judge Archibald Cary sentenced several Baptist preachers to jail for not following the local Presbyterian doctrine. Sheriff John Archer Jr., who was the son of the first sheriff in Chesterfield, locked them up, and the preachers did not see the light of day until 1774. Four years, the length of a term in office.
Sheriff became an elected office in 1851. The sheriff collected taxes as a part of his job because at the time there was not a commissioner of the revenue. Just prior to Chesterfield’s involvement in the Civil War, Sheriff Robert W. Gill was ordered by the county court justices to begin collecting a 10 cent tax to arm and equip volunteers who would fight for the Confederacy.
In 1880 a period of long tenure for sheriff began. Sheriff W. C. Gill served 45 years before stepping down. The police department began during that time. Called a constable, his job was to keep the peace. Peace keeping was eventually accomplished by a fully staffed police department and the sheriff’s department concentrated on keeping up with the jail.
Sheriff Gill was in office until 1924. O. B. Gates was serving as deputy at the time Gill retired and Judge Edmund P. Cox appointed him sheriff. Gates won election in 1925, which began a 42 year term for Gates as he continued to win elections until 1967.
According to the sheriff’s office account on the Chesterfield County website, “In the 1930’s, the original jail was ‘bulging at the seams’ with 12 inmates. As sheriff, Gates was heavily involved in enforcing prohibition laws. This resulted in the impounding of several ‘bootlegger’ automobiles that were actually stored on the Gates property off of Beach Road.”
After Gates’ tenure a number of sheriffs served relatively short terms until Deputy Clarence G. Williams, Jr. took office in 1990 and served for 17 years. In his last election he won by a landslide over David Childress. In 2007 Williams retired and Sheriff Proffitt was appointed to serve out William’s term. In November of 2007 Proffitt won the Republican primary handily and went on to be elected in a three way race in the general election, getting four times the votes as his closest opponent. He was unopposed on November 8, this year. He could turn out to be another long-term sheriff.
In fact, this year’s election, while being a respectable turnout for an off-year election, had a number of unopposed candidates. Three of four Constitutional officers were unopposed as well as Virginia Delegates in our area. All candidates listed on the Republican sample ballot other than Cliff Bickford in the Dale District won. My question is, do we need to oppose the Republican endorsed candidates or save everyone the effort and money and do away with elections all together and allow the Republican committee to appoint who they think is best for the job?
Hey, I had to close out this column with some bellyaching, but I think I’m not too far off the mark. If I hadn’t been incorrect on Sheriff Proffitt”s letterhead I wouldn’t have mentioned the election. I promise I won’t harp anymore.